The Most Anti-Environmental Congress in U.S. History Seeks Reelection

Since January 2011, one out of every five votes in the U.S. House of Representatives was to undermine environmental protections.

The dome of the Capitol is reflected in a puddle in Washington, February 17, 2012. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque)
The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

With all the climate-related disasters that unfolded this year—wildfires and floods and extreme heat, not mention the Arctic sea ice that melted to a record low level—you would think that Congress might get the message that action on climate change is a necessity. 

Did they? Definitely not. Since January 2011, one out of every five votes in the U.S. House of Representatives was to undermine environmental protections—315 votes out of a total of 1535.

This makes the current U.S. House of Representatives the most anti-environment Congress in history, according to a report by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), from the Committee on Natural Resources. 

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The votes weren’t cosmetic either—they were efforts to weaken environmental oversight legislation like the Clean Air Act, a 40-year-old law that regulates air pollution, which the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated will prevent 230,000 pollution-related early deaths by 2020, and provide more than $2 trillion in economic benefits. 

The House’s anti-environment votes largely fell along party lines, according the report: 94 percent of Republican members voted for the anti-environment positions, while 87 percent of Democratic members voted for the pro-environment positions. 

Here’s a rundown of the most egregious voting patterns, care of Representatives Waxman and Markey:  

- 77 votes were to undermine Clean Air Act protections and “block EPA regulation of toxic mercury and other harmful emissions from power plants, incinerators, industrial boilers, cement plants, and mining operations.”

- 39 votes were to weaken protection of public lands and wildlife, including removing protections for certain over-exploited or endangered species like wolves and sea turtles.

- 31 votes were to undermine Clean Water Act protections, including votes “to repeal EPA’s authority to stop mountaintop removal mining disposal; and to block EPA from protecting headwaters and wetlands that flow into navigable waters.”

- 37 votes were to block action to address climate change,including votes to overturn EPA’s scientific findings that climate change endangers human health and welfare,” and “to prevent the United States from participating in international climate negotiations; and even to cut funding for basic climate science.”

Yes, that’s right. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives want to overturn EPA’s scientific conclusion that climate change endangers human health and welfare.

That climate change is real and caused by human activity is a conclusion shared by 97 percent of scientists. The remaining three percent? Skeptics whose level of expertise is far below that of their peers.

Manmade climate change impacts human health and safety—that much can be deduced by the average American who has suffered extreme heatwaves. But if that’s not enough, a report from the National Institutes of Health paints a terrifying picture of how climate change endangers human health—excruciating heat, degraded air quality, flooding, and an increase in bacterial infections, to name a few.  

Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry has emerged as a big winner in the slew of anti-environment votes in the House. Since 2011, the House voted 109 times to implement policies that enrich the oil and gas industry, including votes to block clean energy development, fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline, and weaken environmental, public health, and safety requirements for oil companies.  

Common Dreams points out that Republicans were the overwhelming recipients of campaign contributions from oil and gas companies—they raked in four times the amount of money from Big Oil than their Democratic counterparts.

So it should come as no surprise that on Friday afternoon, the GOP majority passed the ‘Stop the War on Coal Act,’ H.R. 3409, which would significantly weaken regulations that protect our air, water, and natural environments from over-pollution by coal fired power plants and other industries.

Despite the fact that the Senate will almost certainly strike it down, according to The New York Times, and that President Obama has already threatened to veto it, the 112th House of Representatives decided to leave their chambers with a bang—after passing the Act, the House adjourned until mid November, off to campaign for reelection on a full-time basis.

Between now and Election Day, we might do well to remind them that they work for the taxpayers—all of whom will be experiencing the effects of climate change in the future.

When voting, what priorioty dp you place on a politicians' environmental voting record? Explain in the comments below.

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