Even as the nation's attention turned to the debt crisis in the past few weeks, the Tea Party's assault on environmental protections continued unabated. Republican party leaders brought an Interior and Environment spending bill to the House floor loaded with an unprecedented 39 policy riders -- measures that won't save a single penny, but will block the government from upholding basic environmental standards.
And yet cause for optimism has started to emerge.
A growing number of GOP lawmakers are starting to question the Tea Party's reckless overreach. They realize that anti-environmental efforts do not reflect the wishes of the American people.
Earlier this month, ten GOP lawmakers voted against a misguided effort to repeal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that will save consumers money and preserve their choice of bulbs at the same time.
Last week, 37 Republicans joined together with Democrats to successfully block a Tea Party measure that would have prevented the Department of Interior from protecting additional wildlife and plants under the Endangered Species Act.
More recently, there has been talk that the House Interior and Environment spending bill may not pass this fall as a free-standing measure because of its many destructive riders. Some lawmakers see the hazard in voting for a bill that allows polluters to dump waste into rivers and streams and to foul our air, and that repeals protections for iconic places like the Grand Canyon. They know their constituents want to preserve -- not degrade -- America's air, water, and special landscapes.
But the battle is not over. Republican leaders and the Tea Party will continue to press for the riders as spending debates come to a head this fall.
We must continue to press the fledgling efforts of GOP lawmakers to break from the Tea Party's war on environmental protections. And we must urge the Senate and the White House to oppose bad riders, as they did earlier this year with the Continuing Resolution. The White House has already issued a strong veto threat against the riders in the Interior and Environment bill, and it must take as strong a line against anti-environmental riders in any spending measure.
August is a potent time to do this work. Town hall meetings during summer recess have helped shape the debate over health care reform and other recent legislative efforts. Now they give us a chance to ask lawmakers point blank: do you stand for Americans who want safe air, clean water, and protected landscapes for their families? Or do you stand for polluters who want to trash our environment and endanger our health?
I urge you to attend town hall meetings and pose these questions. Let your representatives and senators know your views in letters and calls. Lawmakers from all parties need to know their constituents value environmental protections and will fight to maintain them.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.