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GOP Has No Mandate for Attack on Clean Air and Climate Solutions

Most voters didn’t go the ballot box to demand dirtier air and contaminated water. And yet Republican leaders have proudly proclaimed that gutting environmental safeguards is one of their top priorities for the new Congress. They have vowed to roll back national limits on climate change pollution, strip protections from waterways that feed drinking supplies, and launch a host of other attacks.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his top priority for the next session is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

That’s a bold statement to make when the vast majority of Americans value the EPA’s role in protecting their families from pollution. Seven out of 10 Americans, for instance, support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey.

The GOP pro-polluter agenda is out of step with what Americans want. Republicans may have gained control of the Senate, but they did not receive a mandate to dismantle environmental safeguards.

Given the dismal voter turnout in the midterms, it’s hard to declare a mandate for anything.

  • 36.2 percent of eligible voters participated in the midterm elections, the lowest turnout since World War II. Even if every single one of them favored the GOP, the party still wouldn’t have the majority of Americans behind them.
  • Several races were settled by small margins. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Republican Thom Tillis won the North Carolina Senate race by a margin of 1.7 percent—about 48,000 votes.
  • Republicans lost among people under 40 years old and among all minority voters, according to the National Journal.
  • The voting center grew this year: 40 percent of voters identified as moderates, while 36 percent called themselves conservative, down from 42 percent in the 2010 midterms. Fewer voters are calling for the radical changes espoused by the Tea Party.
  • Since the last midterm election, 21 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, which means fewer people are able to vote and fewer voices are being heard.
  • 69 percent of all dark money—campaign funding from undisclosed donors—went to Republican candidates. The vast majority of it came from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads/GPS—polluter friendly groups known for attacking environmental safeguards.  That money means Mitch McConnell may be able to claim the Koch Brothers’ mandate, but certainly not a mandate from the voters.

These numbers paint a picture of a discouraged electorate. Many are tired of the gridlock in Washington; many are overwhelmed by the money in politics. But nowhere in the polling does it say Americans want to breathe dirtier air or get hit by more extreme weather brought on by climate change.

Indeed, exit polling showed that six out of 10 voters leaving the voting booth support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants.

Republicans won several hard fought races this year, but they would be wise not to let it go to their heads. When candidates won roughly 52 percent of about 36.2 percent of eligible voters, making a declaration of war against the environment sounds like the beginnings of overreach.

Compare those small portions to the 98 percent of scientists who say climate change is a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. Now that’s what I call a mandate for action.

4 Midterm Lessons about the Politics of Climate Change

The Republican Party has taken control of the Senate after winning a handful of red states. This makes Senator Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader, yet voters have not endorsed McConnell’s pro-polluter agenda of dirty air and unlimited climate change pollution.

All year long, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans want to protect clean air, promote clean energy, and shield future generations from unchecked climate change.

People went into the voting booth with many issues on their minds, from the tepid economy to health care to international turmoil. They rewarded those who have led on climate issues in Congress or on the campaign trail, including Rep. Gary Peter in Michigan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and Senator Susan Collins.

Yet even in races where people did not vote on climate change alone, one thing is clear: Americans have not given the GOP a mandate to let polluters foul our air and destabilize our climate.

It’s time for incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to get the message. Thus far, they have ignored science and voters’ concerns. They’ve promised to attack safeguards for our children’s health and blocking any attempt to reign in climate change pollution.

Most voters will not welcome this overreach. Just ask Former Speaker Newt Gingrich; he learned the hard way when he tried to gut environmental protections after the 1994 midterm elections.

Here are some of the lessons we can take away from this year’s elections.

Most Voters Support Limits on Climate Change Pollution

Prolonged drought, destructive storms, toxic algae blooms, and other extreme events brought climate change home this year, and most Americans want leaders to tackle the climate threat.

An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce greenhouse gases. A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. And a Bloomberg News poll found that 62 percent of Americans were even willing to pay more for energy if it meant reducing carbon pollution. Most people want to protect the country from dirty air and extreme weather. They aren’t asking for Senator McConnell’s plan to make life easier for polluters.

