Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The 900-Pound Gorilla: Party Politics

Here at the CR, we do our best to maintain our political independence.  Some of our best friends have strong party loyalties, but we’ve always held that we don’t.

Barbara and I recently attended an ethics forum in NYC with Rev. Tim Keller, and we were struck with the simplicity of his message on political opinion. As I recall it, he said: “You can be a liberal or a conservative. But be sure that your ethics aren’t determined by your political affiliation.  Your ethics must be determined by the Bible.”

My only bumper sticker ever: Sojo.
The Bible!  In a day when the media tells us that evangelical Christians are practically owned by one of our parties, that’s a strong call to be careful about political ideology.

And so, as advocates for creation care, we try to “call ‘em like we see ‘em,” without regard to politics.  Most of the vocal Republicans these days mindlessly deny the very facts of climate science, and we don’t shrink from pointing that out.  But we’ve been sharply critical of our Democrat-in-Chief as well, while he waffled on the Keystone XL pipeline.  We blasted Rush Limbaugh recently for his lunacy regarding some maniacal African murderers (that he called Christians); but we followed it with an admiring piece on Republican Bob Inglis and his call to engage climate science and affirm free market economics.

It’s not hard to find things to like or dislike in both parties.  But in our efforts to be evenhanded, we must not make the mistake of talking nonsense.  There’s a 900-pound gorilla in the room, and it’s no good tiptoeing around it.  I’m going to take a deep breath before saying this: If today’s Republican Party had its way, the damage to our Father’s world and its most vulnerable children would be almost incalculable.

Now, now, now, now!  I beg you, give me one moment, please.  After all, the only party I’ve ever been a part of is the GOP.

But we’ve gone a little crazy recently.  Consider the Clean Air Act. Maybe you don’t remember what urban air was like before Republican President Nixon signed this into law in 1970.  But it was pretty toxic stuff.

And in 1990, Republican President George H.W. Bush signed sweeping amendments to the Clean Air Act to deal with interstate movements of polluted air and water.  You see, whatever you think about Vegas, what happens in Pittsburgh doesn’t stay in Pittsburgh. The government – and the Republicans – understood this.

Finally, 21 years later, the EPA has gotten around to writing the regulations to enforce the Clean Air Act.  It’s called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, issued in July, requiring 27 states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states. They recognize that some states, -- like New Jersey and Delaware – have acted strongly to clean up air pollution, while some upwind states, like Pennsylvania, have not.

“No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters, or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson upon issuing the Rule. “This is a long-overdue step to protect the air we breathe.”

You may remember our recent post about the Portland Power Plant in Portland, PA.  It sits downwind of the entire Keystone State, but it sits upwind from our New Jersey church and our members’ homes.  And it emits more mercury than every single power plant in the state of New Jersey – COMBINED. Worse yet, Portland has 13 sister plants in PA, all of which are worse than it is. So they get the electricity, while we get the toxins: mercury, SOX, NOX and soot.

It took a long time, but the watchdog finally barked.

But not everybody is happy with this.  First, in September, the House of Representatives passed the TRAIN Act – a bill to nullify the Cross-State Rule. On its face, the TRAIN Act would have stopped the EPA entirely till 2015; but it also would have handcuffed them from protecting us from upwind cross-state negligence far into the future.

Of course, the TRAIN Act went nowhere in the Senate.  But last Thursday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered a resolution to kill the Cross-State Rule for good.  Thankfully it failed. And so the citizens of my state will eventually be protected from toxins from antiquated coal-fired plants in neighboring Pennsylvania. They will finally have to install the smokestack scrubbers that New Jersey did decades ago.

But did you ever wonder how the political parties came down on these two efforts to kill environmental protection?  Well, in the House, 98% of Republicans voted to kill the Clean Air Act rule, while 90% of Democrats voted – in a losing cause – to preserve it.  And in the Senate last Thursday, 87% of Republicans voted with Senator Paul to kill the protections, while 96% of Democrats voted successfully to preserve them.

What’s going on?  How did we come to a point where one national party could almost unanimously portray a healthy environment as a bad thing?  Only a few years ago, both parties thought that the ideas behind the Cross-State Rule obviously deserved support.  Even the latest Republican President Bush proposed an almost identical rule. But now, a huge majority of the GOP wants to kill it.

Many of us watched Gov. Perry’s funny brain freeze the other night. Remember? He was going to kill three Federal Agencies, but couldn’t remember what one of them was.  And in a spirit of levity, the other candidates began offering him a hand. “The EPA?” someone suggested, and with a chorus of laughter, Perry and much of the rest of the pack repeated: “The EPA!”

What has happened to us?  Republican presidents Nixon, Bush Sr. and even the latest Bush all knew that our people need protection from polluting industries.

And so, here at the Clothesline, we continue our effort to maintain our political independence.  But it would sure be nice if one or two Republicans would stand up and make our job a little easier.  After all, any child can tell you that you don’t throw your garbage into your neighbor’s kitchen.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you. 

J. Elwood

P.S.  If you liked that bumper sticker, you can get it here.


  1. Sorry, I don't understand the point of your post. I'm not a regular follower, so I don't know what your claim to political neutrality means. Perhaps I misunderstand, but this post seems like a clear endorsement of the republican party (without any reasons given). You just wish they would return to the environmental responsibility of their recent history, so you can keep on being a GOP supporter. I think the GOP should be called out on their reluctance to support any protection of the environment, and so I'm happy you're doing this. But then what? No attempt to explain how the GOP got here, or how they might return to environmental protectionism as part of a principled conservatism. These would be useful thoughts.

    Instead, you simply say that you've been a republican and you sure wish a few republicans would stand up for the environment every once in a while. What's the point of this? We need stronger arguments than this to point up the reckless behavior of republicans on environmental issues. And it's really hard to pretend that this sort of approach represents political neutrality.

  2. Pilgrim Family: I figured this post would arouse some response. I confess that I didn't imagine it would come first from someone thinking that I was being too easy on today's GOP. For that, I thank you!

    Take note everyone: My first challenge comes from someone who thinks I'm endorsing the Republicans! It's only fair now that someone take me to task from the GOP...

    Now, I didn't intend to endorse the Republican Party, because I'm an independent. But memories are short: I think people imagine that what they're hearing and seeing today is what their political parties have held over the long term. I hope that this piece gets both Democrats and Republicans, especially people who have a strong religious faith, to make sure they're looking beyond party affiliations for their ethics, and be willing to critique their own political parties from the perspective of sacred scripture.