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Dumb ALEC

Last week ALEC, the free market acolyte organization, enjoyed a real experience in the power of market forces.  Two of its major financial backers, Google and Facebook, joined Microsoft in withdrawing their backing of ALEC because of the group’s opposition to clean energy policies and action on climate change.

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) has set out to turn back decades of bipartisan progress at the state level on energy efficiency and wind and solar power. Bankrolled in part by the Koch brothers and some of the biggest polluters in the country, ALEC has most recently mobilized conservative state legislators in dozens of states to attack sensible and successful requirements for renewable electricity.  These standards were interfering with what the free market would do on its own, an intolerable offense according to ALEC.

ALEC has had mixed results with their pro-pollution agenda, losing attempts to repeal renewable energy standards in Kansas of all places, while winning a victory most recently in Ohio.  Where they exist, renewable electricity standards have been credited with creating jobs and reducing pollution, making them quite popular with the public. The fight for renewable energy in the states will continue.

But ALEC’s denial of the threat of climate change was finally too much for the free market titan Google, which cancelled its dues-paying membership.  Thereafter, ALEC offered an interesting denial of their denialism – they weren’t denying that climate change was happening per se, just disingenuously arguing that renewable energy as a solution should only be allowed to grow “according to consumer demand.”

If you believe that humans are contributing to climate change, it’s dumbfounding to think that letting the free market do whatever it wants could possibly be the answer.  That’s how we got in this situation to begin with.  It’s especially sad when a free market advocate gets a basic market principle like this so wrong.  In fact economic experts even have a term for when the market outcome it not the right one for society – it’s called a negative externality.

A negative externality occurs when one person makes money off of imposing the cost of that action on someone else. But don’t take my word for it.  Here’s how Investopedia, owned by Forbes, Inc., says in its definition of externality:

“Pollution emitted by a factory that spoils the environment and affects the health of nearby residents is an example of a negative externality.”

This is a free market outcome, but certainly not a desirable one.  Where pollution is concerned, letting industry freely decide what is the right amount to reduce is like leaving it up to kids to decide how many vegetables to eat.  Fortunately society can actually use market mechanisms such as tax credits or cap and trade programs to harness the market to provide solutions.  Setting renewable electricity standards is another way of fixing the polluting externalities of fossil fuels.

How can anyone trust the task of educating politicians about the free market to an organization that doesn’t understand freshman economics concepts?  Saying that every market outcomes is by definition the correct one is not a scientific position based in economic theory but is a political position based on self-interest.

Smart people are as dumb as they want to be, and ALEC has millions of dollars worth of reasons to play dumb on the need to act on climate change.  But saying there shouldn’t be action on climate because the free market doesn’t want to do it certainly qualifies as willful climate denial. Thank goodness some powerful business leaders have exercised their marketplace freedom of choice in calling out ALEC on this issue.

 

Mark Udall: Clean Before Clean was Cool

It looks like 2014 may be the year that politicians and pundits finally catch on to what we’ve been saying for years: Running Clean makes smart political sense and candidates from both parties should be supporting clean energy. But in the Colorado Senate race, there’s one candidate who has been supporting clean energy since before it was cool: Senator Mark Udall. Looking at Udall’s record, it’s clear that he is truly committed to clean because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it’s politically expedient.

Udall has a strong and consistent record on clean energy, climate change and environmental protection that spans more than a decade as a federal legislator. Udall has been a champion for renewable energy, serving as the lead sponsor of House bills to create a national renewable electricity standard, co-chairing the 2004 effort to create a state renewable energy standard (RES) through referendum in Colorado and currently co-chairing the Senate Renewable Energy and Efficiency Caucus. Udall has led efforts to create wilderness in Colorado, to provide tax incentives for clean energy, to improve air and water quality, and to improve national security by reducing the military’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Udall’s opponent, Congressman Cory Gardner, is trying to reap the benefits of voters’ support for clean energy without actually supporting clean energy. Gardner filmed one of his ads in the middle of a wind farm and claimed that he “co-wrote the law to launch our state’s green energy industry.” Unfortunately for Gardner, that law was repealed five years later and wasn’t credited with creating a single clean energy job.

