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Jeb’s Climate Dodgeball

If you’ve ever seen the movie Dodgeball, starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughan, then you’ll know the rules guiding Jeb Bush’s still-undeclared campaign when it comes to climate change: “Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge.”

I’m guessing that somewhere a team of pollsters, strategists and PR experts got paid a lot of money to craft every word of Jeb’s latest dodge on climate change so that he could avoid the “denier” label. In nearly identical remarks at a house party in New Hampshire and in an interview in Iowa, he gave his position on the human contribution to climate change. In both cases, he started by acknowledging that “the climate is changing” but went on to say that “I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted.” He continued by calling it “intellectual arrogance” to say the science is decided.

Jeb surely knows that two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Republicans surveyed, are more likely to vote for a candidate who acknowledges human-induced global warming is happening. It seems to me that Jeb is trying to carefully calculate precisely how much lip service must be given to climate change to make it seem that he’s not extreme, not a denier. But, voters who care about climate change shouldn’t be fooled.

To be sure, there is still much to learn.  There are plenty of opportunities for new scientific discoveries about the surprising and subtle ways that climate change is endangering our health and disrupting the natural systems on which our food and water supplies, our livelihoods, and our safety depend.

But anyone who still questions whether unlimited carbon pollution is causing dangerous climate change is still practicing climate denial and confusion.  And that is what Jeb is doing.

According to NASA, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” Jeb’s carefully crafted talking points are just a fancy dodgeball move calculated to confuse the voters, rather than accept the massive scientific consensus that we must act urgently.

Jeb has been in the denial business for a while now.  In a 2009 Esquire interview, Bush said “I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist.” In a 2011 Fox News interview, he said “It is not unanimous among scientists that it [climate change] is disproportionately manmade.”

In April, he said he was “concerned” about climate change, but, at the same time, he dismissed the need for action. Duck! Don’t get caught saying you want to act!

Dodging the “Denier” Label

What exactly is it that Jeb’s dodging? I think he is trying to escape the “denier” label. He has constructed an extreme strawman in an effort to seem moderate. He addressed the word “denier” in this most recent interview, mocking those (like me, I suppose) who use the word, by saying, “If you don’t march to their beat perfectly then you’re a denier. … You have to agree with people 100% of the time or you’re as bad as someone who disagrees with you completely.

Well, Jeb, you don’t need to agree me 100% of the time. I’d love to debate with you about the best approaches to limiting carbon pollution. But if you consistently voice doubts about the scientific consensus for action and clearly oppose making the carbon pollution cuts we need to avert the largest environmental crisis of our time, then, yes, that absolutely makes you a climate denier in my book. If you deny the problem and deny the need to act, you’re a denier. No dodging.

Sen Capito’s Polluter Protection Act

UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect the two new co-sponsors, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), to the bill on May 20th, 2015. 

Last week, a team of Senators supported by nearly $36 million in contributions from dirty polluters—and who have voted in favor of polluters over people 98 percent of the time—teed up yet another proposal to block much-needed efforts to protect the health of children and future generations from dangerous carbon pollution.

This newest pro-polluter proposal comes from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) who introduced a bill that aims to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan by thrusting “multiple knives into the Clean Air Act,” as my colleague David Doniger explains.

The Clean Power Plan sets the first ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants and invests in clean energy sources and energy efficiency, while Sen. Capito’s bill protects the big polluters and lets them off the hook by:

  • Rubbing out the Clean Power Plan altogether. The bill simply declares that the Clean Power Plan and its first-ever limits on carbon pollution “shall be of no force or effect, and shall be treated as though the rules had never been issued.” With admirable directness, the EPA proposals are simply disappeared. But that isn’t enough for Capito and her cronies. The bill also protects polluters by:
  • Blocking the EPA’s proposed standard for new coal power plants while also effectively blocking EPA’s plans to regulate existing plants too.
  • Forcing the EPA to choose between carbon standards and mercury standards, making them “pick their poison.”
  • Tying up the Clean Power Plan with litigation for years, placing an unprecedented “stop work” order found nowhere else in the nation’s environmental or regulatory laws.
  • Destroying the EPA’s authority to take action to protect our families and communities if states fail to act on their own by letting Governors “opt out,” and letting polluters off the hook.

