Having recently criticized GOP presidential wannabes for their anti-environmental positions, I should now mention how members of our state’s congressional delegation voted on bills related to environment and public health during the 2011 session.
According to a national environment watchdog organization, the League of Conservation Voters, “Alabama’s congressional delegation ranks as one of the worst in protecting public health and preserving the environment.”
The LCV rated the House members on the basis of 35 bills on which votes were cast. Our state’s delegation scored 21 percent favorable. Only 13 other states’ delegations, mostly from the western plains, scored lower. Contested issues related to regulation of offshore drilling, flood insurance, renewable energy, air pollution, endangered species, and authority of EPA were among those included.
The lowest ranked Alabama congressmen were Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, and Mike Rogers, R-Saks, each of whom voted favorably only 9 percent of the time. Rep. Rogers’ district includes Lee County. Reps. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, Spencer Bacchus, R-Vestavia Hills, and Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, each scored 11 percent favorable; Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, scored 14 percent. The highest ranking member was Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, who voted favorably on 80 percent of the bills.
Adam Snyder, Executive Director of Conservation Alabama, remarked, “We applaud Rep. Terri Sewell as she was the lone member of the Alabama delegation who opposed most of the countless attacks on vital public health and environmental protections.”
LCV evaluated senators on eleven votes cast. Sen. Richard Shelby scored 18 percent and Sen. Jeff Sessions, 9 percent. The average scores of 10 states’ senators were equal or lower than that of our state’s senators.
Regarding the voting records of all House members during the session, LCV President Gene Karpinski opined, “In 2011 the House leadership unleashed a truly breathtaking and unprecedented assault on the environment and public health of which have made the current House of Representatives the most anti-environmental in our nation’s history.”
The most recent nationwide polls of voters reveal that only between 10 and 12 percent approve of Congress’s performance. Could it be that the vast majority of the voters believe that Congress, as a whole, is more concerned about the well-being of deep-pocketed special interest groups than that of the general public? I tend to think they are.
Conservationists had hoped that President Obama’s administration would be sensitive to their concerns. So far, its actions have been mixed. On the positive side, it has disapproved of the original proposal by TransCanada to construct a pipeline, Keystone XL, to transport up to 830,000 barrels of dirty oil a day from tar sands pits in Canada to the Texas coast. It would have cut across the Sand Hills of Nebraska and hundreds of streams directly over the world’s largest underground freshwater reservoir, the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water to millions of people. An alternate route has been proposed and is under consideration. The company’s contention that the pipeline would be environmentally safe should be taken with a grain of salt. Its existing pipeline, Keystone 1, has reportedly leaked 14 times since it began operating in June 2010.
On the negative side, responsible federal agencies are allowing the slaughter of hundreds of wolves in the Northern Rockies. The National Fisheries Service discourages independent monitors, whom it hires, from officially reporting violations they witness, including “finning” of sharks, that results in the death of the sharks; ignoring requirements to take measures to avoid harming whales, dolphins, and sea turtles; and shooting sea birds.
A scathing internal investigative report of the Eastern Region of the U.S. Forest Service revealed numerous failures by authorities to enforce laws and regulations against criminal activities occurring in national forests, including drug manufacturing, timber theft, arson, rapes, and assaults. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, winter 2012.)
PEER also reports evidence of high ranking officials of the National Park Service, Including its director, Jon Jarvis, having conflicts of interest. The evidence was contained in documents obtained by the Seattle Times detailing an investigation by the Interior Inspector General. The Justice Department has declined to prosecute the alleged offenders.
These and other examples of irresponsible behavior of employees of the executive branch suggest that President Obama is paying too little attention to the performance of his underlings.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also co-chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.