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Rand Paul and the Big Polluter Agenda

As the 2016 presidential candidates are declaring themselves, we here at the NRDC Action Fund and the Markup blog are trying to keep up. We’ve run down Hillary Clinton’s strong record on the environment, reflected on Ted Cruz’s failure to connect his Christian faith with the imperative to act on climate, and profiled Marco Rubio as a Dirty Denier. Next up is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who announced his presidential run in early April.

I’ve written about Sen. Paul before, though it’s been a while. Back when he was first running for Senate in August 2010, I wrote about my experience growing up and attending grade school in Kentucky. That grade school eventually closed because of its proximity to harmful pollution from a nearby oil refinery. I argued then that Paul’s focus on “jobs” was blinding him to the workers and families doing those jobs and being harmed by the destruction of the local environment and degradation of air and water quality.

Dirty Air Villain

Unfortunately, once elected, Sen. Paul didn’t see the light. He’s continued to advocate for big business and dirty energy at the expense of regular folks. Senator Paul earned the title of Dirty Air Villain for voting against clean air 100% of the time in our WhoVotesDirty.com vote tracker. Among his worst votes, he voted to attack EPA’s Clean Power Plan, to block cuts in mercury pollution, and to block standards for dirty boilers and incinerators.

Paul hasn’t just been a loyal foot soldier, voting in lockstep with the Dirty Energy industry that has funded his campaigns to the tune of $235,890. He’s been a leader of dangerous efforts to roll back long-overdue clean air protections and efforts to permanently hamstring the government agencies that set standards to protect public health and the environment.

Attempt to Overturn Good Neighbor Rule

In November 2011, Paul led the effort in the Senate to void EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will reduce smog and soot pollution from dirty coal-burning power plants that travels across state lines. If Paul’s effort had succeeded, the rule’s projected benefits – preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths, avoiding 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma attacks – would never have been realized. The $280 billion in annual benefits of the rule outweigh the rule’s costs by 116 to 1.

Paul’s attack on the Clean Air Act failed in a vote of 41 to 56.

REINS Act

Earlier in 2011, Paul was the Senate sponsor of a bill nicknamed the REINS Act. Rather than target any particular lifesaving regulation, the REINS Act targeted the entire process that produces every lifesaving regulation. The bill would have turned the current regulatory process upside-down by allowing a majority in any single chamber of Congress to stop a regulation it didn’t like. The consequences would have been sweeping. In the last four years that Dirty Deniers have been in the majority in the House, they’ve voted to block many lifesaving Clean Air Act Rules, but those bills have gone nowhere in the Senate and would have been vetoed by president. If the REINS Act process had been in place, House action alone would have been enough to stop every one of those rules.

A large Big Polluter Agenda bill, which included the REINS Act, failed on a vote of 40-56.

Climate Denier

Sen. Paul is a climate denier. His profile at WhoVotesDirty.com shows that he’s voted at least nine times to deny the human contribution to climate change or to block action on climate change. Paul has claimed that there is a “full throated debate” on climate change science and that the science on climate change is “not conclusive.” Paul has been given some credit for voting earlier this year in favor of an amendment declaring climate change as real and acknowledging a human contribution and for suggesting in an interview with Bill Maher that he’d be open to regulation. However, with Paul’s otherwise consistent support for the Big Polluter Agenda, I’m far from convinced he is on the side of climate action.

A Denier Can’t Win

Paul surely knows that 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. I’m skeptical, but trying to remain hopeful, that Paul might come around to a more environmentally-friendly position. He’s not making it easy when just last week he introduced a new bill that would essentially repeal the Clean Water Act.

As a physician, you’d think Sen. Paul would understand the importance of clean air and clean water to human health. As a politician, you’d think he’d understand that voters don’t want to elect leaders who are advocating The Big Polluter Agenda.

Who Votes Dirty? 

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Washington doesn’t have the bright lights and flashy showgirls of the Vegas strip, but some lawmakers sure seem to have adopted Vegas’s motto. Unfortunately for them, what happens in Washington is no longer going to stay in Washington. Thanks to a newly designed whovotesdirty.com website, it’s easier than ever for concerned citizens to find out the truth about the voting records of their elected officials—and the dirty industries that help get them in office.

