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Scott Brown’s Achilles Heel: Voting for Dirtier Air

Scott Brown has parked his pickup truck in New Hampshire and is considering a run for the Senate from the Granite State. The prospect has already set GOP hearts aflutter. They love the idea of their Carhartt-clad candidate giving the popular incumbent Jeanne Shaheen a run for her money.

Brown is a gifted fundraiser who will attract national attention and financial support to the race. But he also comes with an Achilles heel: a track record of voting against children’s health in favor of polluting industries.

Those votes hurt him in Massachusetts, and they will hurt him New Hampshire as well.

The Northeast is known as the tailpipe of our country, because so much of the nation’s pollution filters through the region. This takes a heavy toll on kids. The childhood asthma rate in New England tops 10 percent—one of the highest in the country.

Pollution from power plants, vehicles, and heavy industry is a leading contributor to asthma, heart attacks, and cancer. So is climate change, since hotter temperatures increase the amount of smog in the air. Last July, for instance, officials warned that scorching heat in New England was making air pollution worse and increasing the risk of asthma attacks and heart problems.

Yet when Brown represented Massachusetts in the Senate, he voted for an extreme proposal that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from reducing carbon pollution from power plants. The League of Women Voters ran ads in Massachusetts taking him to task for the vote and linking climate change to increased asthma in children. Polls from before and after the accountability ads showed his popularity ratings drop; voters did not like their lawmaker choosing polluters over their kids’ health.

Brown was unbowed. He supported a Senate budget bill that was called “the worst anti-environmental bill EVER” for its crippling cuts to the EPA and the Department of Energy’s clean energy programs and for its dozens of harmful environmental riders.

Plenty of GOP lawmakers in the Congress have worse records than Brown’s. Yet he is now running against a proven champion of clean air, clean energy, and climate action. Senator Shaheen has earned a score of 100 percent from the League of Conservation Voters for 2013, and a lifetime score of 95 percent. She voted for strong standards for mercury and other air toxins, reductions in cross-state air pollution from power plants, and for firm limits on climate change pollution. She has also sponsored bipartisan legislation to expand energy efficiency—the cleanest and cheapest form of energy we have.

People in New Hampshire –and around the nation—value leaders who stand up for public health and climate action. More than two-thirds of voters in several battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. for the NRDC Action Fund. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.

Those are powerful numbers, and they don’t bode well for a carpetbagger who is 10 points down and comes with a history of voting in favor of polluters. Brown might consider putting his pickup in reverse and heading back to Massachusetts.

Red, Blue, and Purple States Agree: Limit Carbon Pollution

Conventional wisdom can be a funny thing, especially in politics. It’s often based on anecdote rather than fact. Take the politics of climate, for instance.  The fossil fuel industry, backed by the Koch brothers, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into defeating environmental champions.  That kind of cash can be scary to an incumbent and can make an issue, like addressing climate change, seem like the third rail of politics.  Never mind that they had a similar win rate in the last election to the 1990 Patriots football team (1-15-0). Never mind that we can now see how climate change is affecting the world around us each day.  Now, with critical mid-terms approaching, some GOP strategists are trying to say that Republicans will benefit in midterm elections if they go on record opposing efforts to clean up our air and protect future generations from climate change.

They are wrong.

Here’s what’s at the center of this scare tactic: The Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants in June. These plants kick out 40 percent of carbon emissions in our country, and yet Republicans leaders are already trying to block the agency from finally cleaning them up. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is actually attempting to force the Senate to vote on (using a maneuver that has no legal basis) to block the carbon limits before they are even proposed.

The fact is, voters want these plants to clean up their carbon pollution. Senators should take notice. More than two-thirds of voters in several battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. for the NRDC Action Fund. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.

When we commissioned this poll a few weeks ago, some thought we were taking a chance – putting it mildly – by hiring a well-known candidate pollster and encouraging him to ask the hard questions.  We didn’t see it as a risky move because we know that voters have consistently supported clean energy and climate action in countless surveys, and in the 2012 election.

Some thought we were a little crazy when we asked them to focus on the toughest Senate battleground states, places where environmental issues don’t usually take a front seat in politics like, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire. Most of them run purple if not red. Yet even within more conservative communities, people support reducing dangerous carbon pollution by wide margins.

Harstad 1

Earlier this week I briefed several Senators on the results, and some were especially struck by what the numbers say about women voters. Pundits are already calling 2014 the “Year of the Woman”. Women are running in several high-profile races and issues associated with the women electorate are in the headlines every day. Republicans are trying to lure women back after alienating them so thoroughly in 2012 and so the female vote could decide several elections.

Now all candidates have yet another thing to add to their list of issues women care about: supporting limits on dangerous carbon pollution. Women understand (by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent) that we have a moral obligation to future generations to make the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable. That begins with holding power plants accountable for the carbon they pump into our skies.

Yet this new poll confirms that climate change isn’t just important to women. Male voters (by a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. Republicans (by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent) and Democrats (by a margin of 87 percent to 8 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. And Northerners (by a margin of 69 percent to 25 percent) and Southerners (by a margin of 64 percent to 28 percent) want to do reduce carbon pollution.

Bottom line: climate is shaping up to be one of those issues that defies conventional wisdom. Voters support doing the right thing on climate. Candidates would do well to pay attention.

View Additional Harstad Polling Results: Harstad NRDC AF 2014

It’s a Fact.

I just finished watching State of the Union.  President Obama gave his laundry list to Congress and then reminded lawmakers that if they can’t get their act together, he will move forward without them to make progress.

