Posted June 21, 2011Frances Beinecke

When President Obama nominated John Bryson for Secretary of Commerce a few weeks ago, a handful of conservative lawmakers made much of Bryson’s role in founding NRDC. They claimed that because Bryson helped launch an environmental organization, he must be some kind of radical.

The history of John Bryson’s career and NRDC’s track record prove otherwise. John can speak for himself—and will today at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. As for NRDC, where to begin?

For more than four decades, NRDC has played a vital role in developing and implementing our nation’s bedrock environmental and health protections, including the Clean Air Act, signed by President Nixon; the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, signed by President Reagan; and the Clean Air Act Amendments, signed by President George. H. W. Bush.

Upholding American law is not a radical act. The real “radicals” here are those who would undo 40 years of case law, precedent, and progress.  

American citizens do not advocate for dirtier air or more pollutants in drinking water. But vested interests do—the polluting industries that are required by law to clean up their act. It is these vested interests that are labeling Bryson today. And it is these vested interests that routinely stand in the way of public health and environmental advances that Americans across the political spectrum support.

It’s true that when NRDC opened its doors in 1970, holding polluters accountable in court was a relatively new idea, just as civil rights law had been a new idea in previous decades. But like many of the innovative concepts that have shaped our nation, environmental protections grew out of a commonly held desire to make America safe, just, and strong for generations to come.

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