Climate Change Gained New Prominence in This Cycle

During the 2012 election, climate change received little national attention. This time around, more Americans have felt the brunt of climate change in their own lives, and voters, debate moderators, and journalists wanted to know where candidates stood on the issue.  Nearly 40 percent of voters in battleground states heard candidates’ positions on climate change, and majorities heard their views on energy, according to a poll conducted for the NRDC Action Fund. Many candidates made climate change and clean energy a central part of their platform. Even Tea Party favorite Cory Gardner felt compelled to travel to a Colorado wind farm for one of his TV ads.

It Was a Tough Map for Climate Champions

Polluters eager to gut environmental standards and allow unlimited carbon pollution always had the upper hand this cycle. Most of their preferred candidates were trying to recapture Republican strongholds—indeed pundits started forecasting how tough this race would be back in 2008 when several Democrats won traditionally red states. Climate champions also faced an added challenge of history: as Politico’s Charlie Cook points out, the president’s party has suffered in five out of six midterm elections since the end of World War II, averaging just six Senate and 29 House seats.

A Climate Denier Can Not Win the White House in 2016

GOP strategists read the same polls environmentalists do, and they are starting to realize most voters care about climate change and want leaders to do something about it. Voters are tired of candidates who deny or ignore global warming and they view this ignorance as a sign of being out of touch. This includes members of important voting blocs: By margins of 20 to 22 percentage points, independents, women and younger voters describe themselves as less likely to vote for their Republican candidate after learning of his or her views on energy, the environment and climate change. Many GOP candidates have walked back from extreme denial by embracing the new “I am not a scientist” rhetoric. Even they recognize that voters will no longer elect a president who ignores the biggest economic, public health, and environmental threat of our time.

There is much to fight for in the next two years. No matter who holds the gavel in Congress, climate change is accelerating and Americans are growing alarmed. It’s time for lawmakers of both parties to act.

 

The Power of Your Vote

The other day I brought my son to a lesson with his 28-year-old, very hip guitar teacher. The teacher knows that my job is related to advocacy and politics so after the lesson, he asked in all earnestness, “Is voting really worth it?”  He said he wasn’t if sure his vote would count or if the money poured into elections already determined the outcome.  “Congress is so screwed up right now”, he noted and “those with money are the only ones with power.”

Too many eligible voters are disenfranchised.  What they don’t realize is that the only way to even the playing field with Koch Brothers type of money is voters.  If everyone voted – or even a super majority voted – the power of corporate money would be reduced, as those elected would be held more directly accountable by a wide swath of their constituents.

So I told him that every vote matters, especially this year when many races will be nail-bitingly close. I said even though polluters and their allies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to win the White House in 2012, they lost because voters didn’t agree with them. And I urged him to seize this opportunity to make his voice heard.

I think I persuaded him, but judging by the numbers, my son’s guitar teacher is not alone in his ambivalence. America ranks 120th among nations for voter turnout. About 66.5 percent of eligible US voters cast their ballots, compared to 88.5 percent in Guyana, 80.4 percent in Belize, and 70.8 percent in Uganda.

Midterm elections are notorious for attracting even fewer voters. Less than half of North Carolina’s registered voters, for instance, are expected to participate in next week’s election. People of color and young voters aren’t likely to turn out in full force. Though nonwhite North Carolinians make up 26 percent of eligible voters, they accounted for only 22 percent of those who voted in 2010.

Researchers have also noticed a class divide in voting patterns. Roughly 98 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent of voters cast ballots in 2008. Yet among people with household incomes between $30,000 and $39,000, only about 62 percent did.

I find these numbers deeply troubling, because they reveal how many people are renouncing one of the most effective ways to shape the direction of our nation.

Every vote counts. And every vote is a potent way to tell lawmakers what you want. Politics may be messy, Washington may seem distance, and change may take a long time, but voting really can improve daily life. Researchers who studied election results for more than 30 years found that “where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower.”

We can help decide the kind of country we live in. But we have to raise our voices to do it.

