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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.

Russ Feingold Announces Senate Run

It may seem like the big news of the 2016 election season is that a new denier is entering the presidential race or quasi-campaigning every week. From Jeb Bush to Rand Paul, Ted Cruz to Marco Rubio, or Fiorina to Huckabee and Carson, you’ve got deniers for every day of the week. But last week, we got some different and very positive news about the upcoming campaign season: Former Wisconsin Senator—and environmental champion—Russ Feingold has announced that he’s running for a rematch against Dirty Denier Ron Johnson, who unseated him five years ago.

Johnson Is A Dirty Denier and Dirty Air Villain

ron johnson

Senator Ron Johnson is a true denier. He has a 100% record of voting against clean air in the database, earning him the Dirty Air Villain title, and a mere 7% lifetime score on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard. Johnson has consistently voted against action on climate change, against clean energy and in favor of the Big Polluter Agenda.

Johnson does not accept the science of climate change. His Senate website states, “Man-made global warming remains unsettled science,” despite the fact that 97% of scientists agree that recent warming is very likely due to human activities. Johnson is so far outside the mainstream that he’s even claimed sunspots are the cause of global warming.

Feingold an Environmental Champion

By comparison, Feingold earned a 95% LCV score for his eighteen years in the Senate. Feingold consistently voted in favor of environmental protection, was a leader of the opposition to Arctic drilling and voted against the Bush-Cheney energy bill.

As a Great Lakes senator, Feingold showed particular leadership of water issues. Year after year, Feingold sponsored the Clean Water Restoration Act, to preserve Clean Water Act protections for millions of miles and acres of streams and wetlands. It’s the same issue that President Obama addressed with a new Clean Water Rule just this week and that the Senate will likely try to kill soon. So far, Johnson hasn’t added his name as a cosponsor, but he’s expressed concerns about the rule and this may soon provide a stark policy contrast between the two Wisconsin politicians.

Feingold on Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, there’s a stark contrast as well. Feingold accepts the science and has consistently voted and spoken out for action.

Feingold has said “Climate change is real and we need to address it.” In 2003, Feingold sponsored so-called “4P” legislation, which would have used the Clean Air Act to reduce four pollutants at coal-fired power plants, including carbon. When the Senate was working on a comprehensive climate plan in 2009, Feingold was part of a group working constructively to ensure that states like Wisconsin—which are heavily dependent on energy-intensive manufacturing and coal-fired electric power—would reap the benefits of climate action. Feingold opposed efforts like those from Senator Lisa Murkowski that would have undone EPA’s endangerment finding and stopped efforts to address carbon pollution, saying “the Murkowski resolution would have stalled our march toward energy independence through more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels and renewable energy, all of which can spur new American jobs.”

With Wisconsin predicted to suffer a wide range of climate impacts on its agriculture and forestry industries, on its coastal and urban communities, and on human health for residents, the state needs a leader who will work to act on climate.

Wisconsin-Style Leadership

Feingold understands that he’s following in the footsteps of one of the greatest environmentalists in American history. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, was from Wisconsin. On April 21, 2010, Feingold took to the Senate floor to celebrate Nelson and the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. He spoke of carrying forward Nelson’s legacy in addressing climate change, the challenge that “looms largest of all.” Feingold said:

If we do this right, we have an opportunity to pass legislation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create energy jobs here in America. We can help American businesses gain a competitive advantage developing new renewable energy and energy efficient technologies.

The desire to protect our air, our water, and our planet will bring people together tomorrow, all around the world. They will talk about global issues we face and the local environmental issues in their communities that they want to address. They will organize, mobilize, and galvanize new momentum for change.

The U.S. Senate needs leadership on climate change. It needs people to come together. Russ Feingold understands that reality.

Jeb’s Climate Dodgeball

If you’ve ever seen the movie Dodgeball, starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughan, then you’ll know the rules guiding Jeb Bush’s still-undeclared campaign when it comes to climate change: “Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge.”

I’m guessing that somewhere a team of pollsters, strategists and PR experts got paid a lot of money to craft every word of Jeb’s latest dodge on climate change so that he could avoid the “denier” label. In nearly identical remarks at a house party in New Hampshire and in an interview in Iowa, he gave his position on the human contribution to climate change. In both cases, he started by acknowledging that “the climate is changing” but went on to say that “I don’t think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted.” He continued by calling it “intellectual arrogance” to say the science is decided.

Jeb surely knows that two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Republicans surveyed, are more likely to vote for a candidate who acknowledges human-induced global warming is happening. It seems to me that Jeb is trying to carefully calculate precisely how much lip service must be given to climate change to make it seem that he’s not extreme, not a denier. But, voters who care about climate change shouldn’t be fooled.

To be sure, there is still much to learn.  There are plenty of opportunities for new scientific discoveries about the surprising and subtle ways that climate change is endangering our health and disrupting the natural systems on which our food and water supplies, our livelihoods, and our safety depend.

But anyone who still questions whether unlimited carbon pollution is causing dangerous climate change is still practicing climate denial and confusion.  And that is what Jeb is doing.

