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Baron Hill Is Running for Senate. Will He Run Clean?

Indiana voters may have a chance to significantly change their state’s representation in Congress when they go to the polls next fall to elect a replacement for retiring senator Dan Coats. Coats, who returned to the Congress in 2010 after a break following nearly two decades of service, has earned himself the title of Dirty Air Villain. One declared candidate, Baron Hill, has the potential to be a Running Clean candidate who can speak up for Indianans who want to breathe cleaner air and who want action on climate.

Dan Coats’ Dirty Record

Dan Coats WVD

The open seat is currently occupied by Dan Coats, one of the dirtiest members of the Senate. Coats is a Dirty Air Villain in the WhoVotesDirty.com database, having voted 100 percent of the time against clean air. He’s received $626,916 from polluting industries. While Coats has a not-terrible lifetime score of 25 percent with the League of Conservation Voters, Coats hasn’t cast a pro-environment vote since 1998.

Coats has been a leading climate denier in the Senate. As you can see from this January tweet, Coats seems to think climate change is a joke, not a serious problem deserving action.

Coats is an original cosponsor of the Capito Polluter Protection Act, which would derail EPA’s Clean Power Plan and halt important steps to address climate change. Coats has also worked to block limits on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, with a bill, an amendment and his votes.

Two declared candidates appear ready to follow in Coats’ footsteps. Eric Holcomb is Coats’ former Chief of Staff and has received Coats’ endorsement. Rep. Marlin Stutzman is a current member of congress, a Dirty Air Villain who has received $115,336 from polluters so far and who has a 7 percent lifetime score from LCV. I think it’s fair to assume these guys would pursue the Big Polluter Agenda.

Indiana can do better.

Baron Hill’s Record

Former congressman Baron Hill has announced he’ll run for the seat being vacated by Coats. During the 2010 election season we described Hill as having a “strong record” on the environment, pointing out his solid 86 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and 93 percent rating from Environment America. Most importantly, Hill voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), a comprehensive energy and climate change bill that would have limited dangerous carbon pollution.

Hill didn’t just vote for the bill. He worked it, writing an op-ed in his hometown paper, improving the bill with an energy efficiency component, and making an argument that Pope Francis would probably approve:

“Look, folks: this is God’s green earth and we ought to respect it. We ought to do what is right for our environment. This bill is what’s right for our environment. This is God’s green earth and we ought to protect it.”

Hill is a Blue Dog Democrat from a coal-dependent state who was long considered a “maybe” on the climate bill. He could easily have opposed climate action as others in similar positions (like fellow Indiana Blue Dog and now-Senator Joe Donnelly) did. Hill didn’t do it. He did the hard work of getting to yes, finding ways to make the bill better for his state and his district and ending up on the right side of history. Some might say he lost his seat for it (though that’s not true, as post-election analysis of the 2010 results found “no overall effect” of voting for the bill compared with strong negative effects for other controversial legislation). But, he fought for what he believed was right and I like to think that voters will reward him for that next fall.

November 2016

Next fall, Hoosiers will decide what kind of senator to send to Washington. Will they send someone who will work to advance the Big Polluter Agenda? Or will they send someone with a history of running clean, working to advance protections for the state and its people? I can’t wait to see.

The Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change and What It Means for U.S. Politics

Pope Francis has released a profound and inspiring encyclical on the moral obligation to confront climate change. It urges us to heed nature’s warnings. And it calls on us to tackle the climate threat in the name of justice, human dignity and service to the poor and most vulnerable among us.

As a devoted Christian, I am deeply moved by the pope’s wisdom. As a political junkie, I am intrigued by what it means for the American conversation on climate change.

To be clear, Pope Francis is not wading into partisan debates. His gaze is rightly focused on more transcendent vistas and eternal values. But given his stature and moral authority, this encyclical is bound to shape the U.S. political landscape.

After all, it arrives just as the presidential race is kicking into gear. Seven of the declared or likely candidates are Catholic, and nearly all refer to their Christian faith regularly. Yet only two of the GOP candidates acknowledge the science of climate change: Senator Lindsay Graham and Former New York Governor George Pataki. The Republican leadership in Congress, meanwhile, remains bent on denying climate change and blocking every effort to reduce carbon pollution.

Pope Francis stands above this scrum of climate denial and obstruction. He embodies a spirit of hope, humility and service that many are hungry for.  A full 70 percent of all Americans—including 68 percent of the nonreligious—view the pope favorably, and 90 percent of American Catholics do, according to the Pew Research Center.

