(Posted by Trent A. Dougherty, Director of Legal Affairs, Ohio Environmental Council & Director of the William W. Ellis, Jr. Ohio Environmental Law Center)
As a public interest environmental and conservation advocates, we at the Ohio Environmental Law Center not only care about protecting Ohio’s air land and water, but also protecting your right to be part of the regulatory and political process. Limits on parts per million of mercury or tons of CO2 are rendered meaningless if there are limits on participation of millions of citizens to be part of the governing process.
In the coming weeks, the Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction (or “Super Committee”) will be meeting to find $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts. This so-called “super committee” will have until November 23 to draft a proposal, which will see an up-or down vote in Congress after that. If the committee deadlocks — if the Republicans and Democrats split on party lines, and no proposal is ever actually proposed — then $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts will be triggered.
The stakes are too high for such a powerful committee to operate out of the reach of public accountability. Decision-making about our country’s fiscal future must be put back into light of day and out of the shadows.
According to a recent Huffington Post article: “Of the six significant meetings the Super Congress has held, only two have been public — one to allow members to read prepared opening statements.” The Super Committee has has been lurking in the shadows. The Committee held closed door meetings on back-to-back days; members and staff have been tight lipped on the direction of discussion; and the committee has no public meetings scheduled.
As the important issues of education and homeland security take their rightful place at the top of federal budget protection list, environmental protection, resource conservation, and public health stand firmly on the chopping block. Further, as seemingly countless bills and appropriation riders have been introduced this session to eviscerate the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, it is clear that funding provided to protect environmental and human health and safety will be prime bargaining chips for the Super Committee. Full transparency and accountability — including disclosure of lobbying of Super Committee members, political contributions to Super Committee members, and public meetings– is necessary to make certain that these health protections are not bartered away in the back hallways of Congress.
On September 7, 2011, Representative Rep. David Loebsack, [D-IA2] introduced H.R. 2860 to amend the Budget Control Act of 2011 to require members and staff of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to disclose lobbying activities and campaign or member-designated political action committee contributions. H.R. 2860 ensures that the work of the Committee is done before the American public and that those special who would influence that work are known online and in real time. Without it, there will be no way for citizens to truly be a part of one of the biggest decisions in American political history. Kudos to Congressman Jim Renacci [R-OH 16] (Canton) for being the lone member of his caucus to stand up for transparency in this debate which touches the lives of all Ohioans and co-sponsor H.R. 2860. Congressman Renacci was also one of the first on the Hill to call for transparency and accountability in the Super Committee process. Read Congressman Renacci’s letter.
While some meetings of this Committee should be private in order to accommodate candid negotiations, decisions of this committee must be out in the open as with any other governmental decision. As John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation noted, “Regarding open meetings, the super committee isn’t even living up to normal standards for committee openness, even though they’ve got extraordinary power.”
Thus, the Ohio Environmental Law Center urges: Congress to quickly pass H.R. 2860; the Super Committee to be open and transparent in its deliberations; and for all Ohioans and all Americans to be active participants in the process.