WhoVotesDirty.com is a new one-stop shop for holding lawmakers accountable when it comes to clean air and clean energy. Americans from across the political spectrum and from every part of the country strongly support strengthening protections for clean air, investing in clean energy and acting on climate change. So, why aren’t their Representatives and Senators in Congress consistently voting in favor of these clean policies? Maybe receiving thousands of dollars from dirty energy interests is clouding their view—just like their dirty air votes are polluting our skies. Their votes to increase pollution may be harming the hearts, lungs and brains of Americans, but armed with the facts, our voices will be stronger than ever.

WhoVotesDirty.com puts the facts about dirty votes and dirty money at voters’ fingertips.It makes it easy to speak out and hold Dirty Air Villains accountable. Here’s how it works:

  1. Find your elected officials. Search your zip code or a lawmaker’s name.
  2. Villain or hero? Officials are clearly labeled as villains or heroes. Villains vote dirty at least 80 percent of the time, while heroes vote clean at least 80 percent of the time. Anyone not labeled falls somewhere in the middle.
  3. Dirty money. The amount of money received from polluters is clearly displayed. You may notice a trend: those receiving more money from polluters tend to vote dirty more often than those receiving little money from polluters.
  4. See the votes. Click on any legislator to see exactly how they voted on every major clean energy or clean air bill, resolution and amendment from the last three years.
  5. Talk back. A link to each lawmaker’s Twitter feed is embedded right into the website. When you find out your elected representatives are Dirty Air Villains, you are just 140 characters away from reminding them that they answer to their living, breathing constituents, not the Big Polluter industriesthat bankroll their campaigns.

Let’s take it for a spin. Say you are from Louisville, Kentucky. Let’s get started by putting in your zip code.

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What do you find? Ouch, two very villainous senators when it comes to clean air and clean energy.

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Wow. Senator Mitch McConnell received $3.8 million from polluters and the newly-announced 2016 presidential contender, Senator Rand Paul, received $235,890.

At least your House Member, Rep. John Yarmuth is a clean air hero!

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Let’s take a closer look by clicking on Mitch McConnell to see his envrionmental voting record. It’s not pretty—11 dirty votes in the last three years. A 100 percent record of voting against clean air and clean energy. No wonder the NRDC Action Fund is holding him accountable on the airways with our new ad bringing to light his first 100 Dirty Days pushing the Big Polluter Agenda.

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It’s time to take action. Let’s send him a tweet right now.

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You just helped unmask lawmakers who have already been voting as Dirty Air Villains, showing them that their anti-health, anti-environment priorities are not going unnoticed. But, to make your voice heard when it really matters—before the votes are cast—click on the “take action” and “join us” tabs at the top of WhoVotesDirty.com to stay informed in real-time of pending votes and opportunities to speak up.

Sorry, Dirty Air Villains, WhoVotesDirty.com is taking what happens in Washington to every living room, office and mobile phone in your district.

Secretary Clinton’s Record

When it comes to what the American people are looking for in their next President, there is fairly broad consensus on topics of clean air, clean water, and being a good steward of our environment. For months now, we’ve been saying that a climate change denier will have a hard time winning the White House in 2016. Multiple public polls back this up. In one such poll, 53 percent of Republican voters and 87 percent of Democratic voters support the EPA’s plan to limit climate change pollution from power plants. Key voting blocs of Independent women (62 percent) and Republican women (59 percent) want the EPA to rein in the pollution that causes climate change and makes air dirtier and more dangerous to breathe.

With her announcement today that she is formally running for President, Hillary Clinton is the only candidate who’s entered the race that isn’t a climate denier. But it’s not going to be enough to simply acknowledge that climate change is real and happening. The country needs bold leadership and willingness to fight the Big Polluter Agenda and its seemingly unlimited funding.

