Call Ehlers to Oppose Legislation that will make it Easier to Build a New Coal Power Plant in Holland

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I’ve never been a big fan of MoveOn–they are generally way too close to the Democratic Party and are largely unwilling to challenge U.S. imperialism–but they did send out a nice action alert to the people on their West Michigan mailing list asking them to call Representative Vern Ehlers about a measure in Congress that would repeal sections of the Clean Air Act and make it easier to remove roadblocks to the plant.

In the past, MediaMouse.org has highlighted local opposition to the plant and highlighted how the technology being promoted for it is unproven. Aside from being a good way to help stop the coal rush in Michigan, it’s also a good test to see how Ehlers–who has the reputation of being an environmentalist–responds.

Please take the time to call Representative Ehlers today:

For years, Holland Board of Public Works has been trying to build a dirty, coal-fired power plant in Holland, not far from you. If built, the James DeYoung Power Plant would spew out smog and soot pollution, and you’d be in the high-risk zone for health effects. (1)

Until now, local activists with groups like the Sierra Club have been able to stop this and other plants. Relying on the Clean Air Act and other protections, activists have heroically battled Holland Board of Public Works to keep this giant new polluter out of Holland. (2)

But now, coal industry lobbyists have forced a terrible provision into the new energy bill–it would repeal crucial sections of the Clean Air Act and remove some key remaining roadblocks to Holland Board of Public Works’s plant. (3)

Congress is voting next week. Can you call Rep. Ehlers right away?

You can say something like this: “I don’t want a new dirty coal plant in Holland. Please oppose the repeal of the Clean Air Act provisions in the energy bill.”

Representative Vernon Ehlers

Phone: 202-225-3831

Grand Rapids District Office: 616-451-8383

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

http://pol.moveon.org/call/index.html?cp_id=956&tg=FHMI_03&id=&t=14

What does this mean in your area? If the coal industry wins, local groups may be unable to stop the James DeYoung Power Plant in Holland. The Clean Air Act provision at stake here requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for global warming pollution for coal plants. Every local coal plant fight is different, but in general it’ll be much easier for coal companies and utilities to get funding to build new plants if there’s no chance the EPA will force those plants to cut their global warming pollution.

How did this happen? For years, George W. Bush refused to use the Clean Air Act to cut global warming pollution. But the Obama administration has taken the first steps toward changing that, so the coal industry is desperate to take away Obama’s authority to limit global warming pollution.

We got Congress’s attention in the last two weeks with a powerful grassroots drive to fix this and other problems in the energy bill. We made thousands of phone calls, wrote letters to local newspapers, and delivered petition signatures in person to hundreds of congressional offices. But we’re not there yet.

The clock is ticking down to the big vote next week, and we need to stop the repeal of this key provision in the Clean Air Act. Can you call Rep. Ehlers today?

Sources:

1. “Surry coal plant: Just say no,” The (Newport News) Daily Press, June 7, 2009 and “Estimating the Health Impacts of Coal-Fired Power Plants Receiving International Financing,” Environmental Defense Fund, 2009

2. “Stopping the Coal Rush,” Sierra Club and “Taking on King Coal,” Time, November 5, 2008

3. “EPA urged to act on climate, not wait for Congress,” Associated Press, May 18, 2009

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Single Payer Health Care Day of Action on May 30

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In light of news of health insurance monopolies in Michigan, the group Healthcare-NOW! is organizing protests for single payer health care on May 30 in over forty cities nationwide. The protests will be going on at the same time as the AHIP (American Health Insurance Plans, a private health insurance lobby) conference in San Diego.

Multiple studies have shown that single payer would be much more cost-effective than both the current system and Obama’s public/private plan. Overhead, underwriting, billing, sales and marketing, profits, and executive pay make up 31% of all money spent on health care right now. A single payer system would cut all that out and use the savings to extend coverage to everyone. This plan is different from what Obama has proposed, which includes keeping the for-profit health insurance industry.

In West Michigan there will be one protest organized by Single Payer Michigan. The group is based out of Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. According to the facebook event page the protest is called “Demand single payer national health care now!” and it will begin at 1 PM on May 30th, at the Federal Building.

Michigan Scientists to Legislators: Do Something About Global Warming

On Tuesday, a group of more than 150 scientists, researchers, and academics released a letter urging Michigan’s U.S. Representatives and Senators to take action against climate change by supporting measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The letter says that global warming could have devastating consequences on Michigan’s economy and environment and that in order to avoid such consequences, action needs to be taken.

