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Champs Stand Up And Fight For Clean Air As Tea Party Loses Steam

Clean Air Day

Clean Air Day by, on Flickr

Things are looking up in the effort to preserve clean air protections and to keep the Clean Air Act intact. For months, polluters and their allies in Congress have been trying to strip away the protections that keep our air safe to breathe. But in the past few days, 4 anti-clean air amendments have failed miserably in the Senate, 34 senators have declared their support for the Clean Air Act, and now some members of the GOP are indicating they might give some ground on the dirty policy riders they’ve attached to the spending bill — policy riders that don’t save a single red cent.

Two forces are helping break up the logjam: the renewed leadership from clean air champions and the apparent waning influence of Tea Party supporters. But the fight is definitely not over. We need to keep the pressure on until the dirty air bullies back down.

Strong leadership certainly helps. Environmental, public health, labor, and clean tech groups have bombarded lawmakers with data demonstrating how the Clean Air Act promotes health and prosperity. We also shared polling numbers showing that the vast majority of American voters—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike—support the law and want to let the Environmental Protection Agency continue to do its job.

Lawmakers heard us and began standing up for the protections that Americans want. Last Friday, Senators Sanders (D-VT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Carper (D-DE), and Kerry (D-MA), these lawmakers introduced a resolution calling for a continued commitment to the Clean Air Act.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) drove home the message on the Sunday talk shows. He said some of the policy riders in the spending bill “were totally unacceptable,” and specifically decried the “idea that we’re going to close down the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to keep our air clean and our water pure.”

Senator Durbin represents a heartland state with a large Tea Party constituency. But rather than pandering to Tea Party faithfuls who will never vote for him anyway, Durbin is standing up for the values that matter to the working families he represents.

The Tea Party likes to think it will act as daunting force during the 2012 election cycle, but in fact the monster is getting declawed. Politico reported that the party’s approval rating among voters fell to an all-time low of 32 percent in a new CNN/Opinion Research corporation poll. Meanwhile, 47 percent of respondents said they have an unfavorable view of the party—a higher negative rating than ever before.

That might explain why a much heralded Tea Party rally in Washington last Friday was reported to have only “dozens” of participants.

And why even some lawmakers who leveraged Tea Party support to win office are now distancing themselves. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) now acts like the party is some sort of embarrassing uncle he would prefer not to invite to the family wedding. As a senator from Massachusetts, Brown knows you cannot win if you look act like the crazy side of the family.

Unfortunately, however, the Tea Party still has the ability to spook some lawmakers. Senators Brown (D-OH) and Stabenow (D-MI) introduced amendments that would limit the EPA’s ability to reduce dangerous carbon pollution yesterday. Fortunately, they failed miserably (7-93) but why did they need to introduce them in the first place?

Putting off America’s effort to curb global warming pollution would threaten economic growth in their own states. The amendments would have stymied the enormous growth in clean energy that has turned Ohio into a wind and solar manufacturing hub. These amendments would hurt American workers. The Blue Green Alliance of labor and environmental groups opposed amendments that would permanently block carbon pollution safeguards.

I hope more lawmakers begin to realize that courting extreme voters is a futile exercise: you rarely persuade them and you alienate independents and your base in the process. Galvanizing independents and your core supporters on issues that matter most has proven far more successful in recent elections—just ask President George W. Bush and President Obama. Betting on the Tea party as they decline, meanwhile, won’t carry many candidates into office.

Demonstrating leadership in the effort to make the air clean and safe for American families, however, is something that everyone should get behind.

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Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Heather Taylor-Miesle is the Director of the NRDC Action Fund. With more than 13 years of experience in federal politics as a public interest lobbyist, political consultant and on Capitol Hill, she has expertise in federal energy, environmental health, and appropriations issues. Prior to becoming director of the NRDC Action Fund, Ms. Taylor-Miesle was the associate legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the world’s premier environmental organizations. Prior to her position at the NRDC, Ms. Taylor-Miesle worked on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to now Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) and then as a senior staff member for current Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis (D-CA). Follow Heather and NRDC's Action Fund on Facebook(