Secretary Clinton’s campaign is brand new and we haven’t yet heard from her in detail her plans to act on climate. What we can do is look to her record:

  • She testified before Congress multiple times about a US commitment to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and reducing carbon pollution. She’s cited climate change as a threat to human security, food security, and national security.
  • From her first trip to China as Secretary of State, she placed a heavy focus on getting China to agree to deal on global warming (which later happened in 2014). In many of her overseas trips she stressed the importance of energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy.
  • Secretary Clinton ranked climate change 2nd on her list of 21st century challenges that countries are facing. She encouraged a new way of tackling challenges and cited an international climate coalition (called the Climate and Clean Air Coalition) as an example of an innovative approach.
  • As a Senator, Clinton had an 87% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters (until it got reduced by 5 points for missing votes while on the 2008 presidential campaign trail). We hope that we can work with her on those negative votes, like on offshore oil drilling, to convince her that we need to transition off of dirty fuels.
  • Former White House advisor John Podesta, who led many of the Obama administration’s climate change efforts, has joined her presidential campaign.

At this early stage in the 2016 election, our hope is that every presidential candidate will come out strongly for action on climate change. We’re excited today that Hillary Clinton may be such a candidate. In 2014 she said, “the unprecedented action that President Obama has taken [on the Clean Power Plan] must be protected at all cost.” As a new grandmother and as the former chief foreign affairs officer of our nation, Clinton fully understands what’s at stake.

We are looking for a leader who will work tirelessly to commit to cut carbon pollution by at least 28 percent by 2025, and thereafter to achieve even greater reductions as required by sound science, and lead a transition to an economy powered by clean, renewable and efficient energy. We need someone who will demonstrate the global leadership needed to get our partners around the world to do their part to protect the well-being of the planet through strong international agreements, and defend and strengthen the fundamental safeguards that protect our air, water, lands, and wildlife.

The American electorate is ready for nothing less.

Goodbye to Two of our First Green Female Champs in the Senate

Today is the last day of women’s history month. This year, two fantastic women senators will mark the ends of their historic Senate careers. Senators Barbara Boxer and Barbara Mikulski have served a collective 70 years in Congress. In those decades, they’ve established themselves as strong environmental champions.

Barbara Mikulski

Senator Mikulski has represented Maryland in Congress since she was first elected to the House in 1976. She is now the longest-serving female member of Congress in history.

Mikulski has demonstrated a consistent commitment to environmental protection and clean energy throughout her decades in Congress. She has earned a lifetime score of 84% from the League of Conservation Voters. She’s consistently voted to act on climate change, to support clean energy and to improve and uphold bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act.

Mikulski’s environmental passion has been saving the Chesapeake Bay. According to her own website, “Mikulski fights to improve the Bay’s health and looks out for the people who depend on it for their livelihoods.” A report from E&E News described Mikulski as someone who saw “the estuary as not just an ecological gem, but a driver of the region’s blue-collar economy, providing jobs for watermen and shellfish for restaurants, and drawing tourists to the state.” Mikulski has consistently worked to improve the bay’s water quality, habitats and fisheries. In a statement on her retirement, Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said: “It is hard to imagine how the Chesapeake Bay will survive without Sen. Mikulski. Just as her beloved oyster is a keystone species in the Bay’s ecology, Sen. Mikulski has been a political cornerstone of support for saving the Bay.”

Barbara Boxer

First elected to the House of Representatives in 1982 using the slogan “Barbara Boxer Gives a Damn”, the junior senator from California has lived up to her promise. Boxer has given a damn time and again when it comes to environmental protection. Boxer has not only earned a lifetime score of 90% from the League of Conservation Voters, she has been a leader on many of the most important issues in recent decades.

As the Chairman and now Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Boxer has led the charge to fight off attacks on lifesaving Clean Air Act protections. In 2010, Boxer helped defeat a resolution that would have overturned EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. In 2011, Boxer led the opposition to a resolution that would have overturned EPA’s regulation to control air pollution that crosses state lines. In 2012, Boxer again helped lead the opposition in stopping a resolution that sought to block EPA’s first-ever standards to control mercury and other hazardous air pollution from power plants.

In recent years Boxer has been a critical leader in stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline and working to forge solutions to comprehensively address the dangerous carbon pollution that causes climate change.

