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Rubio’s Week Ahead: Ditch DC, Deny Science

Senator Marco Rubio has ambitious plans this week. As the Senate wrestles with the Republicans’ Keystone XL pipeline legislation, Rubio will be skipping town to bolster his presidential bid. This legislation has implications for fossil fuel dependence and climate change. And one of its amendments may address offshore drilling in the senator’s own state of Florida. But Rubio has a book to sell and a campaign to fund.

This isn’t the first time Rubio has turned his back on issues that matter for his state.

Florida is ground zero for climate change. According to America’s top scientists, the state is “exceptionally vulnerable” to sea-level rise and extreme heat events that trigger asthma attacks, heat stroke, and other health risks.

Yet Rubio willfully ignored the climate threat. He has leaned on the “I’m not a scientist” line, placing him in the GOP know-nothing camp. And he has opposed any effort to address climate change, putting him firmly in the GOP do-nothing crowd as well.

Paralysis may play well with the conservative base, but it won’t help Rubio in a general election.

A climate denier can’t win the White House in 2016. Polling shows that too many Americans are concerned about climate change to give the highest office in the land to someone who ignores this threat to our health, economy, and security.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey, a full 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats support limiting climate change pollution from power plants. In Rubio’s own state of Florida, a bipartisan team of researchers from Hart Research Associates and American Viewpoint found that 74 percent of voters favor limits on this dangerous pollution.

Voters are looking for a leader who will confront the big challenges, not deny their existence.

And there is no denying Rubio is a denier. Noticing changes in the climate is not enough to place you in the realm of reality. The overwhelming scientific evidence confirms that those changes are caused by human activity. You have to recognize both facts in order to shake the denier label. Yet last week, Rubio voted against two amendments acknowledging the role human’s play in causing climate change.

Like so many other Republican lawmakers, Rubio is sticking to denial in the face of scientific fact, voter concern, and campaign strategy. Perhaps because it benefits another important force: political donors.

Over the past two years, oil, gas, and coal companies spent more than $721 million to support their candidates and interests in Congress, and now GOP lawmakers are pushing a Big Polluter Agenda. This dirty agenda includes trying to block measures to reduce climate change pollution from fossil fuels.

These same companies will no doubt pour enormous amounts of money into the 2016 elections. Last weekend, for instance, Rubio kicked off his book tour at a forum hosted by the Koch brothers in Palm Springs for potential GOP candidates and conservative activists and donors.

Pit stops like these will fill the coffers, but come Election Day, most voters will be looking for a leader who doesn’t ignore scientific reality and who stands up for the people of his state.

Running Clean or Running Scared?

A batch of Senate amendments this week revealed the awkward maneuvering going on within the Republican Party on climate change. After months of some GOP lawmakers holding fast to denial and some demurring “I’m not a scientist,” a handful of Senate Republicans voted to forthrightly acknowledge that human activity is driving climate change.

But the Senate Republican membership as a whole still stuck to a dispiriting mix of denial and obfuscation.  And perhaps worst of all, even most of those Senators who voted to acknowledge the existence of man-made climate change, simply shifted from the know-nothing category to the do-nothing one.

Neither position will help our nation deal with this crisis. And neither will resonate with the vast majority of Americans who say in poll after poll they want leaders to address climate change and reduce the carbon pollution that drives it.

So what happened in the Senate?  One amendment, offered by climate champion Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) put the Senate on record, by a vote of 98-1, saying that climate change was not a “hoax.” The amendment passed almost unanimously because it was interpreted as just saying the climate is changing – not why.  The real test for deniers was the amendment put forward by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) stating that human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change.

The former amendment is the equivalent of saying cigarettes release smoke. The latter recognizes that cigarettes cause lung cancer—and gets us headed toward solving a devastating problem.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that pollution from human activity causes climate change. To stand on the side of fact and reality, lawmakers must recognize the link between pollution and climate disruption.

Republicans who flirt with references to a changing climate but refuse to acknowledge the human role in that change can’t shake off the label of climate denier—or flat Earther or ostrich with head in the sand.

The Schatz amendment failed 50-49, but five Republicans demonstrated leadership by voting for it: Senators Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), Ayotte (NH), Graham (SC), and Alexander (TN).

In an effort to give Republicans wiggle room, Senator Hoeven (R-ND) offered an identical amendment that struck the world “significantly” from the text on human activity causing climate change.

The Hoeven amendment does not acknowledge what the science actually says.  The scientific consensus is that the changes we’re seeing in our climate cannot be explained without including human activity, and cannot be addressed without limiting carbon pollution.  The Hoeven amendment was a way to make it look like Republicans accepted the science without actually having them do so.  This simply combines denial with cowardice.  At least figures like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) are open about their beliefs.

