Show Up and Speak Up for Climate Change Legislation

Congress is heading back home for the August recess this week. Apparently our Senators need to rest after they failed to take up both a clean energy and climate bill and an oil spill bill.

Legislative inaction must be more tiring than I realized.

Still, I don’t view this month as a cooling off period. If anything, it’s time to turn up the heat.

Over the next few weeks, Senators will be holding “town hall meetings” in their states. Last year, these meetings came to define the health care debate. This year, they could help us reshape America’s energy policy.

If you are like me and you are still stunned that the Senate refused to pass a bill that would have created nearly 2 million new American jobs, put our nation at the forefront of the clean energy market and helped end our addiction to oil, then go to a town hall meeting and tell your lawmakers what you think.

Tell them that it is in America’s best interest to embrace clean energy now.

And while you are at it, please tell them to block attempts by some Senators to weaken the Clean Air Act-the 40-year-old law that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives-in an effort to further delay reductions in global warming pollution.  

Some naysayers claim that voting on visionary legislation is a risky proposition when we are this close to an election. They are wrong, and history proves it.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, 13 of the most powerful environmental laws were passed during the fall of an election year or in the lame duck sessions following elections.  

We can pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall, but only if we demand it of our lawmakers.

Use this August to make your voices heard. You can find your Senators’ schedules by checking their Senate websites, as well as their candidate websites – Republican or Democratic.

We failed the people who cleaned up 9/11. Will we fail the people cleaning up the Gulf?

In the aftermath of 9/11, we saw thousands of workers develop devastating respiratory conditions and other illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic dust that filled the air in the days and weeks after the twin towers fell. To this day, these peoples’ plight continues to add misery to the ongoing tragedy of 9/11. What makes it even worse is that these people were assured the air was safe.   As we all know now, it wasn’t.

Today, sadly, history may be repeating itself in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Thank you to Ligia Ercius-Dipaola, who posted this video on the NRDC Action Fund Facebook Page)

Amazingly, despite reports like this one, BP “continues to pretend that – just like an oil spill of this magnitude could never happen – there also could not possibly be a worker health concern.”  While the potential health hazards posed by chemical dispersants and oil itself are debatable, it is clear that significant risks existed.  

Already, we’ve seen evidence of the impact that spilled oil can have on human health. For starters, an increasing number of workers and residents in Gulf Coast areas have reported “suffering from nausea, vomiting, headaches and difficulty breathing.”  Considering that oil contains “petroleum hydrocarbons, which are toxic and irritating to the skin and airways”, as well as volatile chemicals “which can cause acute health effects such as headaches, dizziness and nausea” it’s no surprise that these symptoms are appearing.

(Thank you to Gary Chattem, who posted this on the NRDC Action Fund Facebook Wall)

So now, with the “60 exposure-related complaints filed with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals”, not to mention the “overwhelming evidence that many of the compounds found in crude oil are dangerous,” shouldn’t BP be protecting the people who are cleaning up this mess? If they aren’t doing so, why aren’t they?

The bottom line is this: people along the Gulf Coast deserve to know the facts regarding the dangers they are facing and how to protect themselves.  It’s bad enough that their economic livelihoods are in danger of destruction in part due to BP’s greed and recklessness.  But if their lungs and other organs are damaged by oil and dispersant particles in the air, more than their economic livelihoods could be damaged.

None of us should ever forget that this disaster was brought on, at least in part, by BP cutting corners to save a few (million) bucks, and by the government’s failure to prevent the company from doing so.  As a result, the unthinkable has happened.  We must learn from those grave mistakes, not repeat them.  That means, in the long term, ridding ourselves of our dangerous, destructive addition to oil.  But what must happen now – right now – is for BP to stop cutting corners with the health of the people cleaning up the Gulf.

At the minimum, BP must switch its philosophy from “hope for the best” to “do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to make sure people are safe.”  If BP won’t “make it right,” as the company’s ads like to say, then the government should force BP to do so.  In the words of one Venice, LA mother: “I’ve got the two most beautiful children in the world. If something were to happen to them, how could I look in those baby blues and say, Mommy didn’t know?”  It’s a great question.  What’s the answer, BP?

The Deepwater Disaster

I listened to some of yesterday’s Congressional hearing on the Gulf Oil Spill and was astonished to hear executives repeatedly saying no one ever anticipated a disaster of this magnitude.  Why not?  Isn’t that their job?  Wouldn’t you think that before drilling in 5,000 feet of ocean you;d anticipate every possible problem and devise a solution?  Isn’t this the industry which brainwashed the gullible right wing zealots that drilling here and drilling now was safe?  While it doesn’t take much to brainwash the great uninformed the consequences being faced as a result of this disaster are truly calamitous.  Two industries, tourism and seafood, have now been destroyed in that area.  Untold damages to wildlife both in the sea and on shore are incalculable.  The environmental catastrophe is unprecedented and all because BP and its corporate partners were reckless and irresponsible.  Drilling in sensitive environmental areas has always been controversial for the very reasons we’re witnessing.  The potential disaster is beyond what we may ever be able to repair.