A person who is this admired, who is calling on our better angels and emphasizing our duty to protect creation and the poor who will be most adversely affected by climate change impacts, has the power to shake things up. Here are three key elements in the next election that could feel the effects.

  1. The Koch Brothers

The Koch brothers aren’t just funding the fossil fuel opposition, they are funding a lot of churches and universities.  Earlier this year, the Charles Koch foundation gave $1.75 million to Catholic University of America, part of a $3 million pledge to the university.  The money is to be used to create a school of business and economics.  One must wonder what the curriculum will be since the Koch Brothers promote the same unregulated capitalism Pope Francis has railed against in the past.

As the pope establishes climate action as a moral imperative among Christians, the Kochs’ climate obstruction may lose its appeal among the faithful. It will matter how Catholics react and whether this will drive a wedge between the Tea Party movement and the religious community.  A major wedge could hurt voter enthusiasm in the Republican Party.

  1. Religious Youth

Pope Francis will travel to the United States in September, and his public events will likely be packed with young people. My husband still remembers attending Pope John Paul II’s American events with thousands of other youth groups. In the age of social media, the current (and tweeting) Pontifex has already connected with young people. These kids have grown up learning about climate science, and now the Pope is placing climate action within the realm of religious duty.  The Pope will address Congress during his trip.  These kinds of speeches to Congress often turns into a mock kid’s baseball games where side stands up with thunderous applause and the other pretends to hear crickets as each side “scores”.  When Pope Francis calls for our leaders to act like statesmen by leading on climate – a catastrophe that is hurting our world’s poor disproportionately – who will stand up and applaud and who will look to the ground?  What will that image mean to our nation’s youth?

This could make the GOP’s youth problem even worse. Former Governor Mitt Romney lost young voters by 26 percentage points in the last race, and in the 2014 midterms, voters under 30 favored Democrats by a 13-point margin. Young Catholics who have rallied around conservative social issues may now be throwing their energy behind climate justice and carbon limits. GOP candidates who refute the very existence of global warming will look like dinosaurs to them.

  1. GOP Candidates

Many GOP candidates make faith a central part of their campaign narrative. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. Chris Christie are all claiming faith as central to why they want to  run (or gear up to run).  What will these men say now that the Successor of Peter has made the moral case for climate action? How will they respond when the Pope addresses Congress in September and likely underscores the need to reduce climate change pollution? Some Republicans may try a variation on their “I’m not a scientist” refrain and claim the Vatican shouldn’t weigh in on scientific matters. That’s like saying the Pope shouldn’t minister to the poor because he isn’t an economist (the Pope does in fact have a masters in chemistry, much to Rick Santorum’s chagrin).

This encyclical is not about science. It’s about our moral duty to shield people from harm and preserve creation for future generations. Now that a globally admired religious leader is shining a spotlight on this duty, it will become harder for GOP candidates to ignore the climate crisis. They may still fail to offer any solutions, but this encyclical provides one more reason why a climate denier can’t win the White House in 2016.

Jeb Bush: A Climate Denier By Any Other Name Is Still a Climate Denier

Former Governor Jeb Bush made it official: he finally announced he is running for president. In his speech and media appearances, he declared it’s time for solutions.  “We can fix the problems that people think are intractable. With leadership we can move forward again. We can be the greatest country on the face of the Earth again.”

Does this focus on solving tough challenges mean Bush will tackle the climate crisis? Not likely.

He dodges around the science and refuses to offer a single plan. This bobbing and weaving may leave some GOP heads spinning. Conservatives will want more forthright climate denial, while the half of all Republicans who favor government limits on carbon pollution support acting on climate.

Bush ironically launched his presidential campaign from Miami, a coastal city already being hit hard by climate change. Sea levels in Miami have risen nearly 1 foot in the past century. Miami Beach has to spend $400 million on new pumping systems to keep ocean waters from swamping overburden sewers. The nearby city of Hallandale Beach had to stop using six of its eight drinking water wells after they were infiltrated by saltwater. According to Swiss Re, southeast Florida’s economy could be hit by $33 billion in damages from climate change in the next 15 years.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, seems to have his head buried in the sand of one of those Florida beaches.

He has said recently that he is “concerned” about climate change. Yet in New Hampshire last month, he attacked the science: “The climate is changing. I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted. And for people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you.”

