01/28/2008 10:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Is America Coming Back?

For the past seven years, whenever ordinary people needed their government to stand up for them, you could be pretty sure the government would stay seated. As I have repeatedly noted, in spite of Karl Rove's claim that the Bush administration sought to reward the people who voted them in, their real allegiance was always to their donors. Main Street Bush voters have been repeatedly betrayed, whether by de-funding rural schools, slashing the safety net for veterans, weakening rural clean-air standards, or destroying the property values of small ranchers.

But now this assault on average Americans is being visibly beaten back. Last week a federal judge handed down one of the largest Clean Water Act fines in history, against Massey Energy, for thousands of Clean Water Act permit violations associated with its mountaintop-removal coal-mining operations. The agreement comes after the federal government found that Massey illegally dumped coal-slurry waste, rubble, wastewater, and other pollutants into Appalachian waterways. Score one for the people of Appalachia!

Then Congresswomen Hilda Solis and Senator Hilary Clinton introduced the Environmental Justice Renewal Act last Wednesday. Decades after the problem was first identified, ethnic communities and low-income populations are still disproportionately impacted by pollution, and this landmark legislation has the potential to ensure safe and healthy communities for everyone. Equally important, this legislation is a vehicle to inject into this year's election campaign the issue of ensuring that, as we develop a cleaner, greener, and more innovative economy, this time all Americans get to share in the benefits.

Meanwhile, as Americans shifted their focus to the economy, green jobs and a clean energy future were getting an unprecedented level of attention. The House version of "Economic Stimulus, Round 1" did not include a green jobs or energy component. But Senator Maria Cantwell and 32 other Senators sent a signal that they wanted a major green-energy component to the Senate version of any stimulus bill. And a Zogby poll done for the U.S. Conference of Mayors showed that Americans now see green energy and jobs as part of the nation's way out of its current economic crisis:

More than half [of the respondents] - 56 percent - believe their local government should "go green" and make environmentally friendly and energy efficient changes throughout their local community, even if they may have to significantly change their lifestyle. Majorities also believe that if their local communities adopt more environmentally friendly policies, there will be a positive impact on the local economy. They think green technology will create new local jobs [and] make their communities better places to live. Nearly half (48 percent) say they would be willing to pay higher taxes if the increase would fund environmentally friendly improvements in their community.

So Americans get it, judges get it, Congress is beginning to get it -- yes, that leaves the White House, but our job now is to make sure the next President gets it too.