Support for the Hoeven amendment seemed strong enough that Hoeven himself panicked and voted no, apparently fearing that denialism is so strong in some quarters that even his tepid amendment would lead some Republicans to turn against the underlying bill which forces approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In the end, the amendment failed 59-40, but fifteen Republicans supported it—seven of whom are up for reelection in 2016, some in purple states.

It’s no wonder Republicans eyeing the next election are rethinking their climate positions. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that two-thirds of voters support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This support reaches into purple and red states: a survey conducted by Harstad Strategic Research reported that 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats say the EPA should limit carbon pollution.

Mitt Romney’s team may be reading the same polls. As he considers a third run for president, Romney described himself this week as “one of those Republicans” who believe that humans contribute to climate change and the U.S. make show “real leadership” on the issue. Romney knows he needs moderate votes to win the White House, and 62 percent of moderate Republicans view climate change as a serious threat, according to new analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Having a few more Republican Senators on-the-record accepting climate change science is, sadly, a notable development. So is more Republicans tacitly acknowledging that forthright denialism is bad politics.  But they can’t stop there. They have to offer a plan for solving it. Right now the GOP Leadership in Congress has not only vowed to block the Obama Administration’s climate action at every turn, they have failed entirely to present their own blueprint for reducing carbon pollution. Their do-nothing position is the hoax that needs revealing.

GOP Choice for Response to State of the Union Shows Their True Intentions- Support Dirty Polluters

The GOP is taking another lurch to the far right tonight. Republican leaders have chosen recently elected Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to deliver the party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Ernst is a veteran who grew up on an Iowa farm. She is also a pistol-packing, anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean-Water-Act opponent endorsed by Sarah Palin, Senator Marco Rubio, and other Tea Party stalwarts.

Her selection offers yet another sign the GOP leadership is doubling down on its Big Polluter Agenda.  Instead of offering solutions to any environmental problems, the GOP is just trying to block any action that polluters oppose.

Ernst burst onto the national scene last year with a pair of attention-grabbing campaign ads. In the first, she tells viewers, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” In the second, Ernst rides a Harley and pulls a handgun from her purse. As she fires off a round, an announcer intones: “Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending. And when she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni’s going to unload.”

But those highly visible ads didn’t trumpet Ernst’s support for tearing down the entire structure for protecting health and the environment.

Ernst says, “Let’s shut down the EPA.” Her argument?  “I do believe our states know best how to protect their natural resources,” Ernst said.

But we already know what life would be like without an EPA because we’ve tried it.  And what did we get prior to the creation of the EPA in 1970?  Air pollution so thick you couldn’t see the George Washington Bridge, though you could see Los Angeles’ brown air from space; meanwhile, thanks to lead in gasoline, nearly 90 percent of American children had lead in their blood at levels deemed unsafe by the Center for Disease Control.

The problem with leaving environmental protection up to the states is glaringly obvious — pollution crosses state lines. Mercury from Midwestern power plants ends up in New England, and toxic runoff from Wisconsin flows down the Mississippi River to Iowa. In fact, states assume that the federal government is going to create an environmental safety net.  More than half of all states are precluded by state laws or policy from adopting safeguards stronger than the federal standard. Imagine if that benchmark didn’t exist: we would see a race to the bottom, with some states weakening protections to attract dirty industries.

Maybe it’s not surprising that Ernst wishes away the simple fact that air and water don’t stop at state borders since she also rejects the science of climate change.  In outright denialist fashion Ernst claims that changes in the climate are “natural.” This is at odds with the 97 percent of climate scientists who have concluded that human activity is the main cause of climate change.

Ernst is especially outspoken, but her views are emblematic of the GOP’s Big Polluter Agenda. When it comes to environmental protection, the GOP motto is “Just say ‘no’.”  Congressional Republicans have vowed to block any and all action on climate change; prevent action to limit smog, and stop efforts to protect more waters under the Clean Water Act.  And that’s just for starters.

That’s totally at odds with the majority of Americans. A Washington Post poll found that 7 in 10 people support the EPA’s action to limit climate change pollution. And 78 percent of voters are somewhat or strongly opposed to rolling back drinking water protections, according to a survey by Hart Research Associates.

If voters aren’t driving the GOP agenda, who is? The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections—87 percent of it on Republicans. And now the Republican majority is putting polluters’ interests before the public’s right to clean air and water.

Sarah Palin proclaimed, “We’ve got faith in Joni!”  The American people have no reason to echo her.


