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Commentary – Tea Partiers Need to Tilt at Other Windmills

At recent Board of Supervisors meetings in Roanoke and Montgomery counties members of the Tea Party and others sympathetic to their cause raised the specter of one-government world rule by bringing up ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. Both counties have started or are considering programs that deal with sustainability, whether it’s energy efficiency or better planning for future growth.

Apparently that doesn’t sit well with Tea Partiers, who see ICLEI, which originated in Europe, as an attempt by the United Nations to take over the world. ICLEI is not a United Nations campaign, although the original ICLEI meeting, featuring 43 countries and 200 government entities, did convene at U.N. headquarters in New York. (ICLEI by the way is described on its website as “an international association of local governments and their associations that have made a commitment to sustainable development.”)

Fear not Tea Party – world domination by the U.N. is not in order.  The smaller government movement, associated mainly with right wing Republicans, has been both praised and bashed in recent days for its role in the debt ceiling debate – one that resulted in a lower credit rating when all the shouting was over. One-government rule is not what two local groups that are part of the ICLEI movement – Roanoke County’s RC Clear and Roanoke City’s Clean & Green – are all about.

Those citizen groups, aided by local government staffers, are simply brainstorming and looking at ways that local residents and businesses can become more energy efficient. Being more energy efficient means using less electricity, having a more energy efficient home, relying less on the car or taking fewer trips, recycling more. What does that buy us? Less reliance for one thing on power companies like AEP, which uses coal for most of the energy generation in this region. That means cleaner air – a smaller carbon footprint (same thing with fewer automobile trips) – and less greenhouse gases that trap heat.

That’s one facet of sustainable development, as is better-planned communities, making them more connected and livable, which is what they were discussing in Montgomery County before the Tea Partiers objected to using ICLEI as a template and Supervisors tabled any vote on the issue. Answer me this, Tea Party – what exactly is wrong with wanting better planning, or advocating better energy efficiency? Do we all not rail about the lack of sidewalks in some communities, the lack of mass transit options like trains in Roanoke, or landfills that are near capacity?

Even if you do not believe all of the scientific data that points to man having a role in the warming of the planet, if we have the power to reduce our carbon footprint through a little bit of effort, what is possibly wrong with that? Why not teach your children that there is a better way? That even doing something simple as changing from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescents can save on energy costs – and keep those coal-belching power plants from having to work so hard? Tea Party darling Michelle Bachmann tried to have mandates for CFL’s overturned in Congress recently – doesn’t this presidential hopeful have anything better to focus on?

RC Clear, of which I am a member, is about to roll out – with the support of the city’s Clean & Green – the Save a Ton campaign, which urges local residents to think of ways they can each reduce carbon emissions by one ton per household. That could mean energy audits pointing out spots in the home where more insulation is needed, biking or walking instead of taking a car trip occasionally, and yes, changing those incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents. Save a Ton will also roll out to schools, hopefully, so that children can bring home the message about energy efficiency.

At the Roanoke County Board of Supervisor meeting, Tea Partiers complained that government funding was being used to support the RC Clear effort. A $50,000 grant was secured, yes, mainly for a marketing campaign that will help Save A Ton roll out this fall. Talk to me, Tea Party, after the federal government stops subsidizing wealthy oil companies and closes tax loopholes for other businesses. I’d much rather see paltry grants go to groups like RC Clear that promote environmental concerns and energy efficiency.

The Tea Party and their ilk should stick to what got them started: promoting smaller, less costly government. Espousing conspiracy theories about a United Nations takeover through ICLEI and other “kooky talk” will help keep it as a fringe movement, one which has seen its favorability rating drop in recent weeks.

-Gene Marrano

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