If you are an environmentalist who watched the speech, you undoubtedly found things you liked and disliked, but we can all embrace the President’s direct aim at climate deniers.

Check out his language from the 2010 State of the Union:

“I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.”

Tonight’s statement was much more direct:

“Climate change is a fact.”

We couldn’t agree more. Now is the time for candidates to follow President Obama’s lead by being direct in our need to address climate change.

Extensive polling shows voters all across America are ready to act on climate by reducing carbon pollution. And candidates who chose to “run clean” in 2012 not only won, but laid out a roadmap for why it’s not just good policy, but good politics.

We have a moral obligation to act so we can leave the world a better place for our children and our children’s children.

The debate is over.

“And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

President Obama, 2014 State of the Union Address

 

New Latino Polling Provides Roadmap to Victory for 2014 Candidates

As we kick off a midterm-election year, candidates around the country are trying to figure out how to attract coveted Latino voters. A new survey released today offers a crystal clear answer. The issue that matters most to these voters after immigration reform is climate change.

Nine in ten Latinos want the nation to take action to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change, according to the survey done by Latino Decisions for NRDC and Voces Verdes. When it comes to government action specifically, eight in ten want President Obama to reduce the carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

This is a landslide of support for climate action, and smart candidates will take note. Latinos represent the largest segment of new voters outside of young people. Twelve million Latinos voted in 2012—10 percent of the electorate—and that is expected to double by 2030.

Most voters in the electorate have already picked a side. There are very few opportunities for political parties to find new members.  But a large portion of the Latino community is still up for grabs, and candidates are eager to recruit them.

Sure, conventional political wisdom tells us Cuban-Americans living in Florida are likely to identify with the GOP, and families newly settled from Mexico tend to vote Democratic. But more Latino voters are registering to vote every year, and they come from a broad array of backgrounds, community ties, and political views. And where climate is concerned, this poll found that a majority of Latino Republicans support fighting climate change and the president’s climate action plan.

Every political consultant worth their smart phone is trying to guess how Latino voting trends will play out. Will Latinos create a solid voting bloc similar to African Americans and Native Americans who typically back Democrats? Or will Latinos behave like White voters and split and segment?

We don’t know where the patterns will take us, and so there is a mad dash to court everyone at once. The new survey results confirm that candidates who champion climate action and environmental protection will definitely turn heads.

In some races, these climate-focused voters could help carry the elections. North Carolina, for instance, is home to one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country. Senator Kay Hagen is running for reelection is very close race, but her track record of support for wind and solar power and her consistent backing of carbon reductions could appeal to the huge majority of Latino voters who care more about climate action than any other issue after immigration.

Latinos feel strongly that taking action against climate change is part of creating a brighter, more hopeful future for their children. It’s part of their pursuit of the American dream. A candidate who grounds that dream in clean energy jobs, strong carbon limits, and healthier air will attract a majority of voters—and not just Latinos.

 

What the Coal Chemical Spill Means for the West Virginia Senate Race

Charleston, West Virginia was shut down for the past few days as the federal and state government have declared a state of emergency in the area. Restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and offices have been closed since Thursday when a chemical used to clean coal spilled from a facility and flooded into the Elk River, making the region’s water unfit for anything but flushing toilets. The contamination has reached far beyond the city into nine counties.

My family is from West Virginia. I’ve traveled through the area my whole life visiting relatives, and it’s hard to imagine it being shuttered. But that is the power of Big Coal. In a moment, just one aspect of the industry can threaten 300,000 people and undermine the region’s economy.

And yet the two candidates running for Senate are both staunchly pro-coal and against public safeguards. And they remain caught up in coal industry mythology about jobs and apple pie. But they are on the wrong side of history and even the polluters are starting to wake up – just today the American Energy Alliance pulled their attack ads against Congressman Nick Rahall for supporting carbon pollution legislation to show support for the West Virginia residents impacted by the spill. But, before you start to congratulate them too much, they also pledged to keep up their imaginary fight against a so called “carbon tax” in the future.

The coal industry fights public safeguards at a cost.  Scores of men have died in coal mines in the past few years, in part because the industry has blocked strong safety standards at every turn. Three men died just this fall during the government shutdown, when fewer safety inspections could occur. These fatal accidents take a heavy toll on the state. A study conducted by West Virginia University found that the economic cost of mining deaths is five times more than the benefits mining brings to the region.

There is also the reality that mechanization is a leading cause of job loss in the industry—not public safeguards. Even though West Virginia coal companies increased production by more than 140 percent in the last 30 years, they have eliminated 40,000 jobs. They didn’t cut these jobs due to strong environmental standards. They did it because machines don’t demand salaries.

Big Coal looks out for itself, not for the state of West Virginia. That’s why residents desperately need lawmakers who serve the public interest. The chemical spill offers voters with a useful litmus test for seeing whether this year’s senate candidates represent the people or the industry.

Are the candidates still parroting coal sound bites about jobs? Or have they realized the real costs of this coal-related spill?

Are they still saying the coal industry does its best to follow safety regulations? Or do they acknowledge that companies routinely flout them, like when Massey had 60,000 violations of environmental laws between the years of 2000 and 2006?

And are they still claiming coal is good for West Virginia? Or have they realized that coal is losing its market share and looking like a bad bet in a world of climate action and low-carbon energy alternatives.

These are critical questions for the state. The coal industry has a long history in West Virginia, but it’s time for a new era—one in which companies play by the rules, honor environmental safeguards and don’t endanger people’s health with toxic pollution and chemical spills. Voters should find out if their candidates will help deliver that future or keep the state stuck in coal-laden past. Now is the time for West Virginia’s political campaigns to reflect the reality on the ground.