04/17/2012 06:50 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2012

Tea Partiers Are Destroying the Legacy of the Republican Party 

A new book out this week presents an astounding fact that could help shape the upcoming elections: the Republican-led House voted nearly 200 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards in 2011.

This constitutes the largest attack on environmental protections in our nation's history. But the American people didn't ask for such a radical departure. Eight out of 10 voters want the standards that keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe either strengthened or left alone.

Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment chronicles the Tea Party-inspired attempt to strip away trusted safeguards. Written by Bob Deans, a veteran journalist who now works for the NRDC Action Fund, the book describes the damage these measures would do and the polluting companies they would benefit.

But the book also provides something else: a valuable insert to a 2012 campaign playbook.
Anyone running in a primary or race against a Tea Partier or those who have voted with them should shine a spotlight on their radical environmental assault. They can remind voters that when the economy was in flames and Americans were losing their homes, these lawmakers spent their time trying to dismantle environmental laws that have stood strong for 40 years.

Instead of addressing the global financial crisis and unregulated mortgage debt, leaders like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency and its public health safeguards were the "job destroying" villains.

Challengers can also remind voters that the Republican war against environmental protection is bad for our health.

Reckless describes how Tea Party House members tried time and again to gut the Clean Air Act. This isn't some obscure, bureaucratic regulation. It is the law that has prevented more than 4,300,000 premature deaths since 1990. It's the law that slashed the number of unhealthy air days in Los Angeles from more than 200 days in 1970 down to 28 days in 2003. It's the law that brought the percentage of American children with dangerous levels of lead in their blood down from 90 percent in the 1970s to 2 percent in 2000. And it's the law that has had decades of bipartisan support.

But the leadership of the House Republicans wanted to halt this progress and return us to darker, dirtier days. Challengers can offer voters a clear contrast: clean skies and healthier families or more smog and asthma attacks? I can't think of one parent who wants their kids breathing more pollution.

Challengers -- especially those going after moderate voters -- should remind Americans of something else as well: the Republican Party didn't always put polluters first. Reckless charts the GOP's proud tradition of conservation from President Teddy Roosevelt to President George H.W. Bush -- the man who called the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 one of his greatest legislative accomplishments. Most Republican voters continue to hold these values even if their lawmakers have set them aside: 58 percent of Republican voters said they oppose House efforts to block the EPA from reducing air pollution from power plants, according to a 2011 poll by GS Strategy Group and Hart Research.

Why have so many House lawmakers forgotten that conservation is part of conservative values? I see two reasons. First, the Tea Party scared the daylights out of moderate Republicans and even out of sensible conservatives.

And second, polluters spend a lot of cash in Washington. Reckless reports that people and organizations associated with the oil and gas industry spent $31.8 million on campaign contributions during the 2010 congressional elections, with 77 percent of the money going to Republicans.

Polluters may have piles of money, but candidates who stand for ordinary Americans and offer a vision of a cleaner, healthier future can mobilize voters better than any corporate-funded rally can. NRDC Action Fund's research shows that promoting a clean energy vision can help candidates win elections. In this election cycle, candidates should remind voters how hard Tea Party Republicans worked to take away that cleaner future.

Americans of both parties want their kids to breathe safe air and drink clean water. To make sure we deliver on that promise, we must all do our part to end the House Republicans' historic assault on environmental protections.