In my view, arrogance is when 97 out of 100 experts identify a problem and you say, “I know better.” A full 97 percent of scientists agree that the climate is changing and human activity is causing it. Bush can characterize this as convoluted, but the facts don’t budge.

Bush seems to be testing out a variety of positions. One minute he questions the evidence, the next he calls for grounding environmentalism in faith and morality—an interesting gambit considering the head of his church is about to release a Papal Encyclical pronouncing climate action as a moral duty.

Bush entered the GOP presidential race late and stepped onto a crowded field. Perhaps he is trying to distinguish himself from the far right and the super far right candidates by striking a seemingly more moderate tone.

But here is the hard truth: If you say the climate is changing but fail to acknowledge the role of human activity, then you are still a climate denier. And if you acknowledge the science of climate change, but fail to declare how America should deal with it, then you are still a climate denier. For inaction in the face of grave danger is another form of denial.

Imagine if the Greatest Generation had said fascism is a threat, but we aren’t going to do anything about it. Or if President George W Bush, President Obama and the nation’s leading economists had said the Great Recession is real, but we don’t have to respond. Democrats and Republicans continue to disagree about which policies saved our nation from the brink of economic collapse, but at least they did something.

Candidate Bush says he wants to solve the tough challenges. We await his climate action plan.

The thing we should be talking about when it comes to the Democratic presidential field

I’m taking a break from writing “absurd things radical presidential candidates say” to bring you some promising news instead. In addition to Hillary Clinton, there are three new candidates who’ve joined the race for the Democratic nomination for president, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and former Rhode Island Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee. Many pundits want to talk about whether any of these men have a chance to beat Secretary Clinton, but I think that conversation misses a more important point.

The real headline here is that every Democratic candidate is in agreement about the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, move away from dirty fossil fuels, and invest in clean sources of energy. Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley, and Chafee aren’t quibbling about what a few fringe scientists say about the exact cause of rising air and sea temperatures. They don’t twist their sentences into pretzels trying to deny denying or hoping to make the questions go away.

Instead of talking about if a non-Clinton candidate can win, or “move Clinton to the left,” let’s talk about how a strong and unified message on climate action can clear the way for more bold leadership on this issue, from both sides of the aisle. Let’s figure out how we can use this unity to the public’s advantage to get to a point where climate change isn’t political anymore.

Where the Democratic Candidates Stand

Sanders, O’Malley, and Chafee have long records of leadership on climate change. In their announcement speeches and comments to the press, the need to act on climate was echoed throughout:

 “Climate change is real. We must create an American jobs agenda to build a new renewable energy future.” – O’Malley

“When we talk about our responsibilities as human beings and as parents, there is nothing more important than leaving this country and the entire planet in a way that is habitable for our kids and grandchildren. The debate is over. The scientific community has spoken in a virtually unanimous voice. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world.” – Sanders

“We can address climate change and extreme weather while protecting American jobs.” – Chafee

In addition to frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s decision to hire John Podesta as her campaign chairman (Podesta was Obama’s top adviser on climate issues and has been called a key architect of Obama’s more recent aggressive push for carbon pollution reduction), she has also made it clear that climate would be a priority for her in the White House:

“The unprecedented action that President Obama has taken [on the Clean Power Plan] must be protected at all cost.” – Clinton (in 2014)

“I have no doubt that [Clinton] will move forward with an aggressive program to move the country to a cleaner energy system and do what the United States needs to do to meet the target.” – Podesta

“Failing to take steps today to curb carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. would endanger our economy, our national security, and our children’s future.” – Podesta

Moving the Conversation on Climate

The American people are ready to move past the discussion about whether or not climate change is happening (80% agree). When the Democratic candidates get together on one stage to debate issues, they will display united leadership on climate change, and also perhaps encourage each other to be even bolder.

Sanders—who, despite trailing far behind Clinton, has as much support as any of the leading Republican candidates—calls climate change “the greatest environmental threat facing the planet” and has made it one of the three pillars of his campaign. As Senator, he co-sponsored the Climate Protection Act of 2013, which would put a fee on carbon and methane emissions from coal, oil and natural gas production and use the revenue to invest in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Sanders also introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act to end subsidies and tax breaks for big oil and fossil fuel companies.

