For the past fifteen years, I have worked with Democrats and Republicans to stop the undue influence of special interest money in politics and promote clean elections. Clean elections and clean energy go hand in hand. For decades, fossil fuel companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying our legislatures and contributing to political campaigns, winning tens of billions of dollars in public subsidies and contributing to climate change. Their actions, and the system of special interest-funded campaigns in which they participate, are damaging to our democracy and our environment.
New Hampshire citizens are heavily invested in the fight for clean energy and clean elections. I am proud of the work of thousands of District 5 residents opposing the Kinder Morgan NED Pipeline, which would have brought large quantities of fracked natural gas to the New England coast – partially for foreign export – while threatening our lands, our health, and our safety. The fight reached an important milestone this week with the unanticipated announcement that Kinder Morgan is suspending its pipeline proposal.
New Hampshire must not stop there. In the months and years ahead, I will continue to work with concerned citizens across District 5 to ensure the pipeline is not revived and to actively promote solar and other clean renewable alternatives that bring economic development while preserving the natural environment we cherish. I call on Councilor Dave Wheeler and his fellow Republicans on the Executive Council to end their damaging opposition to large-scale solar projects in New Hampshire cities and towns that save taxpayer money while adding middle-class jobs and protecting our natural environment. I also call on the NH Legislature to raise the net metering cap on residential solar production so that we do not stifle a vital new sector of our economy at a critical stage in its growth and allow citizens to take a lead in transitioning to clean renewable energy. And I call on fellow citizens to join my family in making the transition to residential solar either through no-cost lease arrangements or permanent home systems.
Together, we can preserve our natural environment for future generations while adding new jobs and growing the green energy sector.
To learn more about my advocacy for clean elections and clean energy, I invite you to read the following syndicated column I wrote on Earth Day 2010.
'Clean coal' starts with clean elections
By Daniel Weeks
April 21, 2010
Forty years ago today, some 20 million Americans rallied together in thousands of schools and communities across the country to mark the first Earth Day. They stood for basic environmental imperatives: preserving our natural spaces, restoring clean air and water in the face of rampant pollution, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. It was a moment of urgency and hope for our planet.
The recent tragic explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was a painful reminder of how reliant our country remains on outdated, unsafe, and environmentally destructive sources of fuel.
The accident left 29 miners dead and focused renewed attention on regulation and safety in America's mines; indeed, only one in 10 underground mines currently meets federal safety standards established in 2006.
It should focus other questions too: Did millions of dollars in campaign spending by the mine's CEO, Don Blankenship, to elect anti-regulation candidates to state and federal office unduly impact our government's energy policy? Broader still, is big money in politics a roadblock to cleaning up coal?
In a now-infamous case of influence-peddling that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blankenship personally financed a successful $3 million campaign to defeat a candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court who was expected to vote against Blankenship's Massey Energy Co in a $50 million lawsuit pending before the Court. The winning judge in the race, Brent Benjamin, cast the deciding vote in favor of Massey, saving Blankenship $50 million, minus the $3 million cost of the campaign.
To its credit, the U.S. Supreme Court held the West Virginia verdict to be invalid by a 5-4 vote because Judge Benjamin had not recused himself from the case. But in a stunning about-shift, the same U.S. Supreme Court has since concluded in the 5-4 Citizens United v. FEC decision that multimillion dollar campaigns by the likes of Massey Energy, or any other corporation, to elect or defeat politicians at any level are permitted in the name of "free speech."
It is difficult to imagine entire committees of the U.S. House and Senate recusing themselves from consideration of climate change legislation based on the millions of dollars received from big coal and other industry groups. Indeed, the entire Congress would have to remain silent on myriad issues of concern to their special interest contributors if the Supreme Court's standard of recusal in West Virginia applied across the board.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, mining and other energy industry groups have contributed more than $500million to candidates for federal office over the last 20 years, including a record $77 million in 2008 alone. Every incumbent member of Congress was the beneficiary of energy industry contributions, with the average congressman and senator receiving $54,166 and $206,295, respectively, in 2008.
It is little wonder that few Americans share the Supreme Court's view, in Citizens United v. FEC, that unlimited special interest money in politics does not sully the legislative process. Recent surveys have found more than eight in 10 citizens take issue with the Supreme Court ruling, concluding instead that Congress already works for the benefit of special interests instead of the public good.
"Clean Coal" may be a clever invention of the marketing departments of America's largest mines, but cleaning up coal is a vital national priority for the safety of our mineworkers and the environment. So long as industry money continues to flow unabated to the very politicians responsible for writing the nation's energy and climate legislation, we can expect little in the way of meaningful reform.
The time is now to overhaul the nation's campaign finance system by replacing special interest money in federal elections with a system of small donations and matching public funds. Only then will our lawmakers have the independence and integrity they need to meet the considerable challenges we face, in the coal mines of West Virginia and beyond.
Daniel Weeks is president of Americans for Campaign Reform, based in Concord, N.H.