According to NASA, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” Jeb’s carefully crafted talking points are just a fancy dodgeball move calculated to confuse the voters, rather than accept the massive scientific consensus that we must act urgently.

Jeb has been in the denial business for a while now.  In a 2009 Esquire interview, Bush said “I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist.” In a 2011 Fox News interview, he said “It is not unanimous among scientists that it [climate change] is disproportionately manmade.”

In April, he said he was “concerned” about climate change, but, at the same time, he dismissed the need for action. Duck! Don’t get caught saying you want to act!

Dodging the “Denier” Label

What exactly is it that Jeb’s dodging? I think he is trying to escape the “denier” label. He has constructed an extreme strawman in an effort to seem moderate. He addressed the word “denier” in this most recent interview, mocking those (like me, I suppose) who use the word, by saying, “If you don’t march to their beat perfectly then you’re a denier. … You have to agree with people 100% of the time or you’re as bad as someone who disagrees with you completely.

Well, Jeb, you don’t need to agree me 100% of the time. I’d love to debate with you about the best approaches to limiting carbon pollution. But if you consistently voice doubts about the scientific consensus for action and clearly oppose making the carbon pollution cuts we need to avert the largest environmental crisis of our time, then, yes, that absolutely makes you a climate denier in my book. If you deny the problem and deny the need to act, you’re a denier. No dodging.

Three New Deniers Want to Be President

The 2016 presidential race is officially heating up with three new Dirty Deniers entering the contest last week. While there are differences among the three — Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson — on policy and style, they each hold views on climate change and clean energy that make them ill-prepared to win or govern from the White House.

Let’s take a look these three new contenders’ views on climate change and clean energy.

Mike Huckabee

On climate change, the views of Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, have shifted over time. And not in a good way. Back in 2007, Huckabee addressed an audience in New Hampshire and supported “cap and trade of carbon emissions,” citing “our responsibility to fix” climate change.

By 2010, Huckabee was walking back his previous support for cap and trade, saying he’d only ever supported “voluntary cap and trade” and that mandatory programs were a “bad idea.” Now, Huckabee says the science on climate change has proved to be inaccurate while making inaccurate statements of his own, claiming, for example, that Icelandic volcanoes are a greater carbon pollution problem than fossil fuels.

Huckabee has gone so far as to belittle concern about climate change, glibly quipping that the consequences amount to nothing worse than a “sunburn.”

Huckabee’s traction with evangelical Christians is one of his strongest assets, which makes his stance on climate change all the more disappointing. When Huckabee spoke out in support of climate change in 2007, he made the moral argument for action. I’ve written before about what it means to be a climate Christian, and in Mike Huckabee we have someone who may be missing the messages from both the Creator and the voters.

Carly Fiorina

California businesswoman Carly Fiorina deserves a bit of credit. As recently as February she stated, “There is a lot of consensus among the scientists that climate change is real and human activity contributes to it.” That’s more than we can say for many of her peers in the Republican field.

However, while Fiorina may not deny the science, she is still denying the need to act. At the same event in February, Fiorina opposed regulation and said that no one nation could address climate change on its own. Fiorina’s cowardly opposition to government action is nothing new. When she ran against climate change champion Barbara Boxer for Senate in 2010, this blog wrote that:

Fiorina has gained notoriety for flippantly calling global warming “the weather” in a campaign ad, and for doubting the overwhelming science of global warming. Not surprisingly, Fiorina also opposes legislation like the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES). Passed by the U.S. House in 2009, ACES was the first comprehensive clean energy and climate bill to ever pass a chamber of Congress. On her website, Fiorina cites a biased report from the Heritage Foundation claiming that climate legislation will “cost American families $2,872 every year.” Furthermore, she claims that a climate bill “will punish manufacturers and small-business owners and put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage with nations like China and India.” She has even sided with dirty Texas oil companies to favor passing Proposition 23, which would overturn California’s climate law – the strongest such law in the nation.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last five years. Fiorina is still denouncing the Golden State’s leadership on climate change, despite California’s huge job growth while it has been working to reduce carbon pollution. With California’s clean energy jobs growing ten times as quickly as jobs in the overall economic sector, action on climate change is actually driving the economy forward, not holding it back. If Fiorina’s strength is supposed to be her business acumen, it looks like she still has a lot to learn about what will power our country’s future economic growth.

Ben Carson

Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, can’t claim that he’s not a scientist. But despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are contributing, Carson says, “We may be warming. We may be cooling.” He says we should “find the most eco-friendly ways of developing our energy resources.” When the world’s energy authorities tell us we need to triple our investment in clean energy innovation, that’s not even close to being good enough.

Ill-Suited for the White House

Every corner of our country and globe will feel the effects of climate change— heat waves, heavy downpours, sea level rise, increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, drought, declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities — the list goes on and on.

We know voters are more concerned than these candidates: 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.

Climate change is no laughing matter, but let’s hope that by this time next year the American electorate will have laughed off the candidacies of anyone with who denies the science or the need to act in the face of a global crisis. America needs a president who will act decisively to address climate change. Any candidate who believes otherwise should head home.