Taking A Deep Breath of Clean Air
For those of you who are CSPAN junkies like me, these past few weeks have seen some high drama around the Clean Air Act. I have been glued to my TV (or in actuality my computer) watching the back and forth on both the House and Senate floors. Members of Congress debated everything from the power of the executive branch to regulate business, to the effects such regulation has on the industry, to even the science of climate change. Then, the news broke that a vote was coming soon in the Senate that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases. This was about two weeks ago. We were ready. I had visited a number of key Senate offices with an interfaith coalition or activists and we had letters sent to Senators from Reform Jews from all over the United States. Yet, I knew it was going to be a close vote. As the afternoon dragged on, news broke that it would be delayed. This continued every couple days, with a pending vote and then a delay.
Then last week, the votes actually came up. They came in the form of amendments to a small business bill. There was a wide range of amendments, all either blocking or delaying the EPA from protecting our air. The first three failed by a large majority, but gave some members the cover to say they voted for a bill to delay the implementation of the Clean Air Act without completely stopping the EPA from doing its job. Then the last amendment came forward. Presented by Minority Leader Senator McConnell (R-KY) and based on Senator Inhofe and Representative Upton's "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011," the bill would have specifically denied the existence of climate change and prevented the EPA from ever regulating greenhouse gases.
Now, I was truly glued to my computer watching CSPAN. After two minutes of debate on each side, the vote came. For it to pass, it needed the sixty votes to overcome a filibuster. The numbers came in and it was split evenly: fifty in favor and fifty against. The bill had been defeated. As Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center said in a press release,
"Wednesday's votes on Capitol Hill show us that it is possible to win the battle for clean air, but also how hard that battle will be. We commend the Senate for voting against measures to prevent the EPA from doing its job of protecting the public from air pollution. At the same time, we are greatly disappointed by the House vote to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases."
But the fight wasn't over just yet, as the looming government shutdown and budget negotiations continuing, rumors were flying that one of the points being debated was (again!) weakening the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases! Thankfully, President Obama and Senator Reid held to their word and the final budget deal did not include this. (Though, it is important to note, a part of the deal included delisting a number types of wolves in western states from the endangered species list.)
So, thanks to the efforts of so many of you who took action, we have protected the Clean Air Act for another day. But sadly this won't be the last fight this year over the EPA's authority.