And who else has their hands on the proverbial knife? Thirty other U.S. Senators joined Senator Capito to support these extremist attacks on public health.

We took a look at the records of Senator Capito and her bill’s co-sponsors using our website, which tracks polluter contributions to members of Congress and their votes. Here’s what we found:

  • Combined, the Senators backing Capito’s bill have taken $35,672,306 from polluters for their election campaigns.
    • Among the top three recipients of polluter contributions among these Senators are Senator Mitch McConnell who has been flailing away at the carbon standards for months now, and Senator Jim “the Snowball” Inhofe who has promised to make this bill a central focus of his Senate Committee in the coming weeks.
    • On average, each Senator has received nearly $1.3 million from dirty polluters each.
  • Combined, these Senators have cast 470 dirty votes on 49 pieces of climate and clean air legislation and/or amendments in Congress since September 2011.
  • These Senators have voted dirty 98 percent of the time they’ve had to choose between protecting polluters or public health.

Among other dirty bills, these lawmakers voted to block public health safeguards many, many times, to block all efforts to cut carbon pollution, to undermine science, and to block funding for climate change research.

Sen. Capito and her bill’s supporters aren’t looking out for the American public—they’re looking out for the Big Polluter Agenda and their own campaign coffers.

Americans want to carbon to be regulated. Poll after poll shows that that a bipartisan majority—70 percent of Americans—support the federal government limiting greenhouse gases from existing power plants, and 70 percent also support requiring states to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in their borders (check out the most recent poll from the Washington Post.)

But these Senators think they can get away with taking dirty money from the deep-pocketed polluters and voting against clean air and protecting. They think their voters won’t notice them voting against the very policies Americans support.

You can help shine a spotlight on those lawmakers who are voting against the best interests of their constituents by going to and tweeting at the Dirty Air Villains. Tell them to reject the Big Polluter Agenda and listen to the American people.

Co-Sponsors / Sponsor Dirty Money Number of Dirty Votes Percent of Dirty Votes
$5,378,412 15 100%
John Cornyn [R-TX] $3,814,138 15 100%
Mitch McConnell [R-KY] $3,229,136 15 100%
Jim Inhofe [R-OK] $2,207,770 15 100%
David Vitter [R-LA] $1,866,136 9 100%
Ted Cruz [R-TX] $1,530,696 15 100%
Roy Blunt [R-MO] $1,486,800 15 100%
Pat Roberts [R-KS] $1,479,406 36 100%
Bill Cassidy [R-LA] $1,432,970 14 93%
Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] $1,370,624 14 100%
John Thune [R-SD] $1,298,822 38 100%
Shelley Capito [R-WV] $1,210,252 15 100%
Roger Wicker [R-MS] $1,108,122 11 73%
Lamar Alexander [R-TN] $1,093,632 15 100%
John Barrasso [R-WY] $1,024,366 15 100%
Michael Enzi [R-WY] $979,610 25 100%
Tom Cotton [R-AR] $965,964 25 100%
Steve Daines [R-MT] $626,916 15 100%
Daniel Coats [R-IN] $625,198 15 100%
Michael Crapo [R-ID] $611,674 15 100%
John Hoeven [R-ND] $521,028 15 100%
Johnny Isakson [R-GA] $512,500 12 80%
Joe Manchin [D-WV] $379,100 15 100%
James Risch [R-ID] $266,904 15 100%
John Boozman [R-AR] $235,890 15 100%
Rand Paul [R-KY] $212,640 10 100%
Deb Fischer [R-NE] $50,900 9 100%
David Perdue [R-GA] $50,900 9 100%
Mike Rounds [R-SD] $50,900 9 100%
Thom Tillis [R-NC] $50,900 9 100%
Dan Sullivan [R-AK]

