Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Take the Money . . . And Run

For violating the Clean Air Act at its refinery in El Segundo, Calif., Chevron was fined $443,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency; for violating the Clean Water Act at various California sites, Shell Oil was slapped with fines totaling $2 million. For obvious reasons, these and other corporate polluters in the Golden State have no special fondness for the EPA, which is responsible for ensuring compliance with many U.S. environmental laws throughout the nation.

They do have a fondness for anti-environment politicians, however. Many, for instance, gave generously to the re-election campaign of freshman Rep. Bill Baker (R-Calif.), who in his first term voted to slash the agency's funding by one-third, and to exempt oil refineries and other plants - which spew cancer-causing chemicals like benzene, xylene, dioxin and toluene - from toxic-emission standards.

Baker learned the game from a couple of masters: House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his majority whip, Tom DeLay (R-Texas), both of whom qualify for most-favored-donation status in the eyes of polluter PACs, or political action committees. From November 1993 through June 1996, these leaders of the 104th Congress' War on the Environment accep ted more than $489,000 and $466,000 respectively from 660 polluter PACs - more than any other members of Congress.

Although environmentalists blocked most of their agenda, we always knew that polluter PACs were getting plenty of bang for their bucks in the zealously anti-regulatory Gingrich/Dole Congress. Now, though, it's clear that the hitmen and -women charged with carrying out the contract on America's environment were acting only partly from ideological zeal. In most cases, the record shows, they were hired guns. It shows how elected officials like Reps. Dick Chrysler (R-Mich.), Peter Blute (R-Mass.), Andrea Seastrand (R-Calif.) and others not only took polluters' money, but voted polluters' interests instead of the public in terest. Specifically, Club researchers tracked campaign contributions between November 1993 (before the 104th Congress) and June 1996 from 660 PACs associated with companies intent on rolling back environmental laws. They then examined how the recipients of this corporate largesse voted on four key pieces of anti-environmental legislation in the Gingrich Congress.

Few will be shocked to learn that Big Business has a disproportionate influence on our servants in Washington. But in the GOP-led 104th Congress, notes Carl Pope, the Club's executive director, "It's the blatant connection between dollars from polluters and votes cast against environmental protection that is so shocking."

Using figures from the Federal Election Commission, the study confirms that "PAC contributions from anti-environmental special interests were closely associated with votes in favor of those special interests' pet legislation." In particular, Club researchers followed the money trail to four major anti-environmental measures introduced in the House during this Congress: so-called regulatory reform, the clearcut logging rider, clean-water "reform" (a.k.a. the "Dirty Water Act") and the infamous EPA riders aimed at restricting the agency's enforcement powers.

"Not only did these PACS spend big money," the study says, "they spent it well. The 229 representatives (37 Democrats and 192 Republicans) who voted in favor of the special interests' anti-environmental bills at least three out of four times received a total of $29 million" - nearly 75 percent of the $46 million the PACs handed out to members of the 104th Congress. Here's the breakdown, bill by bill:

--"Regulatory reform." More than 400 PACs associated with two industry coalitions pushing for rollbacks of environmental standards - the Alliance for Reasonable Regulation and Project Relief - gave more than $32 million in campaign donations. Seventy-five percent of that money went to House members who voted for their version of Sen. Bob Dole's "regulatory reform," which would have blocked or effectively repealed an array of environmental safeguards. --Dirty Water Act. House members took almost $19 million from 272 PACs intent on gutting the Clean Water Act. More than $13 million went to representatives who voted for the 104th Congress' "Dirty Water Act," which would have lowered pollution standards for thousands of pollutants and opened roughly half of the nation's remaining wetlands to development. . --EPA riders. The effort to cripple the Environmental Protection Agency was funded by 212 PACs who gave some $18 million in contributions - $11.4 million of which went to 209 members who favored 17 legislative riders to limit the agency's ability to carry out its mission. --Logging without laws. Of the nearly $1.2 million in donations from 51 PACs affiliated with the nation's largest timber companies, more than $1 million - nearly 90 percent - was traced to representatives who voted in favor of the devastating "logging without laws" clearcut rider.

"When forced to choose between special interests with cash and voters with concerns," concludes the report, "too many members of Congress decided to take the money and run from their responsibility to protect America's environment for our families, for our future. With elections just around the corner, it will be the voters' chance to choose."

For more information: The report is available on the Club's World Web Site at http://www.sierraclub.org/politics/


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