Guest Opinion: Time for Real environmental leadership in PA-01
Amy Sinden | Oct. 29, 2018
As the race in Pennsylvania’s redrawn First Congressional District heats up, environmental issues are front and center—and rightly so, with 70,000 residents facing PCB contamination of their drinking water and the realities of the climate crisis setting in.
Democratic challenger Scott Wallace has a solid environmental record. He has spent the last 15 years running a charitable foundation that names the environment and climate as one of its primary areas of focus, and has endorsements from Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, among others.
But the surprising news is on the Republican side, where one-term incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick is branding himself an environmentalist as well. In the current political climate — where Republican environmentalist are as common as two-dollar bills — that’s noteworthy. With a 71 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters (124 of his Republican colleagues scored 0), Representative Fitzpatrick is a real outlier.
With cute acronyms, like the “REINS Act” and the “SCRUB Act,” these bills, purport to “cut red tape” and “rein in” regulators. But, in fact, they are designed to hamstring agencies, including the EPA, in their ability to issue the rules that keep our food supply free of disease, our air clean, and our water safe to drink. The REINS Act, for example, would extend Congress’ dysfunctional gridlock to agencies, by prohibiting any agency rule from going into effect unless it’s approved in a resolution passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President within 70 days. Representative Fitzpatrick repeatedly voted with the Republicans to pass a whole series of these bills.
In other instances, he has voted the pro-environment position on final passage of bills, but against the environment on key amendments and procedural votes along the way. For example, Representative Fitzpatrick voted against a bill to delay EPA’s rule limiting ozone pollution, but before that helped defeat a motion that would have sent the bill back to committee for a report on its public health impacts. Similarly, he opposed a bill to open up federal lands bordering the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to mining. But before that, he voted with the GOP to kill an amendment that would have increased the grossly below-market rates ($1/acre) the Chilean Mining Conglomerate pushing the bill would have to pay to lease those federal lands.
Finally, there’s his yes vote on the tax bill, which opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. By ballooning the federal deficit, the tax bill also set the stage for future budget cuts that will undoubtedly take a toll on environmental clean-up and enforcement efforts. And an initial version of the House bill, which Representative Fitzpatrick also supported, would have cut back crucial tax credits for wind and solar energy.
In this time of increased polarization and dysfunction in Congress, there’s something to be said for preserving the endangered species that moderate Republicans in Congress have become. And certainly, the Climate Solutions Caucus, of which Representative Fitzpatrick is a member, is a welcome effort to carve out a sliver of bipartisanship amidst the Republican Party’s unfathomable intransigence on climate. Ten years ago, that might have been sufficient reason to reelect him—strengthening the moderate wing of an increasingly radical Republican party.
But as the report released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear, we’re out of time: We have only a decade to make “rapid and far-reaching” changes in the way we produce energy if we’re going to avoid catastrophic impacts from global warming. If we are to have any hope of pulling the planet back from the brink of catastrophe, we need consistent and bold environmental leadership, not an on-and-off friend of the environment.