Jim Webb: Whose side are you on?

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    Cross posted from ArticleXI

    For more than a year, the environmental community has been asking Senator Jim Webb, “whose side are you on,” when it comes to addressing carbon pollution.  Time and again, he has forced us to ask this question as he has flirted with different efforts to strip EPA authority when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

    Here’s the quick background:  

    In April 2007, the Supreme Court determined that greenhouse gases are air pollutants subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The Court authorized the EPA to determine whether emission of greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health.  This process began under the Bush Administration, and was concluded under the Obama Administration when in the spring of 2009 EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the science supported a link between increased greenhouse gas emissions and threats to public health as a result of the increased air pollution.  

    Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industry and their allies in Congress immediately began to fight these measures through an effort from Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who introduced a disapproval resolution to nullify EPA’s endangerment finding, which would have prohibited EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.  The resolution failed 47 – 53 with Senator Webb voting against the measure.  

    Did Webb vote against Murkowski because he felt Congress should act on limiting carbon or because he believes EPA should address issues of public health?  NO, on the floor of the Senate he announced he was voting against the resolution because he appreciated the progress being made on fuel efficiency and he supported efforts by Senator Jay Rockefeller to issue a two-year delay on any climate rules.  

    In a recent letter to one of the Virginia Sierra Club’s members Jim Webb described the Rockefeller proposal in this way:  

    Second, an alternative, equally effective mechanism exists to ensure that Congress – and not unelected federal officials – can formulate our policies on climate change and energy legislation.

     

    Senator Rockefeller introduced a resolution to suspend EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources for a period of two years. “  Senator Webb says he favors this approach because “it gives Congress the time it needs to address legitimate concerns over climate…”  

    This response prompts two questions for me:  

    1. How much time does Congress need to address climate change?  As a reminder, Congress spent two years considering climate change legislation and the House of Representatives even passed comprehensive climate and energy policy in June 2009.  It was the Senate that failed to act.  That failed to preserve our environment and the quality of our air.  Should the American people have to wait on the Senate to protect public health?  

    2. Why isn’t Senator Webb leading the charge to address climate change himself if he believes in the science and agrees the United States must act?  Senator Webb would take offense at this question.  He often points to his Clean Energy Act of 2009 as his effort to address energy policy, but to say this legislation was lacking would be the understatement of his one term in office.  Instead of offering a serious alternative to other packages he proposed $20 billion over ten years to fund loan guarantees for nuclear, solar, biofuels, advanced batteries and clean coal technologies.  This amount of money is a drop in the bucket compared to the $40 billion given to the oil industry annually.  This is not a serious effort, and we need a serious effort.  

    We’ve seen what can happen when Jim Webb puts his mind to addressing a problem.  His efforts on the New GI Bill and criminal justice have been outstanding.  Why not make climate change and energy policy, the issues which will determine the fate of America in the 21st century, a legacy for which to be remembered in the Senate?

    Why doesn’t Jim Webb take action to tackle these issues?  It is this question that brings us back to where we’ve been for the past 24 months with Senator Webb.  Whose side is he on?  

    His belief that climate change is real, and that the United States should act, puts him in line with the will of a majority of Americans.  

    His failure to put forward meaningful legislation to solve the climate crisis, and his support of efforts that place American lives at risk in favor of the coal and oil industries tell a different story.  

    How will Jim Webb be remembered?  As a man of conscience and the people, or as a tool of the fossil fuel industry.