Grand Rapids area Representative Vern Ehlers reacted to the letter, saying in The Grand Rapids Press that:

“The scientific community is pretty well in agreement that the amount of greenhouses gases are changing things … that it is, in fact, dangerous,” Ehlers said.

“It’s a major problem. Wishing it away doesn’t solve it.”

Ehlers indicated that he supports the cap-and-trade concept of dealing with emissions.

The letter is important because here in West Michigan, we see an awful lot of hyped “science” that purports to discredit global warming. We’ve had local TV meteorologists (Craig James and Bill Steffen) dismiss the science, the activities of a local think-tank, and numerous letters to the editor in the Grand Rapids Press that have denounced global warming, despite the scientific consensus on the issue. In that sense, hopefully this letter will make some headway in convincing people that there really isn’t a debate over global warming–it’s a scientific reality. Also, kudos to the Grand Rapids Press for not giving space to a “skeptic” to discount the impact of the letter.

Local signers include Prof. Al Steinman, aquatic biologist and climate change expert from Grand Valley State University; Prof. R. Jan Stevenson, climate researcher and biologist from Michigan State University; and Prof. Karel Rogers, biologist and climate researcher from Grand Valley State University.

The full text of the letter follows:

As scientists living and working in colleges and universities in the state of Michigan, we urge the Michigan Congressional delegation to support strong federal policies for rapid and deep reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We are convinced that immediate action is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming on Michigan’s economy and environment, including the Great Lakes. While slowing the damaging effects of climate change poses enormous challenges, we also believe such action presents Michigan with real opportunities to reinvigorate our economy and improve the quality of life for all Michiganders.

Controlling carbon emissions is critical to the energy future of our state and nation. It will help Michigan and the United States take full advantage of the clean renewable resources and energy efficient technologies that are available today. A workable federal policy to combat global warming will also encourage researchers, investors, and businesses to accelerate development and deployment of next generation energy technologies. Putting a price on carbon is a critical step toward building a clean energy future for the US and right here in Michigan.

Federal climate policy offers a unique opportunity to protect valuable natural resources and stimulate the economy ‐ the benefits to Michigan will likely far exceed the costs. A comprehensive federal climate and energy policy can provide the stable regulatory framework, appropriate market signals, and long‐ term investment commitment necessary to jumpstart new business, transition core industries, and enhance our global competitiveness. Recent studies have shown that capping carbon pollution and promoting energy efficiency could create millions of new jobs nationally and more than 150,000 new jobs in Michigan, nearly 50,000 of them in manufacturing. Michigan already boasts one of the nation’s largest solar components manufacturers, and will be one of the first states to produce advanced automotive batteries. Michigan universities are already partnering with major industries and suppliers, as well as Silicon valley funded start‐ups, to deliver next generation vehicles and fuels technologies, while we also put idled manufacturing capacity to work building components for wind turbines. Sound climate policy will accelerate this transition – it is a critical part of the stimulus our struggling economy needs.

Doing nothing is not a viable option for Michigan. Our state faces serious economic, social, and ecological impacts from global warming. If climate change continues on its present course, not only will we miss out on the new economic opportunities outlined above, but two of Michigan’s biggest industries, agriculture and tourism, could suffer. Additionally, climate change could seriously impact water quantity and quality in the Great Lakes, leading to greater conflicts over water resources in the region.

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry, contributing $60.1 billion to the state’s economy annually and providing more than 1 million jobs, according to the Michigan State University Extension. About 24 percent of all Michigan workers are employed in the state’s agriculture/food system. Many of the jobs and much of the economic impact provided by Michigan’s agriculture industry could be lost if climate change continues on its present course. Conversely, Michigan universities are leaders in agriculture and bioenergy research, and Michigan farmers stand to gain from federal policy that promotes renewable energy and caps carbon pollution. Farmers, for instance, could realize new revenue by leasing land for wind turbines and assigning unproductive cropland to carbon offset programs and producing biomass for next generation renewable fuels.

Associated with warming temperatures, increased ozone concentrations can decrease crop production and damage one of Michigan’s few economic bright spots. Intense rainstorms during spring planting season and summer droughts, both of which have increased in recent decades, will continue with greater intensity under “business as usual” carbon emissions and will likely reduce agricultural productivity and pollute our surface waters, including the Great Lakes. Hotter, drier summers and more droughts will require additional irrigation for crops that were previously rain‐fed. Warmer winters will favor more southern insects, pests, and plant pathogens. Perennial fruit crops like Michigan’s tart cherries are particularly vulnerable to increased climate variability caused by regional warming. All of these factors could dramatically reduce agricultural production and increase costs for farmers, agribusinesses, and others who have either direct or indirect ties to Michigan’s important agriculture industry.

