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Page - August 30, 2013
What can we do to restore our Democracy so that it’s possible to establish better environmental and public health policies that protect our communities and ecosystems from the ravages of corporate pollution, over-fishing and deforestation? First, we can start seeing our movement as broad and diverse, with a shared vision of inclusion, of every voice counting, and of a government working for all of the American people.

Greenpeace and dozens of other groups representing tens of millions of people are determined to win back what we've lost in the past four decades. We know it won’t be easy, and that our democracy will not be reinvigorated overnight. And although we need to start by focusing our efforts, there will be additional actions that will be necessary. Just as our democracy is under siege on many fronts, the solutions are many. There are no silver bullets involved in waging a non-violent struggle for genuine democracy.

Democracy for Us

A new force — The Democracy Initiative — was created in 2013 by an alliance of groups including Greenpeace, the Communication Workers of America, the NAACP, Sierra Club, Public Campaign, Common Cause, People for the American Way, National People's Action, Public Citizen and many other groups committed to getting big money out of politics, protect the rights of all voters (through universal voter registration and an end to voter suppression), and reforming the Senate rules to get the government working again.

Labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, good government and other like-minded organizations with broad memberships are committed to building a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform, including the abuse of U.S. Senate rules that allow a small minority to obstruct deliberation and block action on legislation drafted to address the critical challenges facing our nation.

Fix the Filibuster

One of the first campaigns initiated by members of the Democracy Initiative and supported by Greenpeace has been an effort to fix the Senate rules in order to halt the abusive use of the filibuster.

The gridlocked, broken Senate is one reason there have been no significant environmental laws for years. In her analysis of the failure of the 2009 climate bill, for example, Harvard professor Theda Skocpol said, "The failure of the 2009-10 policy push for cap and trade legislation was, in one respect, quite unsurprising -- attributable (in political science 101 terms) to Senate rules setting an insurmountable 60-vote bar."

Grinding the federal government to a halt by abusing the filibuster is just one of the strategies that a handful of fossil fuel companies have used to undermine our democracy and block any meaningful laws to address the catastrophic threat posed by global warming.

North Carolina: Supporting “Moral Mondays”

North Carolina is under attack. Governor Pat McCrory and the Republican-controlled General Assembly – which passed a law in 2012 to “wish away climate change” -- are waging a radical attack on democracy, community rights and health and environmental protections. With backing by wealthy individuals and corporate front groups, these radical conservatives have begun to ram through a sweeping array of laws that would curtail voting rights and election protections, cut corporate taxes (while raising taxes on working people) and drastically weaken programs designed to protect the environment, the poor and other disadvantaged groups.

Greenpeace joins the “Moral Mondays” protest in solidarity with other NC residents from across the state who are standing up and resisting this radical agenda.

Specific legislation that Gov. McCrory and the state assembly are pushing include:

  • HB 298: Would weaken the state’s commitment to generate an increased portion of its electricity from renewable sources by 2021. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Hager (RRutherford), a former Duke Energy engineer, and supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a front group that produces model legislation to defend corporate interests (see below).
  • SB 612: Contains a ‘boundary loophole’ that would allow polluters to create even bigger toxic coal ash piles at power plants/industrial property, endangering neighboring communities and threatening nearby rivers, lakes and drinking water supplies with toxic run-off. SB 612 also strips any city or county in North Carolina of its right to self governance by banning them from regulating hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a major threat to communities and healthy drinking water.
  • HB 201: Would encourage waste by rolling back state commercial building energy efficiency standards.
  • SB 76: Would end the state’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in 2015, a major threat to communities, and take steps to encourage offshore oil development.
  • SB 515: Would repeal water pollution standards related to Jordan Lake from sources like wastewater treatment plants and other sources.
  • HB 74: Would give industry the ability to challenge the re-adoption of any environmental rule.
  • SB 10: Would fire all of the state’s environmental regulators, including career civil servants responsible for protecting air, water and beaches, as well as the commissioners who decide whether energy bills can go up. Then McCrory – a Duke employee of 28 years – would get to replace them with his own appointees.

McCrory is also promoting other policies, such as the same kind of offshore drilling development that led to the BP Horizon disaster. His hand-picked budget director (Art Pope – see more, below) is also proposing to radically cut state conservation and enforcement budgets. McCrory and the Legislature are also undermining health and environmental programs through aggressive budget cuts that will weaken enforcement and inspection programs. At the same time, McCrory and other politicians are pushing for huge tax cuts for the very wealthy and corporations.

Environmental programs will also suffer through other parts of the radical conservative agenda, including the legislature’s direct attack on the state’s model judicial election law and the rights of many NC voters. New voter ID requirements, the elimination of early (e.g. Sunday) voting and other measures are designed to reduce the participation of young people, the elderly, and communities of color that have a consistent pro-environmental voting record.

Who's Behind this Radical Agenda?

McCrory and other conservative politicians are supported by right-wing groups representing corporate interests – some acting in secret – who not only promote the policies with misinformation, but in some cases drafted the policies directly. These groups include the NC chapter of Americans for Prosperity, think tanks funded by Art Pope, such as Civitas and the John Locke Foundation, and ALEC. These groups are leaders in climate change denial. In 2012, for example, they pushed a state law that “wishes away climate change” by restricting the way policymakers can estimate projected rising rates of coastal sea levels.

ALEC and other groups including the State Policy Network are the driving force behind a variety of legislative attacks on voting rights, community rights to self-determination and other policies that are the pillars of a well-functioning democracy. ALEC is funded by companies like Duke Energy, North Carolina’s monopoly utility, which gave $50,000 to ALEC in 2012. Although Duke denies that it supported ALEC’s attack on renewable energy (see above) it refuses to drop its support for ALEC, as other companies have done.

Art Pope, North Carolina's self-appointed kingmaker, has put tens of millions of dollars into various radical think tanks and front groups in the state. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, between July 2011 and June 2012 Pope’s family foundation – which draws its wealth from its discount-retail chain Variety Wholesalers, gave $5.7 million to conservative advocacy groups that work to deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening – or 61 percent of total giving for the year.

Pope is also a major backer of Tea Party candidates and other conservative politicians, spending $ 2.2 million on 22 legislative races in 2012 alone. Overall, conservative organizations supported by Pope accounted for three fourths of outside money spent in the state’s legislative races in 2010. The investment seems to have paid off: One of Governor McCrory’s first acts after being elected was to install Pope, a former legislator, as the state’s budget chief.

Fighting Back

The radical conservative movement that threatens to reverse decades of social, political and environmental progress see us as all as one enemy, which is why in North Carolina we see ourselves as one movement. They try to take away voting rights from people of color because they know those communities -- if empowered -- will fight to make sure that coal plants and toxic waste incinerators don't end up in their back yards. Communities of color and low-income communities are hurt first and worst by pollution and other types of “silent violence” that come from corporate cost-cutting. Companies like Duke Energy are also the main obstacle to rooftop solar power and other technologies that will make communities more independent, self-reliant and environmentally healthy. An attack by corporate interests against North Carolina's working people, women, people of color, or any other vulnerable group, is an attack on North Carolina's environment too. That’s why Greenpeace joins NC citizens from across the political spectrum in resisting this radical, direct attack on economic justice, voting rights and the very pillars of democracy. The fight for environmental justice is directly related to the struggle for community protection and self-determination. The struggle in North Carolina is rapidly becoming a model for other states and the entire nation, in which we must and will rescue our democracy from corporate control.