Is Protecting The Environment A Political Issue? Meet Alex Law (D-NJ)
New Jersey environmental groups have long rated Donald Norcross as the worst Democrat in the state legislature. Now he's in Congress. We asked Alex to contrast his own vision for the environment with that of the Norcross Machine. If you like what you read below, please consider contributing to his grassroots campaign here. He started with an introduction laying out how he wants to approach the topic.
Protecting The Environment And Ensuring Long-Term Robust Economic Growth Are One Choice
by Alex Law
One of the most important issues for our government is our national environmental policy. As progressives we face a grave responsibility to lead our party beyond the centrist appeasing voices that seek to align themselves with Big Oil and Big Coal donors. This responsibility is vitally important because we are opposed by a Republican Party dominated by leaders who not only give in to the destructive wishes of their corporate sponsors but go as far as denying scientific fact.
The frightening reality is that there are elected officials who do not believe pollution is a problem or that global warming is really happening. These people often present the false binary choice that we can either have a growing economy with energy security or we can protect the environment and lose jobs. I fundamentally disagree with this paradigm. To me, protecting the environment and ensuring long-term robust economic growth are one choice. Opposing it is a choice where we cling to an outdated model that mortgages our prosperity for short-term corporate profits.
In this article I’d like to discuss a few areas where I believe we have work to do: Energy, Clean Air, Clean Water, Environmental Justice, Future-State plans, and Current NJ-01 Representative Policy.
One of the most concerning issues about Big Oil’s domination of our elected officials is their “Orwellian skill at employing the rhetoric of patriotism and emblazoning its enterprises with stars and stripes, which has stitched the notion that conservation is synonymous with "anti-American" into the fabric of GOP talking points.” We can all identify with this sentiment; every commercial for Exxon or Big Coal companies bludgeon us over the head with Americana imagery all while slyly forcing their agenda upon us. Despite common sense and science both pointing America directly in the direction of green energy development, we have been a hesitant nation moving towards it.
I want to make the economic argument for Green energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. America is a country that has an edge in technological development and innovation on almost every country on earth. Becoming the world’s leader on solar panel development, turbine technology, and other forms of clean energy harvesting would immediately put us in a position to create long term, sustainable jobs. This future would put us in a position to become an exporter of advanced manufactured goods that require skilled American workers. Further, it would free us from the exorbitant cost of wars like Iraq that we now know was fought primarily to appease our appetite for oil and our military industrial complex sector.
As a country, we heavily subsidize the price out fossil fuels. The true price never comes to the energy bill because it comes out of our tax dollars. For example, when people argue that coal is so cheap, they never take into account the incredible cost of coal roads that are often subsidized. Coal roads are ones that need to be built nearly ten times as thick as a normal road in order to handle the crushing weight of a fully loaded coal transportation truck. Oil companies receive a seemingly endless supply of government subsidies for their research into new technologies to drill deeper. It seems incredible that we are actively refusing money to industries that could make energy for substantially lower monetary costs with almost no environmental costs, but we are giving it to the expensive, dirty alternative. If all the subsidies to oil were taken away, the true cost of gas at the pump would be upwards of $12 dollars per gallon according to leading economist Amory Lovins, and everyone, even Republicans, would be driving electric cars.
Our economic security is being jeopardized by our insistent reliance on oil. Republicans will point to the “resurgence” of American oil production as a sign that we can drill our way out of any shortage. The economic reality shows that to be totally untrue. The global price of oil is falling being OPEC is pumping way more into the global supply right when they know demand is shrinking in America (because of slow, but still existent improvements in mileage standards and because of recession hangover), Europe (recession), and China (slowed growth). They are doing this because they are making a bet that they can produce at that lower profit longer than other producers around the world. They happen to be right. The price of oil has slipped below the breakeven point for many American companies. However it hasn’t even gotten close to the price it costs to get oil out of Saudi Arabia. This means the companies that have the most expensive technology to drill deep are going to go out of business or at the very least stop production, whereas OPEC countries will just keep pumping. Eventually the supply will correct itself and the price will rise, but when it does, we will be paying foreign producers and be right back in the trouble we were in during the Bush years. We need to take this opportunity now to invest in other energy sources in order to create good jobs and to secure our economic future.
Having clean, breathable air is an issue that we really need to focus on especially because it is one that is often linear in solution. Direct policies can directly improve specific aspects of it. Some things that I think we need to consider are:
1. The main piece of legislation we have to protect our air is the Clean Air Act, something that was written before the idea of global warming was even thought about. Even so, it does have some good protections in it to keep out air breathable. However, President Obama’s administration has let us down and failed to actually enforce a lot of the terms of the legislation to the glee of the Republican Congress.
2. One of the other big areas of subsidies mentioned above toward Big Coal is how there is very little enforcement of proper disposal of Coal Ash. Big coal continues to fill toxic landfills and poison our water supply as it seeps into the environment. We need stronger regulation and stronger punishments for companies that do not dispose of coal properly.