In addition, Boxer has been a champion for safe drinking water, leading efforts to reduce arsenic and lead in drinking water and to improve community right-to-know protections regarding drinking water contaminants. She has also worked tirelessly to preserve California’s precious public lands. Boxer has protected more than 1 million acres of federal public land in California as wilderness including along Northern California’s Coast in Big Sur and the Los Padres Forest. Boxer also championed legislation that converted Pinnacles National Monument and San Francisco’s Presidio into National Parks and legislation that expanded Sequoia National Park.

Looking Ahead

I know we’ll miss these two green champions when they leave the Senate at the end of the year. However, the Senate women have come a long way, thanks in large part to the leadership and example of Mikulski and Boxer. We now have a tremendous bench of women senators who will carry the torch – like recent Running Clean leaders Jeanne Shaheen and Mazie Hirono.

We’ll be looking forward to the new generation for leadership in climate action and creating a clean energy future, but we’ll be sure to look back at Mikulski and Boxer for inspiration.

Which Way Does the Wind Blow the GOP on Wind?

At the conclusion of the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, said of the president’s victories in Iowa and Colorado that the “wind energy tax credit was an issue in both of those states.” With President Obama supporting the tax credit and Mitt Romney not only opposing the wind production tax credit (PTC) but dismissing wind energy jobs as “imaginary.” Messina believed that wind energy had been a wedge issue for voters in these critically important swing states, a factor in Obama’s victory.

Wind energy will again be a wedge issue in these political and clean energy powerhouse states in 2016. In Iowa, wind energy now exceeds 25 percent of total electricity production according to the American Wind Energy Association. According to the Iowa Wind Energy Association, more than $9.8 billion dollars of capital has been invested in Iowa’s wind farms and manufacturing facilities. Furthermore, Iowa currently ranks third for wind energy employment, supporting 6,000 to 7,000 jobs. With Iowa also serving as the first state to hold primary caucuses, the state’s wind energy industry could prove to be a factor in choosing the major parties’ eventual nominees.

The wind PTC, a performance-based incentive, has helped the US wind industry build more than 550 facilities and contributed to the price of wind power declining by 43% in recent years.  A recent study from the Department of Energy found that wind power could grow from supplying 5% of US electricity, as it does today, to supplying 35% by 2050. President Obama has called for a permanent extension of the PTC to make that clean energy future happen.

Despite the PTC’s success, many in the Republican field seems content to repeat Romney’s mistake of opposing clean energy and advocating to abolish the PTC – either immediately or in the near future. Here’s a rundown of where the current field of likely candidates stands on the issue.

Jeb Bush – This month in Iowa, Bush called for a short-term extension of the wind energy production tax credit (PTC), followed by a 3 to 5 year phase out.

Chris Christie – As governor of New Jersey, Christie signed into law incentives for offshore wind energy, including tax incentives. Christie reportedly “hasn’t clarified” his position on the federal PTC. Encouragingly, the Wall Street Journal reports that he “wouldn’t repudiate the wind tax credit.”

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio – The trio of senators oppose extending the PTC. Most recently, Cruz and Paul voted against a nonbinding Sense of the Senate resolution on the topic. Rubio missed the vote.

Mike Huckabee – The former Arkansas governor has “danced around whether or not he supported the wind energy tax credit…” “I think it needs to be debated,” Huckabee said, adding that no government programs should be given “unquestionable life.”

Rick Perry – While Perry’s home state of Texas is home to huge amounts of wind power, Perry “sounded somewhat contrite for supporting the wind tax credit” and opposes federal incentives.

Rick Santorum – When campaigning during the 2011 primary, Santorum called for a phase out of all tax incentives for energy.

Scott Walker – Wisconsin governor Paul Walker described the PTC as having “served the purpose.” He continued that he “would support phasing that out over a period of time.”

To win in 2016, the party’s leaders should recognize what regular people already know. Polling finds overwhelming support for the wind PTC: 73 percent of registered voters support continuing the PTC, including 63 percent of registered Republicans. It’s time for the Republican presidential field to see that swing state voters want their energy clean and they want it made at home. A climate denier can’t win in 2016 – neither can a clean energy naysayer.