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Sometimes the outside voice is the stronger one for the environment

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The 112th Congress has earned its share of doleful superlatives, including, famously, being the least liked group in history. Thanks to the unprecedented efforts of the House of Representatives to strip away forty years of environmental law, they've earned it.

The scale of the current attack on the foundations of our environmental laws is staggering. According to a report released by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, of the 770 legislative roll call votes taken in the House in 2011, 22% -- over one in every five -- were votes to undermine environmental protection. While in session, the House has voted on more than one anti-environmental bill per day. In 2011, landmark pieces of legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were targeted over 100 times.  

The only way forward is to change the composition of the House dramatically. To be sure, removing politicians who want to remove environmental protections is necessary. However, we also have to take the fight to the polluters, rather than merely playing defense. And to do that, we have to elect the most stalwart environmental advocates possible, rather than just assuming that establishment Democrats will do enough.

This dynamic is playing out in the 6th District of Maryland, which runs from the DC suburbs through the Maryland panhandle. Currently held by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the 6th district of Maryland has been named one of the DCCC's target races for 2012, and is one of the most likely seats in the country to go from red to blue. Environmentalists should be excited about this, as the current record of the Republican Party on environmental issues is dismal.

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With the Maryland 6th up for grabs, both parties are in line to hold extremely competitive primaries, something the district hasn't seen in decades. At first glance in the Democratic primary, Rob Garagiola, a career politician, would seem to be the logical choice to gain the support of environmental groups over a businessman. But a closer examination of the two candidates paints a different picture.

As a state senator, Garagiola has not been a friend to the environment like other Democrats. His score from the League of Conservation voters has steadily declined from 86% to 57%. His voting record indicates that should Garagiola join the House of Representatives, he'll be fully comfortable voting with anti-environmental Republicans such as John Boehner. In the Maryland Senate, Garagiola has consistently voted against protecting oyster beds, helped kill 2009 legislation that would have banned BPA toxins from baby bottles, and allowed utility companies to be exempted from forest protections. In 2011, while every Democrat legislator in the new 6th District voted in opposition, Garagiola voted with 99% of all Maryland Republican legislators to build an incinerator that would be harmful to our air.

If a politician like Garagiola wasn't able to stand up to polluters and industry voices while he was the Majority Leader in Maryland, what makes us think he'll stand up for the environment when he joins the most anti-environmental House in history?

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Although the business community is generally distrusted by environmentalists, my record is a little different. As a progressive businessman, my wife and I have been very ardent supporters of the environment. My wife, April, sat on the board of Oceana, helping to create policy, and was also on the board of Discovery Creek Children's Museum, which enables an appreciation for our environment at a young age. As the founder of Blueprint Maryland, a non-profit that encourages private sector growth, I was one of the early voices calling for clean energy job creation. And I believe in the Carbon Tax, alternative energy sources, and protecting our waters, forests and air.

I may be a businessman, but I know that we can't be for the environment only 57% of the time, especially with the fossil fuel lobby pushing votes on dangerous legislation every single day. With the health of our communities and the preservation of our resources at risk, there are too many holes in that net.

The current political dialogue is dominated by a false choice that Americans must choose between jobs and the environment, between the economy and ecology. We know that isn't the case, but the lobbyists and talking heads are successfully playing upon the economic anxieties of the American people.

This specious argument has cut both ways. In fact, it's been so successful that many in the environmental movement are distrustful of the business community. I'm here to tell you that many of us in the business world know that a dirty economy is a losing economy and that passing off the costs of a factory to everyone downriver or down-wind hurts business productivity as a whole.

The only way we can start winning the argument again is if we present a credible business voice who can explain that conservation, environmental protection, and new energy standards are good for the economy.

The progress we've made in the last forty years has been enormously beneficial to the American people. To give one example, according to the EPA, air pollution has declined by 70% since the 1970s, despite a rise in population and an increase in the number of cars on the road. This alone has helped make our economy strong, allowing workers to be more productive on the job and cutting down on sick days and health care costs. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently pointed out, the Clean Air Act has paid for itself 25 times over. I've understood these things from the beginning of my career, which is why I've been a major supporter of environmental causes.   

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To grow green jobs, we need a national energy policy that establishes a defined, long-term plan. We've been chasing short-term goals for over a century now and the results have been disastrous. Committing to new energy standards, retrofitting existing buildings, and investing in new technologies is paramount.

As a progressive businessman, I will fight for our core environmental values and sell to the American public that we don't have to sacrifice our standards to create jobs. Indeed, our economic future is tied to becoming the global leader in renewable energy technology.

This year, the results in the 6th district of Maryland will say a lot about the direction the next Congress goes in. If we can change the dialogue and break the politics as usual paradigm, we can start fighting on our own terms.       

 

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I am an entrepreneur and a progressive businessman running for Congress in Maryland.
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Sometimes the outside voice is the stronger one for the environment