Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Jackal in Eagle's Clothing

Most politicians lie, and portray themselves more favorably than they deserve.

Few do so as blatantly as Congressman Steve Pearce, portraying himself as an environmental moderate in a recent piece in this newspaper.

Harmonizing environmental protection with other needs is a subtle and difficult set of choices. If tackled honestly, they are complex.

For Pearce, the choices are simple. He’s bankrolled by the oil and gas folks, and votes the way they want him to.

In the 2010 election cycle, Mr. Pearce raised nearly $2.5 million. His top four contributors were Yates Petroleum, Marbob Energy, Devon Energy, and Chesapeake Energy, and the fifth was a corporation owned by a right-wing billionaire. At least two more oil companies were among his top ten, along with a bank and an investment firm. So far in 2011-12, Oil & Gas represents his top contributor, at $55,500. "Automotive" is second and Banks fifth.

The petroleum industry got what it paid for. Groups from that industry give Mr. Pearce ratings of either 100% or very nearly 100%. I’m told that Mr. Pearce has received more than $1.2 million from the oil and gas industry during his career.

By contrast, Public Citizen rates him at eight per cent. Most environmental protection groups, as well as La Raza, the American Library Association, and the ACLU, rate him at 0 %. Nada. His League of Women Voters "energy score" is also 0%. In his own party, the "Republicans for Environmental Protection" gave him a generous 17% rating for 2006.

An environmental moderate doesn’t get a 0% rating from environmental protection groups. An environmental moderate looks honestly at the available choices, balances interests as fairly as s/he can, and votes based on what’s best for the people s/he represents, or for the country. Sorry, but that ain’t Steve Pearce.

There’s no doubt where Pearce stands. Folks who work for the petroleum industry obviously know it. So do folks intent on protecting the environment, and advocates of good government generally. Put simply: "Oil good. Wasting time on our environment, bad." It’s that simple.

It’s that simple for Pearce, and he says so to groups like the Anti-Endangered Species Act rally in Roswell.  He writes a different story in the Sun-News. For us, he writes, "I have always advocated balance" in such matters. He also disparages Washington lobbyists – even though he and his oil and gas clients work with some very powerful anti-environmental lobbyists. In fact, his chief of staff was formerly an anti-environmental lobbyist.

Pearce tells us that "no matter how many special interests attack me, I will not stop doing what is right for New Mexico"; but he is a creature of the monied special interests! This doesn’t make him wrong, just dishonest. A fair statement would be that no matter how many concerned groups and citizens attack him, he will not stop doing what is right for the Koch Brothers, Exxon, and Steve Pearce.

Of course, Pearce hides his allegiance behind copious references to working people and farmers. Like the worst of history’s demagogues, he musters support by fear-mongering, instead of honestly addressing difficult choices. Anything that will inconvenience his backers he casts as a devastating blow to employment.

Most dangerously, he advocates an end to awards of legal fees for successful public-interest lawsuits.
Naturally this is a biggie for polluters and corporations that don’t want environmental protection to cut into their profit margins even a little.

His attack on environmentalists as "interest groups" is sly. Unlike trade associations, labor unions, and industry lobbyists, they don’t represent the material interests of workers or businesspeople or ranchers or the elderly. They represent all of us, in a sense. Whether they are right or wrong in any particular case, they represent the Earth we live on, and the other species we share it with, as well as the trees that take poisonous carbon dioxide out of our air and return oxygen to it. (Even Mr. Pearce probably needs a little oxygen now and then.)

Mr. Pearce shrieks that sometimes the groups’ attorney fees get paid by the public. That’s true. What he leaves out is that they get paid if they win a case that is in the public interest. That is, someone who sues to make the government or an industry follow the law, and protect a river or stop poisoning the air, has done us all a favor and may get paid out of the public treasury.

They don’t get paid if they lose. They don’t get paid if they’re wrong.

Unlike the oil and gas companies, they don’t have abundant profits from which to pay lawyers to help them make more profits. Owls and lizards generally can’t afford lawyers and lobbyists. (Well, maybe the Geico gekko can.) The San Francisco River has no Law Department. Trees get paid well below minimum wage for helping maintain an environment we can live in.

Environmental groups only get paid for winning lawsuits that make government or industry follow the law. Congress made the laws; and most of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices were appointed by Mr. Pearce’s Republican allies, such as George Bush. The deck is pretty well stacked against advocates for the owls and trees; but even so, Mr. Pearce wants to remove their chance even to sit in on the game.

                                                             - 30-

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 JanuaryFor the benefit of readers who don't know, Mr. Pearce is a Republican Congressman from southernNew Mexico.]


  1. I'd think that the good supporting facts and details as well as your obvious sympathy with nature would make this a convincing argument to anyone except a diehard Pearce fan

  2. Pearce is a sleazeball all right, and worse, there are hundreds of Congresspeople just like him. Many factors have led to this sad state of affairs. One key factor is that conservatives have by far the more effective propaganda machine. Progressive voices are systematically excluded from national television. Every podunk radio station has its own two-bit Limbaugh. Through their saturation coverage, conservatives have created a “separate reality” in which, for example, Obama is a socialist, global warming is a hoax, and gay marriage is a life-and-death threat to the survival of civilization. Progressives, on the other hand, have traditionally had a much more easy-going attitude, due at least in part to the fact that we have been intelligent enough to create reasonably prosperous and fulfilling lives for ourselves. We have had a complacent “live and let live” attitude which has not served us or the planet well. We have depended on the corrupt Democratic Party and the corporate media (owned by plutocrats) to get our message across, and – surprise! – our message hasn’t gotten across very well. We depend on the written word – both the internet and the archaic print newspaper format – in a mass culture that is devolving into a tribal pre-literacy in which logic is becoming increasingly irrelevant. We donate hundreds of millions to candidates like Obama, when the money could be much better spent creating a sophisticated electronic media that would be much more effective in reprogramming the lizard brains of the people we need to reprogram. For decades now, the plutocrats have hired the best strategic minds that money can buy, and it shows. Progressives are essentially amateurs. No wonder candidates like Pearce have such an easy time of it!