Left unchecked, climate change will also harm our state’s tourism industry. Tourism contributes $17.5 billion each year to Michigan’s economy and provides 200,000 jobs, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Winter sports, such as skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, and snowboarding will suffer due to shorter, warmer winters. Warmer Great Lakes, rivers, streams, and inland lakes will change the distribution of fish species, and many species of cool‐water fish — including all four of our trout species (Brook, Lake, Rainbow and Brown Trout) — could disappear from our region. Bird‐watching activities will slow due to a decline in bird diversity, particularly among waterfowl and songbirds. Longer, hotter summers could increase beach use, but beach recreation could see a decline in activities because of more volatile weather and potential increases in pollution and waterborne‐ and insect‐ diseases.

Policymakers have a clear choice: allow climate change to continue on its present path and cause serious long‐term damage to Michigan’s natural resources and economy, or embrace an enlightened global warming solutions policy that will protect our air, water, land, and Great Lakes while spurring economic growth right here in Michigan.

For all these reasons, we urge the passage without further delay of reasonable global warming solutions policies that can give Michigan citizens, businesses, and farmers cost‐effective, clean and affordable energy.

Ehlers Named Co-Chair of House Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus

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Republican Represntative Vern Ehlers was named co-Chairman of the House Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus. Ehlers was a former Vice-Chairman and Co-Chair of the Caucus. The Caucus formed back in 1996 as a bi-partisan forum for discussing renewable energy. The caucus does not vote as a bloc nor does it lobby for specific legislation. It’s goal is simply education.

In announcing the appointment, Ehlers’ office touted the fact that he is an “environmentalist:”

My background as a scientist and an environmentalist gives me a valuable perspective on the way we produce and consume energy. As Co-Chairman of this caucus, I will continue my leadership in Congress on these issues by advocating for research on renewable energies and energy efficient technology.

Ehlers has a better voting record on the environment than many Republicans, but there has always been room for improvement. MediaMouse.org looked at his views on the environment a few years ago and found that Ehlers supports nuclear power, has consistently supported trade agreements with limited environmental protections, and has supported legislation that has made it easier to log National Forests.

Moreover, while he has consistently been endorsed by environmental organizations, his actual voting record puts him in the middle of Congressional rankings.

Representative Ehlers Holds Annual Town Hall Meeting

Vern Ehlers

This past Saturday, Grand Rapids area U.S. Representative Vern Ehlers held his annual “town hall” meeting at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. About two-hundred people attended the meeting.

The meeting addressed a variety of issues including the economy, swine flu, torture, the environment, and taxes. Unlike in years past where there was always a presence from antiwar activists, there was relatively little discussion of U.S. foreign policy. Ehlers mentioned the Iraq War only in passing, a far cry from two years ago when his talk was disrupted by anti-war protestors.

Ehlers opened the town hall with his prepared remarks–lasting about twenty minutes–on issues currently before the Congress. Ehlers focuses mainly on the current economic situation, which he said was a result of a combination of ignorance on the part of consumers and greed from corporations. He said that he continues to be greatly concerned about the level of spending in Washington and said that it is a problem that needs to be addressed. He stopped short of blaming Democrats or President Obama for the spending, but said that there is a clear distinction between the two parties on how they view spending.

Dodge Everything, Don’t Commit to Anything: The Ehlers Mantra?

As has been the case at previous town hall meetings, Ehlers stayed quite vague when answering questions and giving his opening remarks. In his opening remarks, he didn’t mention any specific bills, even when touting what he said was the progress being made on cleaning up the Great Lakes.

This continued into the question period in which he often described things as “incredibly complex,” “complicated,” or both. He said that various things–health care, taxes, the deficit, the economy–were all complex issues that needed to be addressed, but he failed to offer any policy ideas. He dodged questions on torture and what Obama should look for in a Supreme Court justice. When his conservative constituents asked him about what they can do to express their opposition to current spending in Washington, Ehlers offered no ideas, saying it wasn’t a political gathering.

If there was one consistent pattern that ran through the meeting, it was Ehlers’ unwillingness to get specific about much of anything.

