“Polluting Democracy” Released

by Kyle Ash

July 18, 2011

Today Greenpeace released a report, “Polluting Democracy,” featuring 15 members of the Dirty Money Team - Members of Congress who often work for polluters with money instead of their voters.

We live in a representative democracy. Every citizen should not need knowledge and influence with every important decision made by the government. Our representatives are supposed to learn how best to represent our interests, and it's their job to try to make the case for a vote we don't currently support. The fifteen members of Congress in "Polluting Democracy" consistently vote against cleaning up coal pollution so we can breathe clean air.

The Dirty Money Team

Representative Upton (R-MI) voted to restrict pollution from coal in 2009. Even if the majority of his voters were against the idea (they are not) representing their well-being means it's his job to make the case again. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are like Upton today, and appear to represent polluters that pay for campaign ads or have money to retain mercenary lawyers to lobby Capitol Hill.

Sometimes paying polluters are not even from the recipient Representative's district. As shown in "Polluting Democracy," Mike Rogers (R-MI) has no large coal plants in his district, but takes coal company cash and votes against pollution controls on coal plants in neighboring districts that kill about 454 people every year, very likely including people in his district. Other Representatives guilty of this type of fatality-friendly politics include Fred Upton (R-MI), Patrick Tiberi (R-OH), and Doc Hastings (R-WA).

Politicians like to talk about creating jobs and slashing wasteful spending, but many of them forget their party's talking points when they are introducing bills and voting. The wind and solar industries have created far more growth than the coal industry in the last several years, and this is expected to continue. The growth potential by 2020 of renewable energy jobs is twice that of fossil fuels.

In the states for most of the 15 districts covered in “Polluting Democracy” there are more jobs in wind and solar than in coal-fired power. Representatives Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Mark Critz (D-PA) might consider joining the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus (SEEC) since in Pennsylvania there are twice as many people employed in wind and solar than in coal-fired electricity.

Like Altmire and Critz, Jerry Costello (D-IL) is a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus. Meanwhile, Illinois employs triple the number of people in wind and solar power compared with coal-fired power plants. In Missouri, there are about as many jobs in coal-fired power as in wind and solar. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has just as many coal-fired power plants in his district as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). Carnahan is a member of SEEC, while Emerson is in the coal caucus.

Wind and solar energy don't release toxic mercury like burning coal does, while mercury is among the many pollutants causing a variety of costs on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Coal costs just from mercury pollution, due to cardiovascular disease, mental retardation and lost productivity, are as high as $29,312,500,000 per year.

The coal industry in the United States has unjustified pull on the levers of democracy. It is nothing new that polluters choose to invest in stopping public health policy instead of investing in pollution controls. But every year a new group of at least 34,000 people die and hundreds of thousands of other people get sick from pollution caused by burning coal in America.

Kyle Ash

By Kyle Ash

As Greenpeace’s Senior Legislative Representative, Kyle Ash is responsible for domestic and international climate change policy analysis and campaign strategy. He has been quoted in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, and CNN, and was one of the most frequently quoted sources during the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

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