At the Netroots Nation 2011 annual meeting in Minneapolis last week, speakers on the “Progressives vs Polluters: Standing up for the EPA” panel discussed the ongoing right-wing assault on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and debated the problem of how to deal with Democratic senators and representatives who side with Republicans in voting for anti-environmental, anti-EPA legislation. Here’s a case study for the  Netroots to consider: on June 22 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a fast-tracked bill to strip EPA of its regulatory authority on water pollution, wetlands protection, and mountaintop removal coal mining. Five Democrats, including ranking member Nick Rahall of West Virginia, voted for the bill.

Earlier posts:

Mountaintop removal rally outside EPA headquarters excoriates ‘King Coal’ Congress members

EPA Administrator Jackson to Power Shift 2011: “President Obama is the last line of defense. The first line of defense is you.”

Greenwire reported today (excerpt; subscription required; emphasis added):

WATER POLICY: House panel fast-tracks bill to divest EPA of regulatory power

After a brief but rancorous debate, a House committee approved a fast-tracked bill that would shift regulatory powers over water, wetlands and mountaintop-mining regulation from U.S. EPA to the states.

In a 35-19, largely party-line vote, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this morning approved the bill H.R. 2018 backed by the top Republican and Democrat on the committee, Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).

Four other Democrats also joined in support: Reps. Jason Altmire (Penn.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Jerry Costello (Ill.) and Tim Holden (Penn.).

But the measure ran into stiff resistance from the majority of committee Democrats, including Rep. Tim Bishop of New York. Bishop is the ranking member on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act, which the bill seeks to amend. Rep. Timothy Johnson (Ill.) was the only Republican who voted against the bill.

Republicans characterized the legislation as an effort to “rein in” the Obama administration EPA… They pointed to EPA’s move to step up regulation of mountaintop-removal mining, including the agency’s decision to revoke a key permit for a proposed mine in West Virginia, Rahall’s home state…

Bishop said the bill “fundamentally undermines our nation’s commitment to clean water … This go-it-alone approach flies in the face of science, common sense and decades of experience implementing the Clean Water Act,” Bishop said. …

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said he hopes to have a floor vote on the bill this summer. Bishop objected to the committee’s fast-track consideration of the measure, noting the markup was announced just days earlier — and held in advance of a subcommittee hearing Friday meant to explore several of the relevant Clean Water Act issues. …

Also see Kate Sheppard’s post today at Mother Jones: Dirty Water: It’s a State’s Right!

Netroots Nation 2011, the sixth annual gathering of the Netroots, was held in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, convention center June 16-19. Climate Science Watch attended, along with 2,400+ progressive bloggers and online journalists, advocates, and organizers, to exchange ideas on politics, public issues, community, and how to use cyberspace more effectively on behalf of progressive values. 

On June 18, “Progressives vs Polluters: Standing up for the EPA” (see here and here for video) panelists struggled with issues of how to most effectively support a strong role for EPA in environmental protection under the current difficult circumstances. What emphasis should be placed on playing an “inside” game focused on the details of legislative and policy issues in the Washington, DC, arena – as contrasted with focusing on an “outside” strategy of strengthening grassroots activism and bringing upward pressure to bear on high-level policymakers?  Where to draw the line on criticism and opposition to elected officials who drew on support from progressive voters to win office, but who are seen to be too willing to compromise and even vote against progressive positions?

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), a speaker on the panel and a strong supporter of EPA’s clean air and clean water programs and wetlands protection, and a strong opponent of the disaster of mountaintop removal mining, acknowledged the legitimacy of Netroots criticism of members of his party when they cast particular votes in opposition to progressive positions. But he urged the Netroots to be careful about taking criticism to the stage of withdrawing support for the re-election of Democrats, if the alternative is clearly worse on balance from a progressive perspective.

Panelists Dave Roberts, the excellent senior staff writer at, and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, supported a more aggressive Netroots approach to giving and withholding support from politicians. Republicans cater to and fear the Tea Party activists, because they know those ‘crazies’ will even go so far as to ‘primary’ them (i.e., run and support opposing candidates in party primary elections) and be willing to remove them from office if they don’t toe the line. The Democrats don’t fear the progressives because they have tended to assume they will fall into line, excusing sellouts on legislation and choosing the lesser of two evils, as it were, when the chips are down at election time. How can this be overcome unless pro-polluter, anti-environmental Democrats see that they must fear, not just criticism, but active political opposition from the Netroots?

So, for Netroots Nation, today’s vote on H.R. 2018 (the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011”!) in the  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provides a case example of the problem. Here are the five Democrats who voted with the Republicans to overturn 40 years of well-institutionalized, science-based policymaking and remove EPA’s authority to protect the nation’s water under the Clean Water Act – delegating that authority to the state governments, and thus to whatever parochial interests the state’s politicians answer to:

Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia)

Jason Altmire (D-Pennsylvania)

Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa)  

Jerry Costello (D-Illinois)  

Tim Holden (D-Pennsylvania) 

What do you know about them? Who funds their campaigns? What lobbyists do they meet with? What are their values? What is to be done with them?