Sam Ross-Brown

Sam Ross-Brown is The American Prospect's associate editor. 

Recent Articles

Democrats Ramp Up Calls for Garland Confirmation Hearing

Senators Charles Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse took to the steps of the Supreme Court Wednesday to demand that the Senate give Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a fair confirmation hearing. League of Conservation Voters (LCV) activists joined them, carrying boxes containing petitions with more than 200,000 signatures gathered nationwide calling on Republican senators to act.

“For nearly four months, Senate Republicans have sat on their hands and refused to do their jobs,” said Schumer, a New York Democrat. “Environmental cases are now winding their way through the courts, and they’re going to determine how clean our air and water are. … So it’s imperative … that we get a decent Supreme Court.”

In March, Obama nominated Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. Garland’s strong reputation among conservatives as well as liberals seemed to suggest a quick confirmation. Yet even before Garland was tapped, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP-controlled Senate would refuse to confirm any replacement nominated by Obama.

Senate Republican leaders have honored that pledge. In an early morning meeting Wednesday, key staffers in the office of Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told LCV organizers that under no circumstances would Garland get a hearing. “We asked, what if there were different nominees, if he withdrew, if they added someone else, and basically what circumstances would have to happen?” Seth Stein, LCVs’ national press secretary, told The American Prospect. “It was a very strong ‘It’s not going to happen.’”

It has been 84 days since Obama tapped Garland, the longest a Supreme Court nominee has waited for a Senate hearing in U.S. history (the previous record was 83 days). “They’re playing partisan politics at its very worst and have really sunk to a new low with this unprecedented and extreme obstruction,” said Tiernen Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president.

For environmental advocates, the stakes could not be higher. In February, three days before Scalia’s death, the high court blocked the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s signature climate change initiative. The unprecedented stay order, which halts the plan’s implementation while a GOP-led lawsuit works its way through the courts, seemed to confirm fears that the high court would soon kill the measure. Although Scalia’s death made such a ruling less likely, the stay order still puts the plan’s future in uncertain territory.

Senator Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, also pointed to the high court’s attack on campaign-finance rules, which has given certain industries, like the oil and coal sectors, a blank check to influence policymaking in Washington. “This should not be complicated,” Whitehouse said. “Protect Citizens United with a vacancy and use Citizens United to buy a polluter-funded Congress, and protect the fossil fuel industry from any progress on climate change.” Not surprisingly, McConnell has long been one of the top recipients of oil and coal money in Congress.

“Our Republican colleagues have a choice to make,” Schumer added. “They can continue to keep the seat vacant so Donald Trump can fill it. Or they can do their jobs and give Judge Garland a hearing and a vote.”

Tea Partiers and Progressives Unite Against 'Deceptive' Florida Ballot Initiative

A bipartisan "green tea" group is fighting for solar in Florida.

(Photo: AP/The Tampa Bay Times/Chris Zuppa)
(Photo: AP/The Tampa Bay Times/Chris Zuppa) Suzanne Zeller of St. Petersburg, Florida, participates in a rally for clean energy at Williams Park, across from Duke Energy headquarters, on November 13, 2013. A n unlikely alliance of Tea Party conservatives and progressive climate advocates has come together to fight a controversial solar energy ballot initiative in Florida. Launched in 2015, the so-called “green tea” coalition that includes the Christian Coalition and the Sierra Club, are standing firm against a measure that would enshrine Florida’s anti-solar policies in the state constitution. The coalition views the amendment as a power grab by the state’s largest utility companies that could cripple the state’s nascent solar industry and undermine consumers’ ability to tap into Florida’s vast solar energy potential. The Florida Right to Solar Energy Choice Initiative , which heads to voters in November, would give residents “the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on...

One Student's Fight for Clean Air in Baltimore

For her work against the proposed Fairfield incinerator in South Baltimore, Destiny Watford has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. 

Goldman Environmental Prize
Goldman Environmental Prize F our years ago, Baltimore high school senior Destiny Watford was alarmed to learn that a waste-to-energy incinerator would soon be built in her neighborhood. The Fairfield incinerator, which was planned for a 90-acre site less than a mile from the Benjamin Franklin High School that the 17-year-old attended, was set to emit 240 pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead into the air every year. Growing up in Baltimore’s heavily industrialized Curtis Bay neighborhood, Watford had seen the dangers that pollution posed for her community. “I know a lot of people with asthma and lung disease,” Watford told The American Prospect . “The deaths related to air pollution in Baltimore City are higher than the homicide rate.” Watford swung into action. She cofounded Free Your Voice, a student group that began gathering testimonies and signatures from local residents who did not want to see another industrial project in their neighborhood. First, the students convinced...

Michigan Energy Policy Overhaul Pits Power Companies Against Solar Advocates

A proposal, pushed by the state's utility companies, to reduce payments to solar consumers could scare off people who are considering investing in solar energy.

(Photo: AP/David Eggert)
(Photo: AP/David Eggert) Michigan Governor Rick Snyder speaks at the Detroit Electrical Industry Training Center in Warren, Michigan, on March 14, 2015. T he battle between Michigan electric utility companies and renewable-energy advocates over a proposed state energy policy overhaul could deal a severe blow to the state’s small but growing solar-power sector. The regulatory overhaul, which mirrors changes being considered in states nationwide, would slash payments for solar consumers who sell excess energy back to utility companies while also significantly weakening the state’s clean-energy mandates. With federal energy policymaking at a standstill, this controversy once again puts Michigan at the center of the nationwide debate over state-level climate policy. Michigan’s two largest electrical utilities have pushed for these changes in a new comprehensive energy bill. DTE Energy and Consumers Energy have together spent more than $3 million over the past year on a massive media and...

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