The Koch brothers have aired more than 43,900 TV ads from January 1-August 31st this year.  The Koch network will reportedly spend at least $290 million in this midterm election backing candidates who deny climate change and make life easier for polluters. This isn’t what the majority of voters want. A survey conducted for ABC/Washington Post found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce the pollution that causes it. The polluter friendly candidates ignore what the majority wants.

The Koch’s tidal wave of money can corrupt our democracy, but we must not abet it with our silence. We must go the polls and elect leaders who will protect the air we breathe and build a more sustainable future for our children.

Don’t miss this opportunity to be heard. Cast your vote and tell your friends and family to do the same. Because the most effective weapon against big money in politics is the ballot.

 

Running Clean Draws Support from Swing Voters

With 48 hours to go before the midterm elections, you’re probably a bit tired of seeing competing poll results. Head-to-head matchups between candidates have varied this entire election cycle, but one item we’ve been tracking has remained consistent—voters want action on climate change.

In February, the NRDC Action Fund released our first polling of the 2014 cycle. It was conducted in 11 battleground states and showed that voters across the political spectrum were ready for the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. Now, eight months later, we released another poll, this time in five swing states that produced nearly the exact same results.

The poll found that:

  • Climate and energy are playing a role in the public discourse in these states’ senate races: nearly 40 percent of voters have heard about candidate positions on climate change, and majorities have heard their views on energy.
  • Republican candidates’ extreme positions are costing them support among key blocs of swing voters. By margins of 20 to 22 percentage points, independents, women and younger voters describe themselves as less likely to vote for their Republican candidate after learning of his or her views on energy, the environment and climate change.
  • Pro-climate positions are highly popular with voters. Sixty-eight percent of voters feel more favorably toward candidates who support clean energy and 54 percent have a more favorable impression of candidates who believe the government should take action on climate change.

Consistency is key. It clearly shows that even after polluters have spent millions of dollars to defeat candidates who are running clean, they have been unable to change voter’s attitudes.

No matter who comes out victorious on election night, all the winners would be wise to remember that voters want those heading to Congress to put in place policies that ensure cleaner air and less carbon pollution. It’s also a good reminder for all the would-be presidential candidates, that voters will not elect a climate denier to the White House in 2016.

A presentation of the results is available here: http://bit.ly/100D1ce

 

Brownley Running Clean and Green on California Coast

Her name may have “brown” in it, but Julia Brownley’s record is pure green. Brownley is the incumbent representing California’s 26th district in the US House of Representatives. As a member of Congress and previously as a member of the California state assembly, Brownley has established a long track record of Running Clean, voting clean and leading the charge on action to protect the environment.

Julia Brownley

(Click to play video)

From her perch as a member of both the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) and the Safe Climate Caucus, Representative Brownley has established herself as one of the leaders in Congress when it comes to taking action to address climate change. Brownley supports comprehensive action on climate change and has said:

For our economic security and our environmental security and the future of our country, I believe we must address climate change by investing in innovation regarding conservation, renewable energies of the future, and reducing the levels of pollution released by human activity.

Brownley has earned a 93 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters and previously earned a 99 percent score from California LCV for her votes in the state assembly.

Julia Brownly tweet

In contrast to Brownley’s consistent and strong support, her opponent, Jeff Gorell, has a mixed record. We’ll give credit where due: Gorell is not a climate denier. He believes that “human activity affects climate change” and has stated support for “incentives to expand the use of clean energy technologies”. However, Gorell’s bad votes outweigh his good ones. He’s earned a disappointing score of just 26 percent from CLCV for his votes in the state legislature, where he has taken anti-environment votes on fracking, smart growth, cleaning up diesel vehicles, and to undermine the environmental review process for a large solar project. Gorell misunderstand’s the nature of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, calling it a “Draconian cap-and-trade law” and erroneously claiming that it will “put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work”. He needs to do his homework because the Clean Power Plan gives states flexibility to reduce carbon pollution from power plants in their state and could actually create clean energy jobs.  Brownley gets this and had been a consistent advocate for clean air.

For Ventura County voters looking to protect their coastal community from the effects of climate change, it’s clear that Brown(ley) is the green choice. She’s running clean.