Congress Cleans House on Clean Air

From the Desk of NickiLeaks, by Nick Vanocur

coal power plant“In 1970 — 2 1/2 years ago — I sent a sweeping, 37-point environmental message to the Congress, proposing a wide range of pioneering new legislation to control air and water pollution and to provide more parks and open spaces within reach of urban areas. In 1971 I sent a second major environmental message, again proposing comprehensive water pollution control legislation, which would allow the Nation to achieve clean water without causing inflationary pressures. I also recommended new initiatives to control ocean dumping, pesticides, toxic substances, noise, strip mining, and power plant siting. In a third major environmental message in 1972 I urged a number of additional measures, including a tax on harmful emissions of sulfur oxides, controls over underground disposal of toxic pollutants and sediment from construction, and a measure to protect endangered species.

These many proposals I have made, if enacted, would provide the authority to protect and preserve our natural environment for decades. But the Congress has failed to perform its part of the partnership. Legislation needed now languishes in the Congress, mired in inaction and jurisdictional squabbles.”

President Richard M. Nixon

The American Presidency Project

September 5, 1972

 

But that was then and this is now and overlooked in all the current congressional battles over unemployment, food stamps, budgets and debt ceilings are proposed new rules for coal-fired power plants, new regulations for worker safety in mines, limits on pollution and new protections for our clean waters.

In a letter a coalition of environmental groups, unions and consumer activists sent to President Obama this week, these groups cited concerns about “political interference with potentially controversial rules” as well as the “timeliness, transparency and effectiveness in the regulatory review process.”

A NickiLeaks investigation into this  “political interference with potentially controversial rules” shows there may me some truth to this statement. 

Our skilled and occasionally sober team of dedicated  journalists have learned  that immediately upon the revelation of these forthcoming rule changes, activity ramped up fast among the lobbying firms on K Street and the coal plant operators across the country.

Visits to the EPA went up 23% and calls to members of Congress were frantic.

A good example is what happened in the office of one moderate-to-liberal Midwestern senator’s where a heavily bribed receptionist led to the senator shaking hands with a very panicky lawyer he hadn’t planned on seeing.

Ever.

We’re from the law firm of Anthracite, Clump & Digg and we represent Murray Coal,” the lobbyist proclaimed.

“Ah, the Koch heads!”

“Please don’t call us that,” the senator was told.
“Would you prefer ‘Empire of Environmental Evil?’ ”

“Call us Koch heads!”

“Fine, glad we got that settled. I’d ask you what you want but I’m only here for the rest of the day. Instead, how about ‘You have three minutes?’ ”

“This issue deserves more time than that,” he insisted. “And I think that over the next several months . . . ”

“Several months?” the senator asked, too smart for that, “You have two minutes.”

The lobbyist’s mouth smiled but his eyes sure as heck didn’t.

“We think these new environmental rules are a danger to America.”
“That’s funny, I think lobbyists are. Too bad we can’t pump them underground.”

“We would just ooze back to the surface, I can assure you.”

“No assurance needed. But thanks.”

“Now, as I was saying, these proposed rules are a danger to America.”
“As opposed to bronchitis, emphysema and heart disease?”

“Those are covered by Obamacare.”

“But isn’t your firm trying to repeal Obamacare?”

“Umm, we may have a small interest in that.”

“I heard it was a $10 million interest,” the senator observed.

At that point, the door to the senator’s office burst open and a swarthy man with a bad suit and a bulge under the coat strode in.

“My name doesn’t matter,” he told the surprised senator, “but you can call me Guido and I represent Peabody Energy.”

“Coal already has some lobbyists here,” the lawyer insisted. “I’m already twisting the senator’s arm.”

“We don’t twist arms,” Guido assured him.

“What do you twist?” the senator asked, knowing the answer but loving how pale the lobbyist was becoming.
“You don’t wanna know,” Guido insisted.

“Now youse,” he said to the senator, “Are going to vote against these CPA rules, youse got it?”

“I understand,” the senator agreed, knowing how many cameras the Koch Brothers muscle man has passed entering the Senate office building and how he was a ranking member of the committee that did the FBI’s budge and had thusly had many, many friends in law enforcement dying to do him favors.

“You will never need to see me again.

“And you mean EPA rules.”

Despite being slightly confused, Guido looked pleased at how easy this had been.

“Well,” he said puffing up and taking off the brass knuckles, “Let me just forget that I left this briefcase here and thank you for your understanding.

“And oh yeah, I think that skinny guy in the fancy suit fainted. You better throw some water on him.”

“I’ll do that,” the senator assured him, thinking to himself, “I’ll throw water on him. In the bottle and right after I take of his $1,400 loafers and say you took them!”

coal

The senator called in the worried staffers.

Not a second after the  aides had dragged off the unconscious and unconscionable lobbyist, a new one burst in.

The senator made a note to hire more front-office people with martial arts experience.

“I represent Frick & Frack and the natural gas industry,” the new weasel proclaimed.

The senator farted.

“No shortage of natural gas,” he opined.

And again his door burst open.

“Who are you?” the lobbyist asked, worried, but the senator was pretty sure he already knew the answer and was pleased at the timing.

“We’re the press,” the slick lobbyist was told as the camera crew began to set up lights and look for wall outlets, having a very hard time in their search as the senator, much smarter than most, had them placed in secret panels when he moved in, knowing that way, he could mostly control what went on camera.

And then the door burst open again.

This time it was one of the ranking conservatives from the energy committee, also there to twist his colleague’s arm.

Expecting to be alone, he looked at the reporters in complete alarm.

“What are you doing here?” the white, male conservative asked, shocked.

“These energy hearings are transparent and that means there’s no place for the press!”

