The Clean Water Blog

Eric Benson speaking to seated crowd at Rally to Save Democracy, 9-17-21

Democracy, Environment, and You

I’m Eric Benson, Clean Water Action’s NJ Campaigns Director. I’ve been in the advocacy business for a long time, but I have a confession to make. When I was in college I was a bad voter, I just didn’t show up. Knowing what I know now though, every election feels more important than the last. And right now, I’m feeling like the soul of a country and the fate of our planet are on the ballot this November.

The way I see it, there are TWO big threats to our clean air, clean water, public health and our future climate.

Number 1: The US Supreme Court

Number 2: Our Next Congress

As I'm sure you know, the Supreme Court is already hard at work when they issued a disastrous ruling on climate. The court aimed squarely to limit the federal government's ability to tackle multi-state and global environmental challenges. Though focused on climate, the hard-right majority clearly signaled its openness to limiting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to address critical, life-threatening issues of air pollution, climate change, toxics and clean water.

Clean Water Action has been calling on the Biden administration and Congress to do more to protect our environment and public health. The White House has responded, taking bold actions on clean water, climate, PFAS, environmental justice and other issues. The most immediate danger to this progress is from the Supreme Court and other anti-environment judges appointed to federal courts during the Trump administration. Time and again, these judges have stopped good initiatives by the Biden administration and we cannot count on the Supreme Court to protect us.

After a series of false starts, Congress finally advanced a late-summer package of investments aimed at confronting the challenge of climate change. Sadly, those measures, which will benefit all people and communities, faced opposition along strictly partisan lines, and had to be passed through procedural maneuvering and backroom deals that put too much power into one unnamed coalbarron (ahem, I mean Senator) in West Virginia.

Which brings me to my second big threat. A change of leadership in either the House or Senate could doom promising initiatives and stop progress under the Biden administration's leadership. Depending on the outcome of the fall election, the current leadership of those who run the House and Senate, and those who chair all of the key environment and budget committees could change.

Based on their voting records and positions, a potential Speaker McCarthy or Majority Leader McConnell and the committee chairs they appoint wouldn't just be mediocre on the issues we care about most. They would actively work to limit environmental protections and stop the Biden administration from addressing the climate crisis, protecting our water, and safeguarding the frontline communities most at risk. Instead of cracking down on polluters, they would make the wishes of the biggest polluters and their largest campaign donors their top priorities. We can't afford to let that happen.

The dangers are great, but the public is on our side. Now is no time to turn back. The solution is simple. We must elect more pro-environment and pro-democracy members of Congress. We need to reform the filibuster.  We can protect our champions in Congress and elect even more pro-environment members in the House and Senate.

Right now, having a closely divided House and Senate has made it difficult, but not impossible, to make progress. All of us together can reach, educate and turn out voters to support strong environmental and pro-democracy candidates. We have to take care of our house here in NJ. We have frontline candidates and we cannot afford to lose even one. This isn't about a partisan agenda. It's about making sure the support for clean water and action on climate by a broad majority of the voting public is heard where it matters most, at the ballot box.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. You need to write letters, make phone calls, vote, tell friends and family to do the same, then repeat. Make sure you are registered to vote (New Jersey's voter registration deadline is October 18th!), make a plan, and cast your vote for Clean Water Action endorsed candidates. We need every Clean Water Voter voice heard at the polls - and together, we will win!