The latest attacks on the Clean Air Act are not about policy or even politics; they're about corruption, plain and simple.
We see these attacks coming from both Republicans and Democrats, but nearly all of them are coming from lawmakers who have received large infusions of cash or pressure from big polluters like the coal industry.
Most telling, the attacks are coming from elected officials who have previously acknowledged and discussed the dangers of climate change. For example, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) was fairly concerned about the climate crisis just a few short years ago:
I strongly believe that everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions... Climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions.
But more recently, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, co-authored by Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, Upton likened the EPA's regulation of green house gasses to physical torture:
We think the American consumer would prefer not to be skinned by Obama's EPA.
Representative Upton, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and a number of members of Congress who are acting more like big polluter allies, have sponsored legislation to destroy the Clean Air Act's existing regulations that protect us from climate change pollution and toxic chemicals in our air. Taken a step further, many members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have cut out the middleman and hired former big polluter lobbyists right onto their staff.
What changed the minds of lawmakers like Representative Upton?
In three words: Dirty energy money. Big polluters like Dirty Coal and Koch Industries have spent more than $500 million in lobbying and campaign expenditures in the last year. Representative Upton alone received more than $200,000 in contributions during the midterms and more than $500,000 throughout his career, with the majority coming from the coal industry.
The point is, these companies are getting what they've paid for. It's a bargain, really: they get tireless allies on both sides of the aisle in Congress in exchange for a meager percentage of their profits. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) put it well when he described the upcoming Clean Air Act hearings as anti-science and as promoting a "flat earth society agenda."
It's true: allies of big polluters in Congress are fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the newest version of the "flat earth society." Members get an all-expenses paid trip back to their seat in the next election, courtesy of Dirty Coal, Big Oil, and the Koch brothers, but at the expense of everyday Americans and people across the globe.
Even my nine-year-old knows we should be listening to the science.
It's certainly not a bargain for us. American families concerned about rising levels of mercury, arsenic, lead, and climate change pollution in our air are being short changed.
The fact of the matter is that we cannot ignore the corruption of elected officials whose job is to fight for the good of the public, not for the good of big polluting industries that support their re-election. All of this makes our job that much more important. It is time for all of us to organize our communities to stand up to big polluters and demand that members of Congress protect the public by protecting the Clean Air Act.
We cannot hope to fight the flat earth society with a person here and a person there: we must stand united in the face of dirty polluters. That means all of us who care about stopping climate change pollution need to stand together and say no. No, you cannot buy our democracy; no, you cannot pollute our air; and no, you cannot overpower us with money. Together, we are stronger than that, and together we can overpower the latest assault and move on to saying yes to a clean energy economy and a safer and healthier climate.