Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A 2018 Battle For A Changing Chicagoland District-- Guest Post By Geoff Petzel


This week, Blue America endorsed Geoff Petzel to represent Illinois' 6th congressional district in Congress, a seat currently held by conservative Republican Peter Roskam. The Chicagoland suburban district, which was Romney territory in 2012, voted for Clinton over Trump, 50.2% to 43.2%. The DCCC has given Roskam a free ride year after year but has finally vowed to prioritize IL-06 for the 2018 cycle. Blue America would like to make sure the Democratic candidate is a progressive, not another right-of-center corporate shill. Geoff fits the bill and we asked him to write a guest post on the issue he has been most associated with: environmental protection. After reading it, please consider contributing to his campaign by tapping on the ActBlue thermometer at the bottom of the page (or by clicking here.)

Clean Water And Air As Essential American Campaign Issues
-by Geoffrey Petzel

The appointment of Scott Pruitt to be the EPA Administrator is a troubling sign of things ahead. Clean air, clean water, endangered species, public lands and climate change solutions are all at risk under the Trump Administration and Republican Congress.

As someone who has been deeply entrenched in environmental policy for the last 20 years as an advocate, activist and professional, the implications of the Trump Administration appointments and statements on the environment are beyond disconcerning. I am the founder of an organization called Public Guardian. We have no website, no advertising and don’t care about media coverage. What we care about is fighting private interests and the government when they fail to protect the public trust. We believe that clean air, clean water and public lands belong equally to all Americans and that government decision makers are responsible to us-- the people-- in protecting those resources. So when the government or private industry tries to take away those public trust resources, we must fight back. In the courts and in our communities.

I started Pubic Guardian after I ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2012. I ran because I wanted to have a positive impact on society. I wanted to have a voice. I also said I would never run for office again.

It’s amazing how quickly things change. As I begin the campaign to replace my incumbent Congressman in 2018 it makes me wonder how we have gotten to this point-- putting an anti-science climate change denier in charge of the EPA. It makes me wonder how the American people can ignore the needs of clean air, clean water and protecting our public lands.

Take my Congressman, Peter Roskam, as an example. He has voted dozens of times to gut the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, to de-fund Endangered Species protections and exploit oil, gas and mineral resources on public lands. He has one of the worst environmental voting records in Congress. How is this possible? Don’t voters in our District care about the environment? What about Republicans nationally? How can they support Scott Pruitt to be the EPA Administrator?

When I try to make sense of that question, I think back to my race in 2012 where I had a confrontation with a Tea Party member who lived in my neighborhood. He told me he thought my priorities were wrong and that government regulations were killing American jobs and that the EPA should be eliminated. He was my neighbor and I didn’t want to get into a yelling match, but I couldn’t let that one go without a response. I reminded him that he got his drinking water from a well and without the EPA I would be free to dump toxic chemicals in my backyard. His well would be poisoned. I asked him if he would be better off in that situation. I then pointed to his mini-van and asked how he would feel if the gas tank exploded while he was driving his children to school. He was silent. I reminded him that the federal government put in safety standards to make sure his car was safe. And I reminded him that the EPA and clean water laws have ensured that our rivers aren’t so full of chemical waste that they start on fire like the Cuyahoga River did in 1969 (spurring the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972). He ultimately agreed me and tried to duck and cover from any further discussion. He later put my campaign sign in his yard.

I think we have lost sight of what’s important. The mainstream media and politicians don’t talk about Clean Water and Clean Air or the regulation of toxic chemicals. We take for granted the immense progress we have made in environmental protection since the 1960’s. That’s how my Congressman has been allowed to stay in office with an abysmal record that violates the essence of what almost every American values-- environmental protection. We need to remind each other that if we are not careful, history will repeat itself. I’m sure if we eliminate enforceable laws and eliminate consumer protections large companies will be happy to dump their waste in the air, land and waters of this nation. Our health and the health of future generations will be at stake if we allow private corporations to set the priorities. General Electric poisoned the Hudson River, DuPont has destroyed the rivers and streams of West Virginia with the production of Teflon and today Monsanto poisons our land and waters with dangerous pesticides.

In my Congressional District we are facing significant water challenges. The Fox River runs through the western edge of the District. The Fox River originates in Wisconsin and flows south before it enters Illinois. In the summer, in its southern reaches, 1/3 of the flow of the river is treated wastewater from the dozens of sewage treatment plants that discharge the treated water into the river. Over 350,000 people also get their drinking water from the same river. The enforcement of clean water standards is critical to ensure the preservation of the river environment, but also critical to the 350,000 people, manufacturers and businesses that depend on clean water. Imagine the implications if the Clean Water Act were repealed or if EPA stopped enforcing laws. Imagine if Wisconsin decided to increase pollution to spur economic development? These types of issues are why a strong and active EPA is critical to the people in my district.

Already the Trump Administration has overturned a provision of the Clean Water Act that will allow mining companies to dump mining waste into streams and valleys. Rumors are that the Administration has also ordered the EPA to stop enforcement actions. While the US EPA is responsible for over-seeing the Clean Water Act, the enforcement and implementation of the Clean Water Act is traditionally designated to the states. This delegation to the states will provide some protection from the full scale destruction of our nation’s waters in the short term as states have their own set of water quality standards on the books to mirror the Clean Water Act, but the long term implications can be devastating.

I believe in increased funding and stronger enforcement of our existing Clean Air and Clean Water laws. In Illinois for example, last month over 300 companies or government owned wastewater treatment plants violated clean water laws. The State of Illinois lacks funding to increase enforcement. If EPA won’t step in and enforce the laws we will see an increase in fish kills, contaminated drinking water and health problems.

I also believe in science and am very fearful of the climate change impacts that will happen because of a Trump Administration. The Paris Agreement on Climate Change will allow the United States to be a leader in global greenhouse gas reductions. Our policy is aligned with science and it must stay that way for the sake of our future. This is the most important policy fight we should have as a country because it’s more than just domestic policy at stake. A failure to follow the Paris Accord will unravel the global commitment 197 countries have made to fighting climate change.

I decided to run for Congress again because unlike during the 2012 Campaign when no one seemed to be paying attention, the country has awaken to what is at stake in our elections. And now is the time for bold candidates to make bold decisions based on values and not polls.

Through my not-for-profit I am fighting a copper mining project in Arizona that will destroy thousands of acres of National Forest land and sacred Apache cultural sites. The land for the proposed copper mine was transferred to the mining company in a land transfer agreement approval by Congress- kind of. John McCain attached a rider to the defense authorization bill at the last minute that included the land transfer. Congress approved the defense authorization bill with the rider. I’m sure some members knew the rider was attached but didn’t want to explain to their constituents why they voted against a defense spending bill. This is the wrong approach. If I had the opportunity I would have voted against the bill. I would be happy to go back to my congressional district and explain why I voted to protect public lands in Arizona.

My district is well educated and moderate on most issues. They value environmental protection. No one has been paying attention, but now that people are engaged, politicians like my opponent will have a lot of explaining to do. People in my district need a Representative in Congress who shares their values and will stand up for them. And sometimes they need to be reminded of what you, and they really do value.

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