GOP in D.C. wants to shut down the environment, too


I don’t usually blog about the contentious political doings in Washington, except when they criss-cross the environmental issues, and the abusive power of Big Oil, that I deal with on a regular basis. You probably know that this weekend Congress and the Obama administration are trying to come to terms with the looming shutdown of the federal government if there’s no budget in place by Oct. 1; lurking directly behind that is a second vote to raise the government’s debt ceiling, to avoid a default.

What does that have to do with the environment?

Possibly everything. As extreme right-wing hardliners tighten their stranglehold on the Republican Party in Congress, they’ve floated a remarkable plan aimed at blackmailing President Obama into accepting the radical platform upon which Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012 — and which was roundly rejected by the American people. Check out some of the things — most of them related to the environment and long sought after by big business — that Republicans say they want to happen in return for preventing the government from defaulting and thus tanking the economy:

Below is a look at some of their demands:

1. Approve of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The pipeline would link Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast and is currently under review at the State Department. The project would create 3,900 temporary construction jobs per year and would would only support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, with “negligible socioeconomic impacts,” after construction is complete. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that constructing the pipeline would increase annual carbon emissions by “up to 27.6 million metric tons, or the equivalent of nearly 6 million cars on the road.” Without completing Keystone, tar sands production is estimated to fall flat by 2020. At least three Democratic senators who support the pipeline — Mark Begich of Alaska, Max Baucus of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — said in interviews that language for the project should not be included in the debt-ceiling measure. “I’ve supported Keystone, but we should have a clean debt-limit bill,” Begich said. “That’s been the traditional way, and it’s been very successful.”

5. Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on federal lands. Fueled by Big Oil interests, Republicans have long supported opening virtually all of the U.S. Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast off Southern California, and much of Alaska’s offshore space to new drilling — even though oil production on federal lands has been higher every year from 2009 through 2011 than it was from 2006 through 2008. U.S. oil production is now at its highest level since 1997, according to government figures. However, Congress has yet to pass a single piece of legislation that would make drilling safer in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

And those are just two of the environmental impacts of the proposed measure. The plan would also block the federal government from regulating greenhouse gases, which could have a disastrous effect on our efforts to prevent climate change. In addition, there’s a provision in the GOP plan that would make any and all regulations of American industry highly difficult to carry out.

Admittedly, this is just a proposal — there are going to likely be a lot of proposals and trial balloons floated over the next couple of weeks. But it’s important that people know what a terrible idea this is. Because so much of my time is involved in dealing with the neverending aftermath of the 2010 BP oil spill off of Louisiana, I find the offshore oil drilling idea particularly galling. As the above article notes, we need to regulate offshore drilling before we increase it.

The Keystone XL provision is also worrisome because President Obama has been undecided over the last couple of years over whether to allow the new conduit for tar sands oil, despite the clear and present risk of increased glonal warming and new oil spills. Thus, there’s a very real possibility that Obama will use the pipeline as a bargaining chip to prevent default. We can’t allow this to happen. We need to let Washington know: A clean environment and the public’s health is not a bargaining chip.

To read more about the environmental demands of the House Republicans, please read:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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