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Fond Farewell to Retiring Environmental Champions

Late Thursday night, three of the longest-serving environmental champions in Congress took their final votes. Representatives John Dingell, George Miller, and Henry Waxman are retiring. They surely deserve the rest, but –  oh! – how the environmental community will miss having them in the House. With gratitude, we bid them a fond farewell.

John Dingell

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Congressman Dingell is retiring after setting the record as the longest-serving member of Congress ever. He served 59 admirable years, many of them as Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in which he wrote and worked for some of the most important environmental accomplishments on the books. Mr. Dingell describes himself as “an avid conservationist and outdoorsman.” Inspired to protect that great outdoors, Dingell authored and worked to pass many of the laws that we now call “bedrock environmental laws.” Dingell was an architect of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the 1990 updates to the Clean Air Act. He worked to protect wildlife through the National Wildlife Refuge system and to protect marine life through the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

George Miller

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Congressman Miller, the former chair of the House Natural Resources committee, is retiring after serving 40 years in Congress. Miller was a tireless advocate of the environment, especially on the issues of expanding and protection national parks and forests and protecting his state’s water supply. Miller was a lead sponsor of the California Desert Protection Act, which created Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve. Miller spent decades working to improve California’s water quality, restore fisheries and reduce wasteful water use.

Henry Waxman

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Congressman Waxman is retiring after 40 years in Congress. During that time, he amassed a long list of legislative accomplishments on behalf of the environment. Representing Los Angeles, Waxman worked from early in his career to reduce the air pollution that plagued his hometown. He was a primary author of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, which addressed urban smog, acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Waxman also authored the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Food Quality Protection Act. Waxman was one of the earliest congressional advocates of action to address climate change. He introduced the first climate stabilization bill in congress in 1992 and was the primary author of comprehensive climate and energy legislation that passed the House in 2009. Since then, Waxman has led the Safe Climate Caucus and continued to work for action on climate change.

To these three legislative lions, we offer our sincerest thanks and wish you the happiest of retirements.

 

Meet the Two House Members-elect Who Took Down Dirty Deniers

In less than a month, we’ll be swearing in the 114th Congress. In too many ways, it isn’t the Congress I wanted. Too many Dirty Denier$ won their races last month and too many clean energy champions will be home in their districts instead of fighting for action on climate change in Washington. However, a strong group of champions will continue to fight for the policies that Americans support. These champs will also have some enthusiastic and committed new members joining the cause. Today I want to tell you about two of these new members who are especially notable because they defeated true Dirty Denier$ opponents on Election Day.

Gwen Graham

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Gwen Graham will be heading to Washington to represent Florida’s 2nd District. This panhandle district includes miles of Gulf coastline and Graham’s cites a childhood “exploring our beautiful natural treasures” in the region as the root of her commitment to environmental protection.

Graham began her career as a private sector attorney focusing on energy and environmental law. As a candidate, her views on climate change contrasted sharply with her opponent. Incumbent Steve Southerland was a climate denier, while Graham unequivocally embraced the science, saying, “I agree with the overwhelming majority of scientists that say we should be concerned about the possible effects of climate change.”

Graham’s father, Bob Graham, was a strong supporter of environmental protection, kick-staring efforts to protect the Everglades as governor ad earning an 81 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters for his time in the U.S. Senate. I agree with Gwen that “conservation shouldn’t be a partisan issue” and hope she will continue her father’s legacy of advancing common-sense policies that protect the environment.

Brad Ashford

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Brad Ashford will be representing Nebraska’s 2nd District, which encompasses the state’s capital, Omaha. Ashford, an attorney and state legislator, is expected to offer far greater support for environmental protection and clean energy than the member he’s replacing, Lee Terry.

Terry is a climate denier, who doubted “the true impact of man” on the world’s climate. Terry earned an abominable 9 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters for his consistent votes to undermine bedrock environmental laws, continue subsidies for Big Oil, and to stop climate action. Terry has also been one of the leading proponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would travel through Nebraska, threatening the state’s water supply and agricultural industries.

Ashford, though he signed a letter indicating support for Keystone, also voted to authorize a study of the environmental impacts of the pipeline. He has also pledged to support incentives for clean energy sources like wind and solar power. That’s already head and shoulders above the Dirty Denier$ he’s replacing.

Welcome

I’m looking forward to welcoming these new members of congress to Washington in the new year. We’ll be watching and urging them to live up to our high hopes that they will govern as they ran – by Running Clean.

Happy Thanksgiving from the NRDC Action Fund

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. I so need this. Even-numbered years are always grueling at the NRDC Action Fund, but this one was particularly tough. The stakes seem to grow higher every day and most of the outcomes of this year’s election weren’t what I’d hoped for. I’m looking forward to a few days off, a few days home with my family, some delicious food, and a chance to reflect on all of the things for which I am grateful.

I’d like to share with you a few of the things on my environmental gratitude list this Thanksgiving.

Re-election of Clean Energy Champions

I am thankful the voters in New Hampshire and Maine re-elected their fantastic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Susan Collins. These two were Running Clean from the start, working for solutions to climate change, improvements in energy efficiency and investments in new technologies like offshore wind that will reduce carbon pollution. Shaheen and Collins both have track records of working to find bipartisan solutions to big problems like climate change, and I’m so glad to know they’ll be back in the Senate for six more years. They join other reelected champs, like Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley, (D-OR), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Election of New Clean Energy Champions

I am thankful the House and Senate will be welcoming some great new members in January, who are well-prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Dirty Deniers who will be in control. Michigan voters will be represented by Gary Peters in the Senate and we are eager to see what Gwen Graham of Florida and Brad Ashford of Nebraska will do in the House. Peters has been working toward climate solutions, especially with regard to clean cars, for years in the House and Graham and Ashford are a welcome change from the climate skeptics they are replacing.

Progress on the International Stage

I am thankful the world is moving forward on tackling climate change. Just two weeks ago, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly agreed to make substantial reductions in their countries’ carbon pollution. It’s been called a “watershed moment” as the world’s two largest emitters have agreed to break the deadlock that has gripped the world’s climate negotiations for years. While we need to make progress much more quickly, I’m thankful for this important step forward.

Clean Power Plan

I am thankful for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The draft plan, released in June, would reduce carbon pollution 30% below 2005 emissions by 2030. It would also save the lives of 3,500 Americans in 2020 and every year after. We can’t afford to wait, and the EPA’s work to reduce carbon pollution is galvanizing international action.

Clean Energy Getting More Affordable

I am thankful the world’s investments in clean energy are paying off. Clean energy is getting cheaper. According to a recent report from Deutsche Bank, “solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states” by 2016. Even if our solar tax credits are reduced, we’ll still see “grid parity” in 36 states that year. As prices come down, the arguments for clean energy and climate action get stronger. The Dirty Deniers are running out of excuses.

You

I am thankful for you. I am thankful for all the supporters of the NRDC Action Fund. I’m thankful for the more than 23,000 people who follow our Facebook page and the 4,500 people who follow our Twitter stream. I’m thankful for every one of you who have taken action to support candidates who are Running Clean with your donations and your votes and for every one of you who have told your elected leaders that you want Action on Climate.

Now, let’s go eat some turkey.

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.