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An Open Letter to the President, the 535 Members of Congress and Thousands of Local Politicians

August 24, 2010 by Eric Corey Freed

Dear Legislators:

Tell us the truth. We can handle it.

I'm willing to overlook your past ridiculous stunts like the Birther Bill or claims of Death Panels. After all, that's just the game of politics. I would like to believe you don't really believe some of these things you say. Politics is, after all, a form of theater, and in the world of a 24 hour news cycle, we need an endless supply of theater.

But lately there have been a series of sorely missed opportunities in regard to our survival. And your actions just don't add up. So this leads me to think there must be something else at work, something you're not telling us, and so I am asking for the truth. Honestly, we Americans can take it.

For example, take a look at the UN Climate Change Conference that took place this past December in Copenhagen, Denmark. When it was first announced the U.S. was going to participate, some of us optimistically referred to it as HOPEenhagen. This was a real chance at a global, comprehensive policy toward controlling climate change. But the lack of an adopted accord by the conference quickly had many referring to it instead as NOPEnhagen.

Or the continued drive for more natural gas at the expense of our health and safety. Gas companies control the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by pushing out the tired, old (and proven untrue) threat that regulations stifle competition and will eliminate jobs - so you better not hold us to any. Eighteen members of the Colorado State Legislature sent a letter (PDF) to the EPA demanding they ignore their own two-year study and stop regulating the hazardous drilling practice of "fracking." I suggest you watch a new documentary entitled, Gasland currently on HBO. One of the more vivid scenes in the film shows tap water lighting on fire due to poorly regulated nearby drilling. How do you think your constituents will feel about reelecting you if this happened to them?

Or the way Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) publicly apologized to BP (you know the company that dumped 5 millions barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico?). This came as no surprise. Barton is the ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and one of the chief authors of the Cheney Oil Act that gave BP the exemptions to drill Deepwater Horizon without the required impact reports. Barton himself has received $14.4 million from oil and gas companies over his career. That's why his committee is referred to as the "Honey Pot" on Capitol Hill, receiving $42 million in the 2010 Election Cycle alone.

Barton's apology was echoing the real loyalties and feelings of Congress. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) labeled it a "shakedown" and a “redistribution-of-wealth fund,” with 100+ other House members just the day before.

Unfortunately, there is always a loser in these games you are playing. We cannot wait any longer for a substantive bill combating climate change.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our planet has just finished the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months and the warmest April, May & June on record.

In response to this horrific news, the U.S. Senate decided... to do nothing. Seriously. They preserved thirty years of bipartisan inaction on what the Defense Department referred to as the "greatest threat facing our country." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to not even bother to schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions. Both Democrats and Republicans continue to play these games while the American people are headed off a cliff. Some of you even invented a fun, new derogatory term to describe anyone who dare want to do something about climate change: “carbon taxer.”

Last month, the NOAA called climate change "unmistakable." The IPCC issued their judgement back in 2007, calling climate change "undeniable" and "unequivocal."

Even some of the politicians themselves are getting sick of the partisan games, as seen last week with a passionate Anthony Weiner (D-NY) venting his frustration over a partisan vote on a bill that would provide healthcare to 9/11 workers. "If there was ever a bill that I thought would be above partisan politics," he said, "that was it."

The explosion and subsequent oil spill aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig should be a wake up call. The thousands of miles of decimated shoreline and millions of destroyed families should shake you into action. Historically, disasters have always driven sweeping legislation.

The BP oil spill should have done for Climate Legislation what the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill did for the EPA; what the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland did for the Clean Water Act and what the 1979 Ixstock Gulf Oil Spill did for drilling regulations. This is a critical turning point and we are missing it.

President Obama's address from the Oval Office on June 15th was another missed opportunity. He did not once mention the words "carbon," "emissions" or "greenhouse." This was his first speech from the Oval Office and he failed to provide one tangible idea on how to solve this problem. George Will called the speech "magnificently awful." This is more confounding given the progress his administration has made in having the EPA regulating climate pollution under the Clean Air Act.

(Side note: for an incredible version of what Obama's speech should have and could have been, watch Rachel Maddow's take on it.)

You may think that by doing nothing, you are playing it safe, but your inaction is having consequences. Private sector companies are stalled in their decisions by an uncertain future for the price of carbon. As Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund, recently wrote, "U.S. utility companies today are sitting on billions of dollars in job-creating capital — but they will not invest in new energy projects until they have certainty on what their future carbon obligations will be...” Jobs, investments and private stimulus is waiting for you to do something.

This is why my fellow environmentalists are taking matters into their own hands. This is why the West Coast Green Conference, one of the largest green building conferences in the country, has changed its' theme this year to "Innovation & Convergence." Thousands of the most respected leaders in sustainability, planning, public policy and design will meet for three days in San Francisco to share ideas and determine the next course of action.

So, please, Legislators, please explain these crazy actions of yours. I am hoping you have a good reason. I am hoping it is more than mere ego and hubris and that you wouldn't dare play a game of chicken with our future in the balance. Take advantage of this Gulf Oil Spill by leveraging it into some tangible and effective policies. We can't wait any longer.

It's ironic that the first half of 2010, the same year we removed all hope of having a true climate change bill, turned out to be the hottest year on record. I propose we turn off the air conditioning in the Capitol Building until you emerge with some real legislation.

Sincerely yours,

Eric Corey Freed

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