Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and the Environment

This past Wednesday night, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut came to campus to speak to Georgetown students. As a Democrat and a Connecticut resident, I was eager to hear him speak. After a short delay, he arrived in the White Gravenor classroom where we were waiting. He gave some opening remarks about his recent campaign, the budget, and issues specific to Connecticut before opening the floor for questions.

I was eager to ask a question about energy and the environment, but before I knew it, Blumenthal’s aide signaled that he would take only one more question. Luckily, the final question—by a student named Richard—was a great environmental question. In fact, it was directly related to the question that I brought up in my earlier post about Obama’s speech on energy policy. Richard asked if Blumenthal could address the impact that environmentalism has on areas other than the economic and sociopolitical.

Blumenthal stumbled a bit at first, reiterating the economic impact of environmentalism. He mentioned the Long Island sound as an example of poor environmental practices hurting a huge industry—pollution and overdevelopment there have long threatened its status as a hub of transportation and fishing. He then discussed the health effects of pollution, specifically with reference to the asthma that once afflicted his son. He alluded, too, to environmentalism’s relationship to “quality of life.”

By this point, I was ready to write off Blumenthal, because he seemed intent on framing environmentalism as important only in terms of its benefits for humans. But then Blumenthal surprised me. He apologized for seeming to “wax poetic,” but he suggested that we have a responsibility to be “stewards of the world”—to leave it a better place than we found it. He also argued that we must think of the future of the planet “existentially.” Finally, I thought, a politician who is willing to take a risk and talk about environmentalism in terms of moral responsibility and as something other than a means of improving human life. This clearly wasn’t his main concern, and he only mentioned it at the very end of his response to the very last question, but he at least included a few words about it.

Blumenthal’s speech was also educational for me because he used a term that I had not encountered before: “global climate disruption” rather than “global warming.” At first, I thought that this was a new euphemism for “global warming,” since “disruption” implies, for me, a temporary malfunction that is easily taken care of. However, a little research revealed that “global climate disruption” is actually considered a stronger term than “global warming.” In September, White House science advisor John Holdren introduced the term because, he explained, he feels that “global warming” oversimplifies the problem and makes it sound less dangerous. So, in fact, Blumenthal was taking a firmer position on the issue than I had given him credit for.

This shouldn’t have been surprising, because Blumenthal fought for a number of environmental issues during his two decades as Connecticut Attorney General. His reference to the Long Island Sound was not random—Blumenthal was instrumental in preventing New York from allowing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility to be installed in the Long Island Sound. He also petitioned the EPA in an effort to curb interstate air pollution, and joined other Attorneys General in filing a lawsuit against the Bush Administration for its harmful changes to the Clean Air Act. And his staunch belief in and advocacy against global warming is nothing new. He has long held the position that global warming has anthropogenic causes and was one of the first politicians to push the EPA to take a stronger stance against carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Finally, he has worked to promote the development of high-speed rail in New England.

As a result of these efforts, he gained the endorsements of both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters during his campaign for the U.S. Senate. And from how he spoke on Wednesday night, he seems to deserve the support of all Connecticut environmentalists as well.

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