Broad support for EPA won't make headlines, but it's news we can all use

Keith Gaby

When Congress was considering major climate legislation in 2009, it was big news that some angry people showed up at town hall meetings organized by several members of Congress.

In fact, it became a political truism that supporting climate action would cause a Tea Party-fueled backlash.

Four years later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is holding hearings on another major climate initiative. And this time, people testifying in support of the pollution limits have significantly out-numbered detractors.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be making as big of a splash in the media.

Hundreds testified in support of the EPA

In Washington on July 29, 322 people testified in favor of the rules while just 41 opposed them. During hearings held the last week of July, Denver was 286 to 57, Atlanta had 210-123, and Pittsburgh 204-56.

In Pittsburgh, the coal industry and their allies did bus in protesters. That’s not to be ignored; their voices count. But the balance at the hearings was overwhelmingly supportive.

The question is whether this will make as big an impression in political circles as when angry people were yelling about the president and his proposal in 2009.

My guess is that it won’t.

That’s not because reporters are biased against climate action, but I think the images of angry Tea Party supporters shouting down their congressmen makes for a more dramatic story line.

Good climate policy makes for a good story, too

I can fully understand how it’s hard to make a big deal out of hundreds of citizens attending a public hearing and praising a government proposal to take prudent steps that will strengthen our nation in the long term. That’s about as exciting as a responsible policy on the federal deficit.

But if shouting down lawmakers trying to explain a productive, responsible proposal gets burned into the political consciousness – while support for sensible policies is a fleeting story – it creates a misleading and distorted picture of public sentiment.

I’m not asking every news outlet to become C-SPAN and show us days’ worth of testimony. But I hope reporters and politicians will keep this week’s public reaction in mind next time they’re drawing conclusions about public sentiment.

As we witnessed last week, there’s a market in American politics for reasonable government action to support policies that benefit us in the long term. And that’s news you can use.

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