*NRDC Action Fund policy experts identify the votes that have the greatest impact or potential to impact clean air and climate policy. Members who vote against clean air 80 percent or more of the time are considered “Dirty Air Villains.” Those who vote to strengthen protections 80 percent or more of the time are considered “Clean Air Heroes.” All other members have no assigned status, but their dirty and clean percentages are listed


Three New Deniers Want to Be President

The 2016 presidential race is officially heating up with three new Dirty Deniers entering the contest last week. While there are differences among the three — Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson — on policy and style, they each hold views on climate change and clean energy that make them ill-prepared to win or govern from the White House.

Let’s take a look these three new contenders’ views on climate change and clean energy.

Mike Huckabee

On climate change, the views of Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, have shifted over time. And not in a good way. Back in 2007, Huckabee addressed an audience in New Hampshire and supported “cap and trade of carbon emissions,” citing “our responsibility to fix” climate change.

By 2010, Huckabee was walking back his previous support for cap and trade, saying he’d only ever supported “voluntary cap and trade” and that mandatory programs were a “bad idea.” Now, Huckabee says the science on climate change has proved to be inaccurate while making inaccurate statements of his own, claiming, for example, that Icelandic volcanoes are a greater carbon pollution problem than fossil fuels.

Huckabee has gone so far as to belittle concern about climate change, glibly quipping that the consequences amount to nothing worse than a “sunburn.”

Huckabee’s traction with evangelical Christians is one of his strongest assets, which makes his stance on climate change all the more disappointing. When Huckabee spoke out in support of climate change in 2007, he made the moral argument for action. I’ve written before about what it means to be a climate Christian, and in Mike Huckabee we have someone who may be missing the messages from both the Creator and the voters.

Carly Fiorina

California businesswoman Carly Fiorina deserves a bit of credit. As recently as February she stated, “There is a lot of consensus among the scientists that climate change is real and human activity contributes to it.” That’s more than we can say for many of her peers in the Republican field.

However, while Fiorina may not deny the science, she is still denying the need to act. At the same event in February, Fiorina opposed regulation and said that no one nation could address climate change on its own. Fiorina’s cowardly opposition to government action is nothing new. When she ran against climate change champion Barbara Boxer for Senate in 2010, this blog wrote that:

Fiorina has gained notoriety for flippantly calling global warming “the weather” in a campaign ad, and for doubting the overwhelming science of global warming. Not surprisingly, Fiorina also opposes legislation like the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES). Passed by the U.S. House in 2009, ACES was the first comprehensive clean energy and climate bill to ever pass a chamber of Congress. On her website, Fiorina cites a biased report from the Heritage Foundation claiming that climate legislation will “cost American families $2,872 every year.” Furthermore, she claims that a climate bill “will punish manufacturers and small-business owners and put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage with nations like China and India.” She has even sided with dirty Texas oil companies to favor passing Proposition 23, which would overturn California’s climate law – the strongest such law in the nation.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last five years. Fiorina is still denouncing the Golden State’s leadership on climate change, despite California’s huge job growth while it has been working to reduce carbon pollution. With California’s clean energy jobs growing ten times as quickly as jobs in the overall economic sector, action on climate change is actually driving the economy forward, not holding it back. If Fiorina’s strength is supposed to be her business acumen, it looks like she still has a lot to learn about what will power our country’s future economic growth.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, can’t claim that he’s not a scientist. But despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing, Carson says, “We may be warming. We may be cooling.” He says we should “find the most eco-friendly ways of developing our energy resources.” When the world’s energy authorities tell us we need to triple our investment in clean energy innovation, that’s not even close to being good enough.

Ill-Suited for the White House

Every corner of our country and globe will feel the effects of climate change— heat waves, heavy downpours, sea level rise, increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, drought, declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities — the list goes on and on.

We know voters are more concerned than these candidates: two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Republicans surveyed, are more likely to vote for a candidate who says human-induced global warming is happening.

