April 15 marks the 100th day of the 114th--some might call the best Koch money could buy--Congress. The first 100 days of any new Congress is a well-established timeline to evaluate its priorities, efficacy and focus. After sweeping into 2015 with overwhelming midterm election victories, and majorities in the House and Senate, Congressional Republican leadership looked poised to enact policies that best represented the interests of their constituents. But given the time they devoted to advancing policies that benefit their wealthy contributors and dark money donors, perhaps the clearest thing we know about their priorities is that donors and polluters outrank the will of the people.
After spending hundreds of millions to install Sen. McConnell as Majority Leader and increase the caucus behind House Speaker John Boehner, the Koch brothers and other big money donors demanded a return on their investments. Almost immediately, the new Congress set to work rewarding their corporate backers by targeting labor and workers, women's reproductive health and education reform; and they vowed to stymie all clean power regulation and environmentally progressive bills.
Sen. McConnell gleefully bragged that approving the Keystone XL pipeline--an infrastructure project for a foreign oil company--would be the Senate's first piece of business. For perspective, this is a bill that would allow a Canadian pipeline of the planet's dirtiest oil to bisect the U.S. for overseas shipping. It would produce only 35 American jobs, yet the U.S. would shoulder all the risks when it leaks. Congress squandered three weeks debating and amending the bill they knew the president would veto. But the message was clear; this Congress would go to great lengths to fulfill the wishes of their polluting donors.
Since then, Republican leadership worked at gutting our country's bedrock environmental laws, and performing over-the-top shows for polluters. Sen. McConnell publicly instructed states to ignore the law and refuse to implement the EPA's Clean Power Plan; and congressional leadership held an unprecedented joint session on the Clean Water Rule that can only be described as a circus. But perhaps the low water mark came when Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor in a cynical, and woefully misinformed, exercise to "disprove" the existence of climate change.
Such stunts hid the reality of a full-scale assault on the laws that protect our air, water, endangered wildlife and public spaces have become routine under Republican leadership. Republican leadership frequently pontificates about creating jobs and improving the economy; but it's clear that they are putting the profits of polluting corporations above both. They battle to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing a new Clean Water Rule, despite the $388-514 million in annual benefits it would provide to the public by reducing flooding, filtering pollution, providing wildlife habitat, supporting hunting and fishing, and recharging groundwater. Park, forest and wilderness area protections provide an economic benefit of $350 to $550 billion, and create over six million direct jobs. Yet Republican leadership has targeted them for elimination.
This systematic dismantling of laws that safeguard our air, food, wildlife protections and water defies a long history of bipartisan support for environmental protections. The founder of our national park system, Teddy Roosevelt, is perhaps the best known Republican conservationist. Roosevelt was just the first in a once proud tradition of Republican presidents who signed into law many of the current environmental protections now under attack. After 100 days, it is clear that Republican leadership decided to sell this legacy to corporate polluters in exchange for their campaign cash.
In just 100 days, Congress introduced 34 proposals to cripple endangered species conservation, undertook nine attempts to undermine the Antiquities Act--which allows the president to protect special places like Devils Tower and George Washington's birthplace as National Monuments--and offered several proposals to eviscerate popular programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Forest Legacy Program.
Congressional leadership pushed through bills to weaken protections for drinking water, abandon public lands for recreation and sell off national forests for development, despite the fact that a majority of Americans strongly oppose such measures. Moreover, strong majorities of Americans believe climate change will harm future generations and want the next president to favor federal action.
Unfortunately, Republican leadership and their financiers believe the American public won't care or won't notice if they subvert environmental protections. They believed they could launch an unprecedented assault on public health with little fear of repercussion. But we must demonstrate to our representatives in Congress that we will not sit by and let corporate polluters undermine protections, and that there are serious repercussions for those who ignore our warnings.
The first 100 days of this Congress have shown us that we have a real fight on our hands for the next 630.
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica is a nationally-recognized expert on energy subsidies, who has worked to reform U.S. tax and budget policy in ways that reduce pollution and spark a transition to clean energy. Follow Erich on Twitter at: @erichpica; www.foe.org