The truth is that Gardner is a #DirtyDenier$.  He has denied the human contribution to climate change, he has voted to deny EPA’s scientific finding that carbon pollution is a threat to human health, and he has repeatedly voted to protect taxpayer subsidies for oil companies while voting to eliminate them for clean energy pioneers. He’s also voted against just about anything else that might improve the environment from ocean health to clean water to clean air.

With that record, it should come as no surprise that the oil and gas industry are the largest contributors to his campaign’s bank account. In just four years in Congress, Gardner has raised $695,000 from the oil and gas industry and the oil billionaire Koch Brothers are showing their appreciation for his dirty voting record by investing millions in their own advertising campaigns designed to prop up Gardner.

When Colorado voters go to the polls in November, they’d be wise to remember which candidate’s record matches his rhetoric. There’s only one clean candidate in this race, and that’s incumbent senator Mark Udall.

Want more election coverage? Visit www.nrdcactionfund.org for weekly updates on key races featuring environmental champions. 

The Key Political Truth about Climate Change: It’s about Our Families

When my husband collapsed at a small gathering a few weeks ago, climate change was the farthest thing from my mind. I was too consumed with getting him to the hospital, holding his hand through the pain, and trying to appear calm when his legs stopped working. Later when doctors entered the room in protective gear, told us Don had meningitis, and said that it was often linked to West Nile Virus, the link still didn’t quite compute. I was trying to comfort him, reassure our young children that Daddy was going to be fine, and remind myself to breathe as I saw the strongest man I know cry because his head hurt so badly. A few days later when we finally were able to leave the ICU, I finally realized that climate change could be hitting home.

West Nile Virus is an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes. Scientists say that warmer temperatures and drier conditions brought on by climate change increase the risk of the virus.

Here in drought-stricken California, creeks and washes have turned into tiny puddles of standing water and brought infested birds and mosquitoes into closer contact.  Communities across the state are seeing more cases than ever before. As of last week, 181 Californians were diagnosed with the virus—a 79 percent increase compared to this time last year.

Most people sickened by West Nile recover quickly, but some develop serious complications, including meningitis, an infection of the brain lining. Although we still don’t have confirmation that West Nile caused Don’s meningitis, we do know that the young woman next door to him in the ICU had West Nile and was intubated because she was so sick. We are so incredibly thankful Don responded well to treatment. Though he is still dealing with excruciating headaches and intense fatigue, we know we are very, very fortunate.

We may never know for sure if Don’s meningitis was caused by West Nile Virus—blood tests are often inconclusive. But I do know this: climate change isn’t just about weather forecasts and computer models. It’s about our families.

It’s about families trying to keep asthmatic children safe during heat waves and dirty air days. It’s about families struggling to hold on to livelihoods in the midst of drought. It’s about families draining nest eggs to rebuild homes after fire, floods, and storm surges.

People are looking for answers, and leaders ignore them at their own peril.

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) claim they can’t talk about climate change because they aren’t scientists, they reveal how out of touch they are with the many families coping with climate-related health problems and extreme weather.

Presidential hopeful Rand Paul (R-KY) showed his disregard when he criticized Hillary Clinton’s recent clean energy and climate speech. He said, “For her to be out there saying that the biggest threat to our safety and to our well-being is climate change, I think, goes to the heart of the matter of whether or not she has the wisdom to lead the country, which I think it’s obvious that she doesn’t.”

Paul is the one missing the obvious message here. An ABC News poll found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem facing the nation and support federal measures to reduce greenhouse gases—even if it raises their energy costs, which NRDC analysis confirms it will not.

The majority of Americans favor climate action, because we want to shield our families from harm and create a better future. Smart candidates recognize this. They connect the dots between climate change and people’s daily lives. They vow to make communities more resilient by shoring up infrastructure and training medical staff to treat emerging threats such as West Nile Virus. They explain that the EPA’s proposal to limit carbon from power plants will create jobs.. And they win: voters favored clean energy and climate champions up and down the ticket in the 2012 elections.