No Local Media Coverage

Unfortunately, Representative Ehlers’ town hall was not covered on any substantive level in the local media. Both WOOD TV 8 and WZZM 13 were there, but they did not cover much of what was said. WOOD TV focused mainly on Ehlers’ comments on swine flu, while WZZM 13 focused on a protest held outside by the Communications Workers of America. The WZZM 13 story contained no comments from Ehlers.

Resurgence of Republican, Rightwing Interest in the Meeting

In years past, much of the opposition to Ehlers’ positions and politics has come from Democrats or progressives–what is often lumped together as “the left” in mainstream political discourse. However, this year there was a strong resurgence in interest coming from the political “right.”

Many conservatives in attendance challenged Ehlers on his support of the bank bailout last fall, the Republicans’ unwillingness to pursue more aggressive policies to cut the federal debt, and what some in the audience said was his past support for “tax increases.” During the question and answer portion of the discussion, people regularly yelled out things like “No More Bank Bailouts,” “New World Order,” and “Listen To Your Constituents.” It was clear that many coming from the right were unhappy with Ehlers’ responses and his voting record.

During the meeting, conservatives also expressed opposition to things such as universal health coverage, the Rapid Silver Line transit project, and assistance to home buyers for mortgages. Some labeled current economic policies as “socialism” and decried what they perceived as the government’s leftward tilt.

However, to anyone coming from “the left”–or even a Democratic perspective–a lot of these critiques have relatively little basis. Unfortunately, there was next to no visible left presence at the meeting. Nobody challenged these observations, nobody argued against these conservative policy prescriptions, and nobody talked to those voice such theories–some of which were nothing more than Internet conspiracy theories.

In the end, this is unfortunate because it is at these kind of gatherings that the right gains power. When ideas go unchallenged and when people get together to network, they gain power. It’s a mistake if “the left” in Ehlers’ district falls into complacency because of Obama’s victory or the Democratic gains in the House and Senate–action is still needed, ideas need to be explored, and pressure needs to be applied.

Vern Ehlers Town Hall Meeting on Saturday

Representative Vern Ehlers

Representative Vern Ehlers–Grand Rapids’ long-serving Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives–will host his annual town hall meeting this Saturday. The meeting will take place on Saturday, May 2 from 9:00am to 10:00am at the Gerald R. Ford Museum at 303 Pearl St. NW.

As has been the case with previous meetings, Ehlers will “report on Congressional activity” and then take questions and comments from constituents. Typically, this means he talks for about twenty minutes before calling on audience members and avoiding their questions. Ehlers doesn’t appear too often in public, so this is a good opportunity to let him know what you think of his policies–even though he is no stranger to voting against his constituents’ wishes.

Previous town hall meetings have been covered by MediaMouse.org. Nothing has really come out of them and they rarely garner coverage by the local corporate media:

It’s worth noting that at the 2006 town hall meeting, Ehlers said that due to public interest he would either add another meeting in the fall or expand the 2007 meeting to an hour-and-a-half. Ehlers did neither and continues to hold only one public meeting each year with constituents.

Ehlers: Votes Against Spending Bill, Ignores his own Projects

Ehlers Defends His Earmarks, Criticizes Others

I’m a little late on taking note of this article, but last Sunday’s Grand Rapids Press had another classic display of logic by Representative Vern Ehlers.

In an article titled “Congressmen Peter Hoekstra, Vernon Ehlers vote against spending bill with earmarks for their causesthe Grand Rapids Press reports that Vern Ehlers recently opposed a government spending bill because it was loaded with $410 billion in appropriations. Ehlers even called it irresponsible in a time of crisis.

Of course, the problem is that Ehlers inserted his own earmarks in the bill, even as he criticized others. Ehlers inserted $3.8 million in funding for a new Amtrak station in Grand Rapids, $500,000 for the Grand Rapids-based Our Community’s Children after-school program, and more than $300,000 for apple fire blight.

Ehlers defended the projects, describing them as “real good and real important.” And they probably are. The problem is that the other 8,500 projects also probably seem real good to their sponsoring legislators and their constituents.

Ehlers Discloses Portrait Donors

Vern Ehlers Has Partially Disclosed Donors To His Congressional Portrait

Over the weekend, the Grand Rapids Press reported that Representative Vern Ehlers provided them with a list of donors that he had previously refused to disclose. Ehlers is currently raising the funds to pay for a portrait of Ehlers that will be hung in a committee room in the U.S. Capitol.

However, while the Grand Rapids Press praised this “disclosure”, Ehlers has still not fully disclosed the donors. He is still refusing to release the amounts that donors have contributed–saying only that the maximum contribution was $5,000–and has not posted the list on his website, instead providing it only to The Grand Rapids Press, a media outlet that has long supported Ehlers.

