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8 Ways GOP Leadership Plans to Trash the Planet

Climate

Concerns about the economy and heath care may have dominated the midterms, but the election results have unleashed a major threat to our children's health and the environment. The Senate is now in the control of a handful of GOP leaders who promise to trash clean air and water, and allow unlimited climate change pollution.

This pro-polluter agenda is not what the majority of Americans want. Poll after poll shows strong support for environmental protection. An ABC/Washington Post survey, for instance, found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce carbon pollution. Candidates who led on climate issues in Congress or the campaign trail won in Michigan, New Hampshire and Maine.

Yet incoming Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner ignore these views. They have laid out a plan that would threaten our children's health and hamstring our ability to protect future generations from climate change.

We can prevent this onslaught if we raise our voices and hold lawmakers accountable.

I know because we've done it before. We did it when we broke former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. We did it when we prevented more than 500 anti-environmental votes in the House from creating rollbacks to environmental law over the past four years. And we will do it again.

Now is the time to act, before the GOP's pro-polluter plan takes hold. It would halt progress on environmental protections and strip away long-standing safeguards. This is a radical effort to dismantle bedrock laws that have stood firm for decades. And in pursuit of this agenda, Republican leaders have threatened to push America to the brink of another government shutdown.

Here's some of what GOP leaders have said they would do to America:

  1. Block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from limiting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants—the most important step we can take to curb climate-changing carbon pollution.
  2. Stop an EPA proposal to restore protections to streams and wetlands that feed into the drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans.
  3. Prevent the EPA from even proposing new safeguards for smog-causing ozone; scientists have found current standards are too lax, forcing people to breathe air that is unhealthy and even fatal for children and adults with asthma and other lung problems.
  4. Take away the ability of scientists and experts to set health and environmental standards and give politicians the power to decide what is safe for our families using the so-called REINS Act—a law that would require Congressional approval for every new standard and gut our nation's time-tested method of review.

There are many more: forcing approval of the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, opening our coastal waters and the Arctic Refuge to risky oil drilling, blocking federal efforts to protect drinking water from oil and gas “fracking" activity, and opening our national forests to loggers, to name just a few.

These extreme actions would put people and places at risk. They would also endanger an entire system of environmental protection that generations of Americans have relied upon.

Over the past four decades, our nation's laws have made our air safer to breathe and our water cleaner to drink. Many of these laws were passed with broad bipartisan support and signed by Republican presidents. By calling for a radical overhaul of this tradition, current GOP leaders reveal how out of step they are with Americans. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is willing to work with Republicans who want to move forward on environmental protection, but so far leaders are only taking extreme positions, calling for rollbacks and promoting climate denial.

Republican leader Newt Gingrich overreached in a similar way with his Contract on America. NRDC helped stop him from gutting environmental safeguards, because we mobilized people to raise their voices. We will do the same with the McConnell-Boehner Contract with America. We will call on lawmakers to protect our children's health and shield future generations from climate change.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.