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You've probably heard about the "fiscal showdown" in Washington, D.C., but you might not realize how it could affect the environment. The reality is that the entire environmental community has an enormous stake in the negotiations between Congress and President Obama.

If an agreement isn't reached in early 2013, then the so-called "sequester" or automatic budget cuts that would kick in would be a major setback for clean air and clean water. There would be an across-the-board 8.2 percent cut in virtually every national environmental program. Many of these programs and protections have already suffered deep cuts, but a sequester would mean even more budget woes for the agencies that keep our air, water, and land safe.

But even if a sequester doesn't happen, there is sure to be a lot of horse-trading on environmental issues that we hold near and dear. So we'll need to be on guard to defend against mostly Republican demands to cut environmental programs and domestic discretionary spending to serve their own agendas.

Another potential danger is that the massive bills that will be negotiated during the fiscal showdown could include anti-environmental amendments or "riders" -- pieces of legislation that have nothing to do with the task at hand. For example, one of our opponents in Congress could attach a rider to roll back mercury protections or to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the Clean Air Act.

To make sure the environment has a voice at the table, the Sierra Club has joined with a broad coalition of more than 30 national progressive organizations, ranging from SEIU to the Center for Community Change and to call on Congress and President Obama to put the interests of working American families ahead of those of fossil fuel corporations and the super-rich.

The core priorities of this coalition include many of the things we care most about: clean energy investment and job creation, investment in green transportation, and renewal of the Production Tax Credit for wind energy.

Both a healthy economy and a robust clean-energy economy begin with a strong middle class. But for the past three decades, the chips have been stacked against working families, while the super-rich got much, much richer. Everyone wants to see a prosperous economy, but working families and the middle class are the real engines of our economy. The economy moves forward when those folks have good jobs, can educate their kids, shop on Main Street, afford their health care, and retire in security.

We can make that vision a reality by building a clean-energy economy that works for everyone, but we have to get our nation's leaders to make the right decisions and resolve the fiscal showdown by investing in America. Instead of cutting critical environmental protections, public health services, and social safety net programs, we should be rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and developing a 21st-century electrical grid that will create jobs and save energy and money without polluting our air and water.

Rebuilding a strong middle class and creating a clean-energy economy won't happen by accident. It depends on making the right decisions as a nation. The problem, of course, is that those aren't the decisions that we've been making. Our leaders have kicked the big decisions further and further down the road while doling out more tax cuts to the super-rich and more tax loopholes for Big Oil and other corporate polluters. That's got to stop.

You can help. Let Congress know that now is the time to cut polluter subsidies -- not environmental programs.

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