We need to elect more champions this year, so our nation can finalize carbon pollution limits and take further climate action.  The stakes are so high. Climate change threatens our families’ health and well-being. And as I realized when Don collapsed, it can make its presence known in fast and painful ways. We can’t afford to lose more time to denial and disregard. We must act now.

 

5 Ways the Midterms Will Shape the Clean Energy and Climate Future

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the campaign season is about to heat up in earnest. Candidates, strategists, and pundits will vie for the spotlight from now until November 4. Yet try as they might, midterms never garner as much attention as presidential cycles.

This year’s election, though, matters more than most.

The outcome of the 2014 races could have a major impact on the air we breathe, the health of our families, and the intensity of the climate change outside our doors.

Victory could come for candidates who take millions of dollars for fossil fuel companies and ignore the climate threat—I call these folks the Dirty Denier$. Or environmental champions will triumph and expand clean energy and climate action to protect our health and create jobs.

The choices we make in the voting booth always carry weight, but they have even greater heft in a year when control of the Senate is up for grabs, when GOP leaders have promised to roll back decades-worth of public health and environmental safeguards, and when the threat of climate change grows more severe.

Here are five forces that could shape the outcome of the 2014 midterm.

Climate Denial Is Alive and Well in the GOP

Two weeks ago, Scott Brown was asked if “the theory of man-made climate change has been scientifically proven.” His reply: “Uh, no.” Yet when Brown was campaigning for Senator from Massachusetts in 2012, he said, “I absolutely believe that climate change is real and I believe there’s a combination between man-made and natural.” Now that he is running in New Hampshire, he backpedalled. Brown isn’t alone. Across the nation, Republicans either deny the existence of human-caused climate change or feign ignorance because they aren’t trained scientists. If these lawmakers gain a majority, they will try at every turn to stop the Obama Administration from fulfilling the President’s Climate Action Plan.

McConnell Would Use a Majority to Dismantle Safeguards

Since 2010, GOP lawmakers in the House have voted several hundred times to undermine public health and environmental protections. They haven’t just gone after measures associated with President Obama. They’ve dug deep and torn into the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other bedrock laws that have held firm for four decades. The only thing stopping these radical bills from becoming law? A lack of support in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell says if he wins a majority, he will launch his own attack, using bills and policy riders to strip away protections that keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe. He will also wage an assault on every effort to shield our communities from climate change. And he’s willing to even shut down the government to implement his radical agenda.

Fossil Fuel Companies Are Looking for Better Results

Oil and gas companies and their allies have spent more than $31 million on this election already. They favor lawmakers who put industry concerns before the public interest. Senator Marco Rubio, Representative Fred Upton, Senator Mitch McConnell and other Dirty Denier$ have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the fossil fuel industry. They have also voted for oil and gas subsidies and tried to prevent the EPA from finalizing limits on climate change pollution from power plants—the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. But industry investments don’t always pay off. The US Chamber of Commerce, known for its climate denial and fossil-fuel friendly policies, spent more than $32 million in the 2012 election but achieved less than 7 percent of desired outcomes.

Smart Candidates Are Running Clean

It turns out voters prefer leaders who stand up to polluters. In the 2012 cycle, candidates who supported clean energy and climate action won up and down the ticket, even in contested purple states. Recent polling shows that sentiment is growing.  More than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a March poll done by Harstad Strategic Research for the NRDC Action Fund. The poll was conducted in red and purple states, and still 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats supported carbon limits. Many 2014 candidates—including Michigan’s Gary Peters, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen—have recognized that running for office on a platform of protecting the environment, promoting clean sources of energy, and curbing climate change is a proven winner.

Environmental Champions Could Make Climate History

President Obama has called on the EPA to do the single most important thing the US can to fight climate change right now: limit carbon pollution from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the country, and cleaning them up will help us defuse the climate threat. An environmental majority in Congress will help the EPA realize this goal. It would also help expand renewable power and strengthen environmental safeguards.  Lawmakers could point to these accomplishments and say: this is when America began combating climate change and building the clean energy future.

 

 

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