Lawmakers who Back Big Polluters Risk Losing GOP Voters

Energy prices may be plummeting, but oil, gas, and coal companies are seeing a dramatic return on investment in one sector: the US Congress. The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections. And now the GOP majority has vowed to make life easier for polluters by gutting long-standing protections for clean air and water and blocking measures the fight climate change.

Last week, for instance, House Republicans voted to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Representatives who supported the Keystone XL bill received over 8.5 times more oil and gas money in 2014 than those who voted against it. Now the action moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from oil, gas, and coal companies in 2014.

These fossil-fuel favors may please donors, but new research shows that lawmakers risk painting themselves into a corner with Republican voters.

Because in order for GOP leadership to carry out the Big Polluter Agenda, they have to ignore the giant elephant in the room: climate change.

To push for Keystone XL, they have to discount the fact that tar sands oil generates 17 percent more climate change pollution than conventional crude. To block the Environmental Protection Agency’s from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, they have to pretend that unchecked emissions won’t make America’s families, farms, coastal cities and local communities more vulnerable to extreme weather.

In other words, they have to reject the facts.

Many Republican lawmakers are comfortable with this arrangement. The Senate alone is now home to 38 climate deniers who received $28,152,466 from fossil fuel companies over the course of their careers, according to Climate Progress.

But Republican voters who notice the costly increase in drought, floods, and fires are starting to question the wisdom of denial.

New comprehensive analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reveals a growing divide within the Republican Party over climate change.

Overall, 56 percent of GOP voters say they favor government action to reduce climate change pollution. A full 62 percent of moderate Republicans said climate change is a real and present threat, while 38 percent of conservative Republicans and only 29 percent of Tea Party Republicans recognize the reality of climate change.

GOP candidates would be wise to ponder these numbers. They may be able to win primaries by appealing to the most conservative base. They may even carry a few Congressional races by playing to the skeptics. But they cannot win the White House in 2016 by denying climate change.

Climate change has become an inescapable issue on the campaign trail. It emerged in every 2014 Senate race, with journalists, debate moderators, and voters demanding to know where candidates stood. The same will happen in the presidential election. And in a year where the geopolitical map favors Democrats, a GOP candidate can’t afford to alienate Republican moderates who understand the steep cost of extreme weather and unchecked pollution.

By pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, GOP lawmakers risk collecting the cash but losing the people—including a chunk of their own voters.

 

New Polling Confirms Climate Denier will have Hard Road to Win White House in 2016

As 2014 draws to a close, most people are reflecting on what the New Year will bring. The political junkies among us, however, have skipped ahead to 2016 and the presidential race. And we’ve had plenty of material to parse these last few days. Jeb Bush’s announcement that he will “actively explore” a run exploded on Twitter this week, while Senator Elizabeth Warren’s every move has been tracked by analysts.

This week also offered another insight into presidential politics. A new poll released Thursday shows that a climate denier will have a hard time winning the White House in 2016.

The poll, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research surveyed voters in nine battleground states about their attitudes on climate change and clean energy.

Researchers found that more than two-thirds of likely 2016 voters support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit climate change pollution from power plants.  That includes 87 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans.

Support was especially strong among voting blocs that will play a big role in electing the next president. A full 70 percent of Latino and African American voters, for instance, favor the EPA’s plan to address climate change. The numbers for women were especially interesting. Sixty-two percent of Independent woman and 59 percent of Republican women want the EPA to rein in the pollution that causes climate change and makes air dirtier and more dangerous to breathe.

If voters want the EPA to tackle climate change pollution, then they won’t want a president to pretend the climate threat doesn’t even exist.

Americans expect leaders to tackle the big problems, not ignore them. Climate change is hitting home, and communities across the nation are paying a price. Whether it is record-breaking drought in California or dangerous flooding in Detroit or devastating fires in Washington State, extreme weather is damaging people’s homes and threatening their health and livelihood. People are looking to elected officials and government agencies to confront this crisis.

Republican leaders should take note. The growing momentum for climate action should inform their choice of 2016 candidates. But it should also make them reconsider their positions right now.

Incoming Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed to block every effort to reduce climate change pollution, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) plans to continue his course of undermining the EPA whenever possible.

This attack on clean air and climate stability may appeal to polluting industries, but it is not what voters want. The polling released today found that nearly two-thirds of Americans want their US senators to support efforts to address the impacts of climate change on local communities. A full 86 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of Independents, and 43 percent of Republicans agreed.

The Harstad polling—as well as surveys for ABC News/Washington Post, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Gallup, and many others –make it clear that voters want leaders to clean up climate change pollution now, and they will bring that desire into the voting booth in 2016. Putting a climate denier on the ticket or spending two years attacking climate action in Congress won’t appeal to this majority of voters, but a champion who makes the air safer to breathe and shields our families from unchecked climate change will.