Along with the rest of Washington I was shocked to hear Maine Senator Olympia Snowe’s announcement that she would not seek a fourth term. While many progressive voices cheered the announcement and the likely pickup of the seat for Democrats, I found myself saddened. Snowe’s departure will leave a gaping hole in the Senate and in the environmental movement where moderate voices once stood.
Snowe has been one of the few Republicans remaining in Washington who was willing to go against the Tea Party and Republican party leaders and vote for the environment, opposing offshore drilling, protecting clean air, and supporting action on climate change.
Snowe cited “polarization” in Washington as a reason for her departure. It’s easy to see what she means. Today, in general, Republicans in Congress seem to oppose environmental protection while Democrats support it. It wasn’t always like this. A Republican, President Richard Nixon, established the EPA. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 passed the House in a vote of 401 to 25 .
This new polarization doesn’t reflect our country. Just today we see a new poll that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that climate change is real. Yet, we can’t get near that level of support for action in either the House or Senate. Seventy-five percent of Americans want EPA to set air pollution standards. Yet, Snowe was one of only six Republicans to vote to protect EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule.
While Snowe may be replaced with someone even more consistently pro-environment, our joy will be bittersweet. We know that the key to a sustainable environmental majority is strong, bipartisan support for clean air, clean energy and our other issues. The loss of Olympia Snowe moves us further from that goal.
Photo credit: Miles Grant