Sanders has been one of the leaders of the opposition to Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. “The idea that we would give a green light for the transportation of 800,000 barrels of some of the dirtiest oils all over the world makes no sense to me,” he said last year. Sanders was also responsible for introducing an amendment to the Keystone Pipeline approval bill to put the Senate on record that climate change is real and human-caused.

O’Malley also boasts a strong record on environmental issues in his time as Governor, including doubling the state’s renewable energy standard to 20%. Far ahead of most other states, and even the EPA, O’Malley signed Maryland’s 2009 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, which set a statewide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25% below 2006 levels by 2020. By 2012, Maryland had driven down greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10% compared to 2006, and by 20% compared to “business as usual” projections.

In 2011, Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave Gov. O’Malley a B+ overall in their Governor’s Report Card (and an A for climate change).

Chafee, who switched political parties from Republican to Independent to Democrat over the last decade in part because of President George W. Bush’s broken promises on cleaning up carbon pollution, left the Senate with a 78% lifetime rating from LCV. As Governor, he championed and signed into law a comprehensive climate change bill for the state that aimed to reduce Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (from 1990 levels).

A Strong and Unified Message to #ActonClimate

I’m glad to see the climate and clean energy message echoed among all four of the Democratic candidates. Let’s hope that this leadership will “trickle down” to the Republican candidates before November 2016 comes.

You Won’t Believe What Rand Paul Said About His Environmental Record

Here’s a short quiz to see how well you’ve been paying attention to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Q: Which Presidential candidate makes this statement in a new book? “I’m a crunchy conservative and a tree hugger and proud of it.

  1. Is it Hillary Clinton, who earned an 82% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, who prioritized climate change as Secretary of State, and who ranked climate change as a top challenge our country is facing?
  2. Is it Bernie Sanders, who earned a 95% lifetime LCV score and has sponsored legislation to address climate change?
  3. Is it Rand Paul, who earned a 9% lifetime LCV score, a 100% WhoVotesDirty score, and has been a champion of the Big Polluter Agenda in congress?

If you guessed Rand Paul, then you’re right, but I’m super confused. Why in the world would you guess that Rand Paul is the conservationist in this campaign? Rand Paul is a climate denier and one of the most consistent voices of and voters for the Big Polluter Agenda in Congress.

Rand’s Record

In calling himself a conservationist, Paul cited that he composts and believes in clean air and clean water. Paul notes that he has planted giant sequoias in his yard and repurposed old trees used for a fort to build compost bins. I’m thrilled he does those things but it’s going to take a lot more than a few trees and some backyard mulch to offset all Paul has done to harm the planet.

A few highlights of Paul’s leadership and voting record:

  • 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 every year – would never have been realized.
  • Paul was the Senate sponsor of a bill nicknamed the REINS Act, which would have turned the current regulatory process upside-down by allowing a majority in any single chamber of Congress to stop a regulation it did not like.
  • Paul’s “Platform to Revitalize America” proposed selling off our National Parks, eliminating the Department of Energy and sun-setting all regulations of every kind.
  • In 2012, Paul voted for a Senate resolution to block long-overdue reductions in mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. The standards would prevent 11,000 premature deaths; nearly 5,000 heart attacks; 130,000 asthma attacks; 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits; and 540,000 days when people miss work and school each year.
  • Just last month, Paul sponsored legislation that would effectively repeal the Clean Water Act.

Does that look like a conservationist’s record to you?

Republicans and the Big Polluter Agenda

Paul doesn’t just talk about his own record, but talks about his party too. He says, “It boggles my mind to think that somehow Republicans have been branded as a party that doesn’t like the environment.” Hmmm…how in the world did they get that reputation?

Could it have something to do with the fact that:

  • In the first four years that John Boehner and his Republican party controlled the House, the House voted against the environment more than 500 times?
  • In giving the Keystone XL pipeline legislation the bill number of 1, the Senate, which was led by Republicans this January for the first time since 2007, indicated that the Big Polluter Agenda was its top priority?
  • Every dirty vote in the com database was sponsored by a Republican?

Rand’s Topsy Turvy Label

If Rand Paul’s a tree hugger, what absurd labels will come next? Is Phillip Morris now an anti-cancer advocate? Is Ronald McDonald an anti-obesity crusader? Does Mr. Peanut have a nut allergy?

It’s time to stop the charade. Paul knows that the Big Polluter Agenda is out of step with American values. No amount of Paul’s backyard compost is going to cover up the manure he’s shoveling when he calls himself a tree hugger.