Money talks and the Supreme Court has just made it talk louder than ever. The most conservative court in 100 years shook the foundations of democracy by allowing corporations to spend as much as they like on TV ads or anything else to support or oppose specific candidates for office.
In other words, the five conservative justices practically legalized the bribery of elected politicians, arguing that money is a form of speech entitled to all its First Amendment rights.
The decision kicks the doors wide open for a cancer that has been eating away at the very fiber of democracy in our nation: what I call checkbook legislation. The one with the most cash and lobbyists accumulates the most power.
I offer you the most recent symptom of this cancer. A new Senate amendment would take away the power to regulate global warming gases from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The Obama administration, obeying a Supreme Court decision and following the recommendations of its scientists, determined in December that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, constitute a threat to the public health and must be regulated.
But now Big Coal and Big Oil want to take away our power to regulate polluters.
For us Hispanics, this decision affects us more than any other community. According to a League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) survey, 80% of us live dangerously close to a coal-fired plant. Also, 80% of us live in counties with the worst air quality in the country.
It's no wonder among Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans, 2/3 of the entire Hispanic community, asthma is considered an epidemic, especially among our children.
Global warming emissions are not only heating the planet to alarming levels. They are also poisoning our communities. The 500 coal-fired plants in the US every year cause 21,000 hospitalizations, 38,000 heart attacks and 24,000 unnecessary deaths.
But where there is smoke (or smog) there is fire. The Washington Post has reported that two lobbyists representing several members of the energy industry, especially electric utilities, helped craft recent efforts to weaken EPA's authority. Among the clients of Jeffrey R. Holmstead and Roger R. Martella -- two former members of the Bush administration's EPA -- are Southern Co., Duke Energy, and Progress Energy.
But there is more. According to Senate records, seven polluting companies spent a combined $142 million on direct lobbying in 2009. These same companies, including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron, also spent millions more on indirect lobbying, advertisements trying to influence public officials. These polluters are getting in the way of important rules that would protect our communities from global warming pollution and smog. And, speaking of smog, the EPA has proposed new, tougher national standards for this dangerous type of ozone. Following the recommendations of its own scientists, the agency wants to reduce smog levels from 75 to between 60-70 parts per billion. Smog, one of the most toxic forms of pollution, comes from coal-fired plants, refineries, and vehicles. Even at very low levels, it can cause a variety of illnesses, including asthma, permanent lung damage, and premature death. Scientists compare smog exposure to sunburn in the lungs.
It's no wonder the public is overwhelmingly in favor of the administration's reducing toxic and global warming emissions. A national survey sponsored by the Clean Energy Works campaign found that 59% of Americans agree that the EPA should regulate carbon polluters.
Also, the study revealed that 58% support a comprehensive energy bill similar to the one passed by the House of Representatives in June, which, ever since, has been stuck in the Senate due to Republican opposition.
How is it possible then that this small minority is so successful in blocking progress toward a clean, renewable energy economy that generates millions of jobs toward our energy independence and the end of our oil addiction, and toward a cleaner air that does not poison our communities?
Money talks very loudly.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Visit www.sierraclub.org/ecocentro