3. As many as 1 in 12 women of child-bearing age in the United States have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. This comes from mercury powder pollution by power plants, chlor-alkali plants, and others. This is also water safety issue as nearly all of our wild fish in the world have near dangerous levels of mercury in them as a result of rampant pollution.
4. There are benefits to the “compromise” policy of using the free market to have pollution permits that can be traded and paid for. But, I think we need to look past shortsighted policies like that which seek to find a compromise that ultimately jeopardizes our future. We need to find a way to truly limit the emissions into the air both for our breathing safety as well as for the effects it has on global warming.
Just like our thinking about Clean Air, Clean Water is something that we can look at specific issues and design policy to address them. There is a lot of work to do and these are some issues I think we need to consider:
1. Often we leave monitoring of already identified impaired waters to understaffed agencies that can’t follow up properly to ensure the healing process is going as it should be. We need to strengthen our ability to clean up already sullied waters so that we restore natural habitats and protect deep ground water sources from being further affected by surface pollution.
2. As our climate continues to change because of greenhouse emissions, we need to direct federal attention towards our precious wetlands. Despite the science-denying governor in Florida right now, we need to work towards making sure our wetlands continue to exist even as water levels rise, as well as, make sure that they are defended from polluters.
3. We must hold federal facilities, including the Departments of Defense and Energy, accountable for the pollution they and their contractors create. Too often government agencies, especially the Department of Defense, get away with pollution in the name of national security.
4. Congress must amend the Clean Water Act to undo the damage from Supreme Court decisions narrowing its reach. The Clean Water Act is one of our biggest pieces of legislation and the limitations placed on it kill much of the spirit of the law.
5. We must increase funding for water testing and monitoring. Polluters are creative and ruthless; we must stay one step ahead of them.
“Although communities of color, tribes and indigenous peoples, and the poor have been heavily and disproportionately affected by noxious and risk-producing environmental practices for decades, the issue of environmental racism did not gain national prominence until the 1980s.” For those of you that want to dive deep into this issue, the source I cited with that quote writes an excellent piece that explains in detail all aspects of this issue. I agree wholeheartedly with their conclusions that they summarize at the end of their article.
Some of the salient ideas are we must ensure that even less economically wealthy communities have self-determination and the ability to get enhanced environmental protection. These goals march in step with our progressive values that government has a responsibility to try and give everyone a fair shot. We need to make sure that Big Oil, Big Coal, and other polluters are not stifling these minority communities.
Future State Ideas
There are thousands of really great future state ideas for policies that with the right commitment could create extremely favorable options. Two I want to talk about today are RFK Jr.’s plan to give the ability to every home in America to essentially become it’s own power plant and the work that PK Clean is doing.
1. In RFK Jr.’s vision, he sees an America where every house can generate power through solar energy and then sell their excess power back to the grid. This would substantially lower the cost of energy for everyone, as it would become plentiful and clean. Most people would get paid utility bills rather than pay them. This future is a long way away because of all of the opponents that make a lot of money off of the current system. It would also require a total redesign of our decaying power grid, which we are going to need to do soon anyway. As solar becomes more efficient and even cheaper every year, we could certainly look towards a day where American homes have true energy independence.
2. PK Clean is a company using Japanese technology that can convert landfill garbage into cleaner-than-ground oil. Investment in technology like this presents an opportunity to turn our un-recycled landfills into usable fuel. I look forward to a day when we all drive electric cars and do not require oil anywhere resembling the way that we currently do, but in the meantime, I think it is really neat that there is technology that can help us clear our economically dangerous landfills and turn that garbage into something productive.
Current NJ-01 Representative: Donald Norcross
Donald Norcross, although a Democrat in name, has shown he can be bought and sold by big oil when there is a vague promise of short-term jobs. He does not have any commitment to protecting the environment or taking America into an age where it leads the way with innovative green technology. He buys into the rhetoric that Big Oil presents that environmental policy that protects our resources is in opposition to economic prosperity. Here are some of his votes both in Trenton when he was a State-Senator and from his short 8 months in Congress:
1. Voted with Republicans for the Keystone Pipeline because he could trumpet creating jobs.
2. He then total flipped to pander to environmentally conscious people by opposing new drilling off the NJ Shore. Of course, the entire NJ Delegation was standing united on this bill, so his absence would have been conspicuous. Interestingly his Congressional Website does not list his support of Keystone Pipeline in his Environmental section, just his limited support of some environmental bills.
3. S1085 in NJ State House: This bill established a forest harvest program on State-owned land. His corporate donors pushed for and got his support for this.
When I get to Washington, I will push forward true progressive values. I will fight against not just conservatives that deny science but also conservative Democrats like my opponent that think the environment is a good thing to support only when it doesn’t risk disrupting big business. We need more defenders of the environment in Washington that understand we can grow the economy and make our planet a healthier place at the same time. I hope to have your support in this fight.