Returning from Washington, D.C., this June, I experienced firsthand what all the fuss is about. The Republican tea party wing of Congress, most specifically in the House of Representatives with its clamor for "less government spending" or "smaller government" and the ending of "job-killing government regulations," has pitted the American economy in a death spiral with our environment using what the right does so well with simple word arguments: "It’s jobs versus the environment."
Frankly it seems to me that the tea party has just become another voice for big business and the Koch brothers, synonymous to corporate greed with its relentless attack on America’s great heritage of natural beauty and unique resources. Instead of the concepts for corporate responsibility, the mantra of "drill here, drill now, drill everywhere" has become part of the right-wing political lexicon. It’s as if the resent catastrophic Gulf oil spill never happened. For example, during the recent House budget bill process, Hawaii’s U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa attempted to place an amendment for an approved disaster response plan, in the event of a catastrophic oil spill, into the House Resources Committee for new and expanded offshore drilling leases. The Republican-dominated Resources Committee nixed her idea and the bill went on to the Senate without it.
I certainly can’t see why the arguments that "big government" caused the recession or deficits — which by all accounts I’ve seen began with the Bush-era tax cuts, unfunded deficit spending of two wars, enhanced by the big-bank deregulation and lack of government oversight for flimsy mortgage bond instruments and hedge fund derivatives. But I can certainly see what’s behind the arguments. It is a full-on assault on our environment and public lands by oil, gas, coal and mineral extraction companies and their friends in the most radical right-wing Congress I’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s clear that this assault is led by the new freshman tea party Congress members, their conservative partners and corporate campaign donors.
The House budget bill this year used riders to attack the Endangered Species Act; end funding and administration of the Bureau of Land Management to implement its mandated management plan for wilderness lands; withdraw protection for wilderness and roadless areas in America’s national forests (areas with our greatest pristine watersheds and natural species diversity); and expand new offshore drilling leases into the Arctic where no disaster response could be mounted for six months should a blowout occur under the ice in the winter.
There were bills that would not reform or hold oil companies accountable for worker and environmental safety based upon the oil spill commission report; bills to eliminate existing wilderness study areas under the Wilderness Act; bills to exempt and nullify federal law in the states with the purpose of destroying the Antiquities Act first passed and used by Theodore Roosevelt to create our national monuments, de-funding of our national and state parks systems and shortchanging the Land and Water Conservation Fund from off-shore oil and gas lease receipts.
It is time for President Barack Obama and responsible Congress members to use the high ground of public opinion and deny those who would destroy our natural heritage from using the 2011 budget bill to insert these destructive riders. The president and Congress need to support our Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Antiquities Act, Wilderness Act and permanent funding for the conservation, restoration and enhancement of our natural and cultural heritage. We should not be held hostage by political extremists but remember what Theodore Roosevelt said 100 years ago: "We have fallen heir to the most glorious heritage a people have ever received, and each one must do his part to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."