Rep. Henry Waxman (D- Santa Monica) called out his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives for what he characterized “anti-environmental” votes at a press conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu Aug. 10.
Waxman – who is running for reelection in the newly drawn 33rd Congressional District, which includes Venice, Santa Monica and Marina del Rey, due to the redrawing of new congressional boundary lines – referenced a study that showed the 112th Congress was the most “anti-environmental” in history. Since January 2011, when Republicans won the House, 297 such votes were cast and 117 of them – 40 percent – were for policies that sought to undermine protection of California’s coastal areas, “The Anti-Coastal Congress” report states.
“Protecting our coast should be a national priority,” Waxman told the audience. “Yet the House Republican assault on coastal waters, marine life and the environment has been relentless.
“Coastal protections were established because the American people want clean water, clean beaches and development that protects our seashores,” the congressman continued. “Twelve million jobs in California depend upon our coast. Congress should be strengthening coastal protections, not turning the clock back.”
Republican legislative actions included votes for new drilling of oil and gas along the state’s coast, including areas where drilling is not currently permitted.
The report also shows that House Republicans voted 26 times to allow offshore drilling operations to meet weaker environmental and safety standards, 24 times to block action to address climate change and 20 times to undermine federal Clean Water Act programs and protections for coastal areas.
“I think the votes that have been cast against the environment and against protecting our oceans have been very reckless,” the congressman told The Argonaut after the press conference. “The ocean and its health are very important to Californians and these votes have an impact on our coast as well as our economy.”
The Surfrider Foundation’s California Policy Manager Stefanie Sekich saw the report that Waxman cited as a welcome yet disturbing legislative portrait that has been painted over the last two years that has caused environmental organizations dedicated to safeguarding the health of California’s coastline great anxiety.
“Those of us in the environmental community have seen a trend of legislation that tries to undermine environmental and coastal protections,” Sekich asserted. “This report laid out the number of votes that have been taken that seek to weaken environmental protection and when we learned that 40 percent of the votes were to undermine coastal protection and resources, we were shocked and concerned.”
Bill Bloomfield, who is challenging Waxman in the 33rd congressional race, agrees that Republicans have cast votes that undermine coastal protections, but took time to blast his opponent as well.
“While it is disappointing that there are many Republicans in Congress who have voted against the environment, it’s equally disappointing that Rep. Waxman has not voted to create jobs,” he said. “This press conference was political theater.”
Waxman said the votes against climate change were particularly troubling due to recent studies that indicate sea level rise and consequences from global warming can have deleterious effects on coastal wetlands as well as causing ocean acidification.
“They refuse to believe science regarding climate change,” the congressman lamented. “We need to be concerned about our coast and we need to do things to adapt to the realities of climate change.”
Waxman added that he found it ironic that many of the legislators who deny the existence of climate change represent Midwestern states and have asked Congress for financial relief for the drought that has devastated the Midwest while voting against climate change bills. Many scientists believe the drought is a consequence of global warming.
David Hadley, president of the Beach Cities Republican Club, said both political parties want their coastlines to have environmental protections, but where they differ is on their approaches to maintain them.
“On many of these issues, most Republicans have the same goals of clean water, clean air and the stewardship of the environment,” he said.
Hadley said Democrats who advocate implementing climate change and cap and trade policy “destroy jobs with no discernible purpose” both at the state and the federal levels.
Scott Valor, governmental affairs director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, said Waxman’s attention to the challenges of global warming and sea level rise is important as the environmental review portion of the Ballona Wetlands begins in earnest. The commission is assisting the state Department of Fish and Game and the California Coastal Conservancy with baseline studies in the ecological reserve.
“One of the issues that has been raised regarding the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands will be addressing sea level rise in coming years,” Valor said. “This was important because you never really hear this from a congressman.”
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in conjunction with the World Bank, produced a report last year that stated due to drainage and degradation, coastal wetlands could be a source of carbon dioxide that, once in the atmosphere, can be a contributor to global warming and lead to increased carbon sequestration.
Recent studies from Ohio State University indicate restored wetlands can offset some of the consequences of global warming, and having an ecological reserve that is functioning well and properly can be a benefit to the public as well as to the environment.
And organizations like Surfrider and Los Angeles Baykeeper (formerly Santa Monica Baykeeper) have warned that sea level rise has the potential to have a devastating effect on coastal resources in the future.
Bloomfield said he took issue with the tenor of the press conference, which he said was symptomatic of what has been occurring in Washington, D.C. for too long: partisanship.
“As bad as Republicans have been, none of the legislation was in danger of passing because the Democrats are in charge of the Senate,” he countered.
Valor also thought it was significant for Waxman to announce his findings publicly.
“Sometimes environmental issues can fly under the radar and subtle, quiet attacks on the environment can go unnoticed,” he noted.
Sekich said not taking the ramifications of climate change into account environmentally as well as legislatively was not a sound strategy.
“If we continue to ignore (climate change) the way that Congress has with its votes, it’s going to cost us billions of dollars in the future,” she predicted.
The entire report can be viewed at: www.democrats.energycommerce.house.gov. ¤