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Napoleon Dynamited? Why Fred Upton's March on the Clean Air Act Might Not Work Out So Well For Him

David Doniger

Posted February 10, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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It is winter in Washington.  Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) have assembled an army of lobbyists and Tea Party activists to march into enemy territory against the dreaded Clean Air Act.  They launched their invasion at a House hearing yesterday and hope to reach and rip out the heart of the Clean Air Act by springtime.

It brings to mind another famous campaign, Napoleon’s ill-fated march on Moscow in 1812.  Pictured below is Charles Joseph Minard’s map of Napoleon’s campaign.  (“The best statistical graphic ever drawn” according to Edward Tufte; it’s translated it into English in his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and here.

Minard.png

                                                             (public domain, available at Wikimedia Commons)

Minard records that Napoleon started his campaign with 422,000 men.  Beset by war and weather, only 100,000 French reached Moscow.  And only 10,000 men returned.

Upton and Inhofe may feel like they have an army of 422,000 men when they visit with the big polluters’ lobbyists and the crowd of Tea Party faithful.  But in political terms, the size of their army is best measured by polling data on where the public stands.  And what the polling data shows is that they start in a remarkably weak position.  The goal of their campaign is to block EPA from doing its job on carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.  But more than three out of four Americans (77 percent) – including a clear majority of Republicans (61 percent) – oppose efforts in Congress to block Clean Air Act updates for carbon, smog and other pollution, according to a national opinion survey by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) International for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

This is not just a national picture.  New polls conducted for NRDC in Fred Upton’s own Congressional district, and in the districts of eight other key House members, tell a similar story. In fact:

  • 62 percent of Upton’s own constituents oppose his bill to block EPA from limiting carbon pollution. 
  • 67 percent -- including 60 percent of Republicans – agreed with the statement that “Congress should let the EPA do its job,” as opposed to the minority who believe that “Congress should decide” what actions are taken to curb carbon pollution. 
  • 61 percent say that “EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.” 
  • 57 percent favor “the EPA setting new standards with stricter limits on air pollution.”

You can read the full report on Upton's district here.

The same story holds in the districts of Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), and Gene Green (D-TX). You can view all the results in this single table or look at individual reports, linked in my colleague Pete Altman’s blog here

And this is at the start of their campaign against the Clean Air Act.  There will be many battles as they try to march a bill to block EPA through the House and over to the Senate.  As more and more Americans understand what’s at stake – what the Clean Air Act does to protect their health, what the big polluters want to do to the law that keeps them safe, and what unlimited carbon pollution will do – expect Upton’s and Inhofe’s army to take losses and dwindle further.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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