The Curious Case of Fred Upton

Over at HuffPo, Friends of the Earth President and former Southwest Michigan resident Erich Pica has penned a mildly inflammatory piece on how Rep. Fred Upton, the Republican from St. Joseph recently named Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has gone from moderately pro-environment to zealously anti-regulation faster than it takes a tea pot to boil.

We’ve made some similar observations about Upton over the past month and will be releasing some more thoughts in the weeks to come.  Pica, like most of the environmental community, is upset at the veto-bait Upton introduced this week seeking to peal back key air quality protections and certain regulatory powers.

We all know a Fred Upton.

He’s the coworker who was your friend until he got promoted and “went corporate.” He’s the athlete who played to bring a championship to his home town before following a larger contract to a bigger city. He’s the buddy who was always around until he got into a relationship and didn’t have time for you any more.

Fred Upton is the Republican congressman who used to have interesting ideas about reducing emissions and fighting climate change. But then he ran for chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Now, he has staffed his committee with lobbyists and today he is introducing a bill that seeks to roll back Clean Air Act protections against pollution from factories and power plants.

A a longer excerpt after the jump. Read the full story at The Huffington Post here.

After being elected to the House in 1986, he backed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, popular, bipartisan legislation that significantly cut the sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain.  In 2007, he and 94 other House Republicans supported the Energy Independence and Security Act, a law that set new fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks and increased energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs (though the bill also had some pretty egregious giveaways to corporate polluters). And just two years ago, in 2009, he praised a wind energy project and said, “Climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions.

Considering that it’s practically a Republican Party plank these days, it should not be surprising that Upton is denying climate change. But his turnaround on the issue was so complete and extreme that even Fox News questioned him. Why would a respectable congressman completely contradict his earlier positions and ignore the concerns of his constituents, the people affected by the Kalamazoo River Oil Spill last year?

By listening to the dirty oil and coal industries instead of his constituents, Chairman Upton has lost touch with his district. I grew up in Bainbridge Township, outside of Benton Harbor, right across the river from the congressman’s home town of St. Joseph. Before I moved to Washington, D.C., Upton was my representative, and, like everyone in the district, I called him Fred.

The people of Southwest Michigan are proud Midwesterners. We know our core values, and whether we vote for Republicans or Democrats, those core values guide us. For the first twenty years Fred served in the House, he was the same way. He stuck by his principles, working hard to prevent dangerous and ecologically destructive drilling in Lake Michigan and supporting the innovations made by Whirlpool, a company Upton’s grandfather helped start that is still based in his district, by increasing energy efficiency requirements. The first time I voted in a congressional election, I voted for Fred, and for 20 years, I respected him.

I know many people who live in Michigan’s Sixth District. They care about the air and water. They want to have the ear of their representative in Washington. And they are too smart to let Fred abandon them. If Congressman Upton continues his rightward shift, he will lose the support of the independents who have supported him for the last twenty five years.

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