Climate change is no laughing matter, but let’s hope that by this time next year the American electorate will have laughed off the candidacies of anyone with who denies the science or the need to act in the face of a global crisis. America needs a president who will act decisively to address climate change. Any candidate who believes otherwise should head home.

Is the Big Polluter agenda the environmental platform of the Republican Party?

Lindsey Graham asked a good question last month. The South Carolina Senator wants to know, “What is the environmental platform of the Republican Party?” Graham says he doesn’t know. He suggests it’s time for his party to do some “soul searching.”

Current Platform

Graham is right to suggest some soul searching. But, I’m surprised he doesn’t know the party’s platform. The Republican leaders in Congress, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, have consistently said “no” or fought against anything that qualifies as an environmental policy. During the first two terms of his speakership, John Boehner led House Republicans in more than 500 anti-environment floor votes. Mitch McConnell’s first 100 days as Senate Majority Leader have been marked by a strict adherence to the Big Polluter Agenda, which has included saying “no” to Environmental Protection Agency reducing carbon pollution and “no” to keeping dirty tar sands oil in the ground.

“No” is a pretty flimsy platform and Graham is right to think his party needs something stronger.

The Republican Soul

If Graham and his colleagues do embark on some true soul searching, what are they likely to find? To get some ideas, I went straight to the source: the website of the Republican Party itself.

The Republican Party describes itself in six bullet points on the history section of its website, Here’s how I believe these core facets of the GOP identity fit with political efforts to address climate change.

  1. Grand New Party. The Republican Party was founded by abolitionists. The party didn’t shy away from a tough fight then, and there’s no reason the party can’t take on one of today’s most critical problems: climate change.
  2. Party of Freedom. “Freedom” continues to be a favorite buzzword of climate deniers, who argue that dirty energy companies apparently deserve the “freedom” to pollute. Historically, Republicans have rejected this foolish argument, understanding the need to consider the population’s freedom to breathe. That’s why the Clean Air Act in 1970, and amendments in 1990, were passed with bipartisan majorities and why Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and President George H. W. Bush signed the bills.
  3. Party of Prosperity. Action to address climate change is essential to ensuring continued American prosperity. As detailed in the Risky Business report, unchecked climate change could result in the loss of up to $507 billion in coastal property by 2100, labor productivity losses of up to three percent, and increased energy costs of $12 billion per year. In contrast, a recent report found that international action to address climate change could create more than one million jobs in the clean energy sector. These wouldn’t be government jobs—they’d be private sector jobs in innovative fields. America should be leading the way on clean energy innovation.
  4. Party of Vision. Republicans have a long history of leadership on the environment, going back before Teddy Roosevelt to the creation of Yellowstone National Park by Ulysses S. Grant. This legacy was carried on as President Richard Nixon established the EPA and President George H.W. Bush enacted the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and as even a Republican congress, led by Newt Gingrich, managed to pass two massive environmental bills in the mid-nineties. For a party that praises this legacy so strongly, they sure aren’t living up to it today.
  5. Party of Strength. Our military believes climate change is a threat multiplier and that failure to act threatens our national security. The United States must maintain its international leadership as a world leader in climate action.
  6. Party of the Future. The Tea Party is the only segment in American society that doesn’t believe climate change is happening—and the Tea Party is a small, small slice of American society. In contrast, only three percent of young voters believe climate change is not happening. To stay relevant, the Republican Party must put forth a plan to act on climate change.

Party of the Future?

Will the Republicans embrace climate action in order to stay relevant? In his final post for Grist, David Roberts argued that the party is already pivoting away from denial, but instead of pivoting to solutions, they are pivoting to chicken-little economic arguments, saying that the cost of addressing climate change is too high. Those hyperbolic, sky-is-falling cost arguments are staples of the dirty energy industry that’s looking to protect its own bottom line, but they have no place in a party platform that proclaims a commitment to vision, strength, and the future.

If the Republicans want to protect their worthy legacy and be the party of the future, it’s time to follow Lindsay Graham’s advice to do some soul searching, and start acting on climate change.

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