“How about this?” one of the cameramen asked. “We’re not the press, we’re The People.”
“The People?” the conservative senator asked, truly confused. What did the people have to do with elected politics, he wondered?

“We’re voters,” the cameramen and women said with a chuckle. “You have to represent us.”

“Since when?” the sleazy senator wondered, suspicious. These people did not look like people who controlled Super PACs.

“You represent us since the Founding Fathers put it in the Constitution. You know, ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people.’

“With real people?” the conservative asked with incredulity.

“Yeah, and we’d like to see some real transparency, like you promised,” a reporter told him.

“Transparency? From us?

“Are we allowed to do that in DC?” he asked and was met with snickers.

“You did back in the days of Eisenhower and LBJ,” a reporter told him.

“LBJ? Are you serious or are you trying to pull my Johnson?” the senator said with rising confusion and anger.

“We’re serious. We want transparency.”
“Buy Saran Wrap,” the now crimson senator told the reporters just before he stomped out in rage, making the liberal senator regret that he had hidden the light sockets.

But since the booze was out in the open, he shared, knowing that the members of the press that wouldn’t take a free drink were few and far between and the ones that wouldn’t were of no use anyway.

Right after a toast to clean air was proposed – and accepted – the senator’s secretary stuck her head in the door.

“Your next two appointments are here,” she said, knowing the good publicity value of these constituents and how fortunate it was that the press was already there.

“Gentlemen,” the senator asked, with a glance at his calendar, “any objections?
As there were none, in came the nuns.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the press,” the senator said rising, “May I introduce you to the heads of The Order of Our Lady of the Perpetually Green Fields, an institution that has been a vital part of my state for 142 years and has a spotless record for charity work, aiding the poor, the sick and the jobless.”

The reporters either crossed themselves, bowed to the nuns or shook hands.

One, who had been to Catholic school, just shook where he was standing.

“I think I read something about you recently, a leading reporter said while shaking the hand of the abbess.”

“You did,” the assured nun responded. She gave a nod of approval to the senator.

“Despite the efforts of this man, who has been nothing but a friend to us, “We were evicted from our nunnery in a deal brokered between the Republican governor, the state legislature and powerful energy interests and we were thrown from our beautiful and historic home.  We have no place to go and our beautiful gardens and orchards are no more.

“It was all strip mined,” she said sadly.

The reporter looked at the nodding nuns in shock, sensing both what he considered a tragedy and a good and unexpected story.

“So, the perpetually green fields?”

“Aren’t.”

“You have my prayers,” the reporter said in all seriousness.

“They’d rather have about 1:33 on the evening news,” the senator suggested, getting nods all around.

“And our land back,” one nun chimed in.

“Sister!” the abbess said in shock, “You broke your vow of silence!’

“Well, what these coal plants are doing to the wonderful planet God gave us is breaking my heart.

“How can I be breaking my vow if I’m doing God’s work? And these coal-burning plants are blasphemous, turning our cities and fields into the brimstone landscape of Hell itself! And they way the rich and uncaring owners of the mining and power companies are opposing these blessed new rules are the work of the Devil himself!”

“Satan PAC?” the senator chuckled to himself, knowing that would be used in a future email.

The press had every camera going and focused hard on the nun.

“God gave us mastery of the Earth and its plants and beast, and we are not shepherds, we are killers.

We can use the sunlight God gave us to power our schools. We can use the wind God gave us to air-condition our churches.

“We can turn the plants that god gave us into fuel for our tractors and farm trucks and feed our children with what God has given us.

“We should not be taking from the Devil. We should not have black hearts and black skies. We cannot sing God’s praises with asthma.

“We cannot teach a man to fish in a sea of dead fish.”

“Sounds just like what I do in Congress,” the senator, a widower, quipped to a cute and single reporter who seemed interested, but did so quietly enough not to interrupt.

“We must have these new EPA rules or we will have water even Jesus himself could not turn into wine,” the sister told the cameras. “We will have Holy water that kills those who it blesses. Air that causes cancer and land where plants will not grow.”

The senator leaned over to the abbess.

“Next time,” he suggested, “Skip the vow of silence.”

In return, the senator learned even nuns can wink.

As can reporters with good ears.

“If we do not stop this pollution now, what will we tell our children?”

In a suspicious bit of irony, with those words, in came the senator’s next appointment, a Boy Scout troop from the state capital.

The senator moved to shake ands with each one and then told them that they were just discussing pollution.

“You don’t have to tell us,” one of the older Scouts already said. “We know. And that’s why we’re here.”

He turned to the cameras.

“We’re here for our future.”

He pointed to merit badge the entire troop wore, all of which contained various shades of green.

“For picking up trash along the highways,” he said, pointing to one.

“For recycling,” he said, pointing to another.

“For planting trees,” he said, pointing to a badge with a miniature pine.

The nuns, knowing the value of a good photo-op, had moved, now standing behind the Scouts, the black and the green making a nice contrast, with the hands of the sisters placed in solidarity on the shoulders of the boys.

Meanwhile, the senator was doing his best to look solemn and statesmanlike, a tough thing as he could concentrate on noting but the picture his conservative colleague coming back to see all this.

That and the wonderful look of fear on his face.

But being a pro, the senator turned to the reporters.

“Let God and the little children lead us down the path of goodness,” he told the reporters and the cameras and the voters of his state.

“See here what we must protect and why, despite what the paid lobbyists and bought politicians say, why we must all get behind these new limits on pollution.

“This is our future and like the Scouts, we must be prepared.”

The smallest and cutest looked up sceptically.

“Good luck with that,” he warned. “You’re in for a hell of a fight.”

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