Demonstrating Samuel Rodriguez's Green Hypocrisy
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Thu Nov 17, 2011 at 05:44:48 PM EST
A new reader of Talk to Action's work has written to me and challenged me to make a clearer argument in support of the charge that Samuel Rodriguez has been blatantly inconsistent in his views on environmental legislation. This reader and others who I have spoken with wonder if I am being unfair in my criticism of him in this regard. I want to take up these criticisms not only because the importance of the environmental issue that is in question, but also because it fits into a broader debate taking place at Right Wing Watch over Rodriguez's ability to be "both a radical Religious Right activist while enjoying a reputation as a moderate who is regularly invited to the White House and to presidential events."
Within the evangelical community a controversial and well-publicized debate has been going on for months over the issue of mercury pollution and whether or not high levels of it are causing large numbers of citizens severe medical harm. This debate took on particular urgency when on March 16 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first national standard for mercury pollution from power plants. On one side of this debate is the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). They firmly believe that evidence from a wide range of disciplines makes clear that mercury poisoning effects one in six unborn children and that this problem should be seen as an urgent pro-life concern. It came as no surprise then that on March 18 the EEN announced its strong support for the EPA's proposal. In May they started a very public campaign to mobilize evangelicals in support of the EPA's plan to significantly increase regulation of mercury levels. Utilizing video, audio publicity, and eventually paid advertising targeting specific legislators, the EEN engaged in a full-scale effort throughout the summer and into the fall. As a part of their campaign the EEN emphasized studies that they believe show mercury poisoning is disproportionately affecting the Hispanic community in America.

A leading voice on the other side of this policy debate is the Affordable Power Alliance (APA), an affiliate organization of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The APA describes itself as a "diverse coalition of civil rights, African American, Hispanic, senior citizens, and faith based advocacy organizations". Since the EPA's announcement of its proposal to regulate mercury the APA's primary focus has been to challenge the scientific arguments behind the EPA's plans and to seek at the very least a delay in the EPA's new regulations. The APA has been a strong supporter of the work of Dr. Willie Soon, a leading opponent of the EPA's plans. His "Scientific Critique of the EPA's Mercury Rule" is featured prominently throughout the APA's website and in their advocacy with the EPA. On June 17, the APA sent a formal "comment" letter to the EPA, prominently displayed at the APA's website, saying "that a substantial error occurred in EPA's analysis of mercury data used in setting the mercury emission limits" and urging the EPA to delay its plans to implement the new mercury emission limits. On August 4, the APA sent a formal "petition" to the EPA demanding a delay in implementation. This petition emphasized data the APA thinks proves that the proposed regulations would have a disproportionately negative economic effect on "low-income and minority populations."

What I have summarized above is noncontroversial--the EEN and the APA have taken diametrically opposed positions on the issue of mercury pollution regulation and anyone who has followed the debate is aware of that. From the announcement in March and through August Samuel Rodriguez's position in this debate was very clear: He took the APA's side of the debate. This is perfectly understandable given that Rodriguez is a part of the five-person leadership team of the APA. His picture and brief bio appears at the APA's homepage just inches below their large print headline "NOW AVAILABLE! 

 BY DR. WILLIE SOON." Rodriguez has coauthored articles with fellow APA leaders criticizing various EPA actions and he, like each of the five APA leaders, was a part of the above-mentioned June 17 "comment" letter and August 4 "petition" to the EPA. In each instance the APA opposed the proposed mercury emission limits and called for a delay in their implementation utilizing the arguments of the leading critic of the EEN's work. Rodriguez believed that the debate over mercury emissions was so important that he wrote about it himself in an article for Family Security Matters. In that article he echoed Soon's research in saying that

"...most mercury emissions and microscopic soot now come from volcanoes, forest fires and overseas sources.  Although atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have been rising steadily, even scientists who worry about 'dangerous' warming now acknowledge that there has been no warming since 1995. This undermines EPA's claim that carbon emissions pose a health threat."
The concerted efforts of Rodriguez, his colleagues at the APA and other major groups opposed to the EPA's new guidelines culminated in legislation passed in October by the House of Representatives delaying EPA implementation and calling for further study along the lines proposed by APA.

As the vote on that legislation loomed, Rodriguez took a step completely at odds with his actions before and after. On September 5 the EEN helped form an extraordinary coalition of prominent evangelical leaders who signed a statement called "An Evangelical Call to Stop the Mercury Poisoning of the Unborn." The entire point of the statement was to oppose any "further delay" in implementing the EPA's regulations because they are "an essential step in protecting the vulnerable from mercury pollution." This statement was so important to the politics of the approaching vote that Time Magazine ran a major story on it at their influential politics blog. Time's post ran under the headline "Pro-life Christians Challenge Congressional Republicans on Mercury Regulation" and it focused on the EEN's role in persuading leaders pf the evangelical movement to come out in support of the statement urging an end to delay. Given the months of impassioned advocacy by the APA it came as a complete shock to anyone who had been following the story that Samuel Rodriguez was among the 100 evangelical leaders who signed the statement.

If Samuel Rodriguez had a change of heart based on consideration of the merits of the EEN's argument it hardly seems extreme to expect that he would then rethink his leadership in the APA or at the very least issue some sort of explanation for his complete reversal. But he has not done that. To this day he is the most prominent member of the APA's leadership team--a team that made opposition to the EPA and support for the vote to delay implementation the centerpiece of its advocacy for months. The APA's website continues to promote the studies that oppose the EPA and promote their own efforts to defeat the regulations. Rodriguez's picture remains just beneath the glaring headline promoting Soon's controversial report. And in the wake of the APA's victory Harry Jackson, another of the APA's five-member leadership team, has stepped up his attacks on the EEN. In a recent article he said that the EEN had engaged in a "misinformation campaign" and characterized their worldview as being connected to a broader environmental agenda that consigns "legions of Third World children to death from real diseases." Jackson's attack and others of a similar nature led the EEN's president to issue an emotional plea for civility on the part of critics. Meanwhile, Samuel Rodriguez's duplicity continues. Not only does he remain a key leader of the APA and a key signer of the EEN's statement, his NCHLC website features an article provided by the EEN demonstrating the deadly effects of mercury poisoning on Hispanic children just beneath a glowing description of CORE and its environmental work.

In light of all this evidence, I think it is clear why Talk to Action regards Rodriguez's signing of the EEN's statement hypocritical and deceptive. We will continue to challenge his conflicting positions on this and other issues in the weeks to come.

Mercury is actually good for humans, much like Hexavalent Chromium, don'tcha know.

by Big Phat Jay on Sat Nov 19, 2011 at 11:44:36 AM EST

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