The corporate suits spent yesterday blaming each other.  They are all to blame and we care little which corporate entity was responsible for what.  It was BP’s well so BP is ultimately responsible.  Halliburton and Transocean were but subcontractors to BP and BP must shoulder the cost, whatever it is, to restore the Gulf and repay those whose livelihoods were destroyed.  How though do you calculate the extent of the economic devastation.  It isn’t only the fishermen who are out of work but the local businesses where they spent their money, the stores and markets across the country who do not now have shrimp, crawfish and other seafood to sell.  

I saw a car in a parking lot today with one of those old “drill here, drill now, pay less” bumper stickers.  I wanted to ask the driver (I didn’t see them) “how did that go for you?”  

The White House is proposing new legislation due to the disaster and this morning Carol Browner said “BP will be paying for all the costs of stopping the spill and cleaning it up.”  She also said:

President is sending up to Congress a legislative package that will lift the caps on damage, increase the ceiling on the amount of money that can be expended on recovery per incident from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, and provide other authorities and funding to help the federal government respond quickly to this crisis.

    The legislation includes unemployment assistance, food and nutrition assistance, and help for those affected by the spill to find work, aid to fisheries and fishermen who have been severely impacted by the spill, funding to increase inspection of fish and seafood to protect the safety of the food we eat, and the establishment of one-stop shops for those in need of aid.

    The bill also provides funding for additional inspections and enforcement of safety regulations on other offshore platforms; and comprehensive evaluations of new policies, procedures and actions needed in light of this incident.

    By passing this legislation we will clear statutory roadblocks and speed assistance to those impacted by the oil spill, as well as quickly mobilize assistance should the spill become worse and BP is not settling claims quickly.

    While we are asking for additional funds, in some cases, the federal government will not relent in pursuing full compensation for the expenses it has occurred and damage caused by this spill. And the legislation contains provisions to help us recoup those costs.

Melody Barnes explained these parts of the bills:

We’re going to provide several different forms of assistance in the legislation that’s being sent forward, the first being oil spill unemployment assistance.  This is modeled after disaster unemployment assistance.  It would be triggered, in this case, in the result of a Spill of National Significance.  It will provide up to 26 weeks of assistance to those who are affected, but we are doing this in a way that those who can’t qualify for regular unemployment insurance will be able to be eligible — so, for example, those who are self-employed, as many fishermen are, or those who may not have worked the requisite number of hours, other forms of eligibility under normal unemployment insurance assistance.  The benefit levels will be determined by state law.

    Another form of assistance that we are going to include in the legislation is nutrition assistance.  This is predicated on the SNAP program, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  And we, again, are providing this in the case of a Spill of National Significance, just like the unemployment insurance assistance.  But in this case, our goal is to make sure that people can access these resources much more quickly than those normally can be accessed under SNAP — the normal SNAP program.

So there are streamlined certification processes and also fewer eligibility factors and reduced procedural requirements.  The benefits will be provided in the same way that normal SNAP benefits are provided, through the electronic benefits transfer card.

We also are including here a provision that enables the Department of Agriculture to provide food directly to states and distribute that food to those who are in need.

And finally, employment assistance — and we’re doing this by expanding the capacity of our Workforce Investment Act training and employment programs, so the local one-stop centers. And we’re doing this obviously at the state and local level by providing funding assistance to localities and ensuring that we can provide needed training and assistance to unemployed workers — again, fishermen and others who are out of work as a result of the oil spill — and making sure that those who have been laid off get the kind of training and increased occupational skills that they may need during this period of time.

The most urgent thing we can do however is to get off carbon based fuels.  Had we made a concerted effort decades ago we wouldn’t be drilling for oil in 5,000 feet of water off our coast.  Carbon based fuels are already destroying the planet and we must do something.  Deepwater Horizon is a wake up call we must heed.  It is time to revamp our energy portfolio and get serious about using solar, geothermal, wind, biomass and other clean renewable energy sources.  The sun shines down all day and collecting and harnessing that energy can greatly reduce our burning of fossil fuels.  Geothermal uses the heat generated inside the earth and uses it to heat and cool our buildings.  Every new structure should be required to use geothermal energy for heating and cooling.  Every new large structure should be required to install solar panels.  Why haven’t we done this?  It isn’t until we face a crisis that we actually address critical issues in this country.  Deepwater Horizon is more than a crisis it is a total catastrophe.  We are now destroying the entire Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Stream may begin carrying crude oil up the eastern seaboard and into the North Atlantic.  This not only devastates our nation but others as well.  The crisis is upon us and it is incumbent we act expeditiously and responsibly.