According to the Press, the donors include:

  • Verizon
  • Dan and Pam DeVos
  • Richard and Helen DeVos
  • Doug and Maria DeVos
  • Terri Lynn Land
  • Fred and Lena Meijer
  • Norma and Lewis Van Kuiken
  • The Secchia Family Foundation
  • The Frey Foundation
  • Steelcase

Many of these folks are long-time supporters of Vern Ehlers according to OpenSecrets.org. Pam and Dan DeVos have given over $20,000 to Ehlers, Richard and Helen DeVos have given over $19,000, and Norma and Lewis Van Kuiken over $7,000.

Ehlers has said that he should not be criticized, saying “Instead of criticizing me, folks should be saying, ‘He’s doing it the way it should be done, with folks back home raising money for him.”

However, the portrait is being funded by the wealthy, white folks that have traditionally supported him and benefited from the policies that he has supported in Congress.

Ehlers Denies Report that Lobbyists are Funding Congressional Portrait

Vern Ehlers Says Lobbyists Are Funding His Congressional Portrait, But Refuses Disclosure

West Michigan Congressman Vern Ehlers is denying a report that lobbyists are funding a commemorative portrait of him that will be hung in the US Capitol Building.

According to The Hill, Ehlers is one of three members of Congress who are currently raising money for portraits. The money will be given to the US Capitol Historical Society who will then commission the paintings. Ehlers–along with Jerry Lewis and Don Manzullo–has established a committee to fund a Congressional portrait. Ehlers and his chief of staff are coordinating donations, and according to the article, have received a $5,000 donation from Verizon.

Watchdog Group Questions Fundraising

In The Hill, the watchdog group Public Citizen questioned the fundraising, saying the portraits are another way through which major corporations, business groups, and lobbyists can purchase influence. Craig Holman of Public Citizen was quoted saying, “Note that there are few, if any, private funders for these portraits that do not have business pending before Congress” and that “This is an influence-peddling opportunity identical in nature to special interests hosting dinners and receptions that honor a member of Congress before whom they have pressing business.”

Ehlers Denies Lobbyists Raising Money, but Disclosure Limited

The Grand Rapids Press reported Wednesday that Ehlers’ spokesperson is denying that lobbyists are raising money to pay for Ehlers’ portrait.

Ehlers’ spokesperson, Kevin Chapman, says in The Press that “Vern has strong integrity” and that “He is one of the most independent thinkers in Congress, and he absolutely does not allow fundraising activities to influence his decision-making as a legislator.”

However, the response is essentially one that asks for constituents to simply trust Ehlers. Ehlers is portrayed as a man of integrity, but there is no way to verify that claim. This is especially true because Ehlers’ office is refusing to disclose donors, saying only that 90% are from West Michigan and that “the vast majority of donors to Vern’s portrait fund do not have pressing business before Congress.” Without knowing who the donors are, there is no way to tell if they are influencing legislation.

It’s also worth noting that in the 2008 election cycle, 46% of Ehlers’ campaign funds came from PACs.

Ehlers Votes Against Stimulus, Renews Call for Ineffective Tax Cuts

Vern Ehlers Voted Against the Economic Stimulus Bill and Renewed His Call for Ineffective Tax Cuts

On Friday, Grand Rapids area Representative Vern Ehlers–along with the entire Republican delegation in the US House of Representatives–voted against the economic stimulus bill.

As we have reported before, the bill is certainly not perfect, but Ehlers–as he did in opposing the initial version of the bill–continues to push for a bill that would provide tax cuts as a means of stimulating the economy along with other rehashed Republican talking points.

In a statement, Ehlers said:

“We need an economic stimulus that focuses more on immediate job creation, tax relief for small businesses, and putting money back into the pockets of Americans. The bill passed in the House today does not do enough to help taxpayers now, when they need it most. Most of the money in the bill will not even be spent this year.

Tax relief, which could go into effect immediately, and have a real impact on millions of Americans, is lacking in the bill.”

However, many economists have questioned the value of tax cuts as a means for stimulating the economy and have specifically criticized the tax cuts within the stimulus compromise bill. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has published a number of pieces critical of tax cuts as stimulus.

It’s also worth noting, that while Ehlers was particularly harsh in challenging the cost of this bill and asking tough questions, he asked no such questions when he supported a similarly priced bailout of the nation’s financial sector.