Environmental groups launch effort to pressure House GOP on spending votes

Environmental and public health groups aim to hold House Republicans accountable next week for voting to defund a series of key environmental initiatives.

The groups plan to dispatch staffers across the country during the Presidents Day recess week to hold rallies and press conferences in key Republican districts. The goal is to lay out what the groups see as the wide-ranging environmental and public health effects of blocking or limiting major air pollution regulations.

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“There are members of the House who are OK with exposing their constituents to potentially life-threatening pollution,” said Peter Iwanowicz of the American Lung Association. “Lawmakers are totally out of step with where the voters are.”

The House approved a measure Saturday to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year that cuts current spending by $61 billion. A slew of amendments were added to the package that would block funding for key environmental regulations.

Environmental and public health groups railed against the spending bill, focusing much of their ire on an amendment sponsored by Texas Republicans Ted Poe, Joe Barton and John Carter that would block funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rules until the end of September.

Now that the spending bill has passed, the groups are mobilizing to organize a series of events around the country to call attention to the votes. The groups are buoyed by a series of polls they conducted in recent weeks that show Americans in Republican districts largely support the EPA’s efforts to put new limits on air pollution.

“What we’ve been finding pretty consistently is voters don’t want members of congress to block EPA from doing its job,” said Pete Altman, climate campaign director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

NRDC plans to release a poll next week on showing that Americans don’t support Republican efforts to block key environmental rules in the House government-spending bill. The group released a similar poll earlier this month that showed Americans in key districts oppose efforts to permanently block EPA climate rules.

Melinda Pierce, a lobbyist at the Sierra Club, said the environmental group is launching a “post-vote accountability” campaign next week that will include a series of rallies throughout the country.

“We’re trying to work out in the districts to mobilize the public,” she said.

Pierce said the Sierra Club is hoping to send a message to lawmakers, who will almost certainly have to vote on more proposals to limit EPA’s authority. For example, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) hopes to move legislation in the coming months that would permanently block the agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is sort of Congress’ first foray broadly into taking a whack at the Clean Air Act,” she said. ”Defending EPA’s ability to issue strong rules is really a top priority for the club going into the 112th Congress.”

The American Lung Association is launching a similar campaign, said Iwanowicz, a former New York environmental official who was recently hired by the group to head its campaign against GOP efforts to block EPA rules.

The group conducted its own poll this week that found 64 percent of Americans say they either strongly or somewhat oppose efforts to take away EPA’s climate authority, while 30 percent say they support the efforts.

Iwanowicz said Republicans are “totally out of step with where the voters are.”

“You would think there would be a bit more concern about where voters are on this issue,” he said.

But Iwanowicz was hesitant to speculate about whether Republicans’ votes on the issues would haunt the GOP in the 2012 elections.

“I don’t know if there will be a voter backlash. There’s a lot of space between now and 2012,” he said. “But we’re going to be doing our best to go district by district and really educate constituents about every vote.”


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