This brief history of recent U.S. climate and clean air initiatives is written by Harriet Shugarman, Climate Mama:

Historically, and throughout most of my lifetime, fighting for clean air has been a non-partisan issue. In the early 1970’s the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established under the leadership of President Richard Nixon, a Republican, as too were the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The first international agreement to protect the atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gas pollutants, the Montreal Protocol, was conceived, fought for and came into force in 1989 under the leadership of President Ronald Regan, a Republican.

Polluted Politics

Bi-partisanship support has been successful in cleaning up our air and our water. Yet, over much of the lifetime of my two teenage children, fighting for clean air has taken on a decidedly partisan hue. To me, this makes no sense whatsoever, as pollution knows no physical boundaries. Whether you live in a “blue or a red” state, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which are largely invisible to the eye, cannot be stopped by some “invisible state border.”

According to Moms Clean Air Force partner, the American Lung Association, my state, New Jersey, has some of the most polluted air in the country. My teenage son was recently diagnosed with asthma. Over the past 3 years, my Republican Governor, Chris Christie, takes the opposite direction of fighting to clean up our air and our clean water. He is actively fighting against enforcing legislation that would stop neighboring state power plants from emitting certain greenhouse gas pollutants. And he has vetoed bi-partisan state legislation that would stop neighboring states from being allowed to bring toxic fracking waste into my state.

Since the late 1980’s, the relationship between man-made greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and climate change has become incredibly clear. This is based overwhelmingly on scientific, fact base evidence, as well as evidence Mother Nature is presenting to us. At the same time, as this relationship has become more transparent, politics have began to play a key role in keeping solutions from being established and acted upon.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the landmark national and regional legislation created in recent years to curb greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, and how these programs and policies are now taking on a partisan bent all around our country:

  • Initially conceived in 2003 by a Republican Governor as a means of fighting “global climate change,” theRegional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) formally began operations in 2008 with 10 northeastern states as part of the compact. This market-based initiative to reduce greenhouse gases from power plants has provided  $100’s of millions of dollars to member states to fund energy efficiency and green energy initiatives since it began operations. In 2011, without legislative approval, the Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, pulled his state (my state) out of the program.
  • In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that man made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide endanger public health and were likely responsible for the global warming experienced over the previous half century. This ruling gave the EPA the power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The case, which established this ruling, known as Massachusetts vs. the EPA, was initiated under the leadership of then Mass. Governor Romney, a Republican, on behalf of 12 states and several cities to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. In late 2013, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge on this ruling in early 2014.
  • In 2012, the State of California launched a cap and trade program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, the program became enforceable with mandatory obligations. California, which has a Democratic Governor, is working with four Canadian provinces as part of the Western Climate Initiative  (WCI) to develop a harmonized cap and trade program that will deliver cost-effective emission reductions. Over its history the WCI has had the participation of 6 other states but California is currently the only remaining state to be part of this initiative.
  • In 2013, the Governors of California, Oregon and Washington (all Democrats), joined by the Premier of British Columbia, established the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. They’ve agreed to: account for the cost of carbon, implement low carbon fuel standards, and embrace clean energy. This agreement however is not binding.
  • In December 2013, Eight Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require upwind states to reduce air pollution generated within their borders, which have been proven to cause asthma attacks, respiratory disease, and other public health problems downwind. These states are all part of the Ozone Transportation Commission (OTC) which is a multi-state organization created under the Clean Air Act. The OTC brings together 12 states from Virginia to Maine to coordinate reductions in air pollution that benefit the whole region, in addition to the District of Columbia. The four states that did not join the recent petition to the EPA are all headed by Republican Governors – New Jersey, Maine, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

While we wait for our political representatives to be “good neighbors,” let’s continue to remind them:clean air is NOT, nor should it be a partisan issue. Parents need ALL political persuasions to join us in fighting for clean air and a clean energy future for ALL of our children!


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