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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 WhoVotesDirty.com 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.

Is the Big Polluter agenda the environmental platform of the Republican Party?

Lindsey Graham asked a good question last month. The South Carolina Senator wants to know, “What is the environmental platform of the Republican Party?” Graham says he doesn’t know. He suggests it’s time for his party to do some “soul searching.”

Current Platform

Graham is right to suggest some soul searching. But, I’m surprised he doesn’t know the party’s platform. The Republican leaders in Congress, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, have consistently said “no” or fought against anything that qualifies as an environmental policy. During the first two terms of his speakership, John Boehner led House Republicans in more than 500 anti-environment floor votes. Mitch McConnell’s first 100 days as Senate Majority Leader have been marked by a strict adherence to the Big Polluter Agenda, which has included saying “no” to Environmental Protection Agency reducing carbon pollution and “no” to keeping dirty tar sands oil in the ground.

“No” is a pretty flimsy platform and Graham is right to think his party needs something stronger.

The Republican Soul

If Graham and his colleagues do embark on some true soul searching, what are they likely to find? To get some ideas, I went straight to the source: the website of the Republican Party itself.

The Republican Party describes itself in six bullet points on the history section of its website, www.GOP.com. Here’s how I believe these core facets of the GOP identity fit with political efforts to address climate change.

  1. Grand New Party. The Republican Party was founded by abolitionists. The party didn’t shy away from a tough fight then, and there’s no reason the party can’t take on one of today’s most critical problems: climate change.
  2. Party of Freedom. “Freedom” continues to be a favorite buzzword of climate deniers, who argue that dirty energy companies apparently deserve the “freedom” to pollute. Historically, Republicans have rejected this foolish argument, understanding the need to consider the population’s freedom to breathe. That’s why the Clean Air Act in 1970, and amendments in 1990, were passed with bipartisan majorities and why Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and President George H. W. Bush signed the bills.
  3. Party of Prosperity. Action to address climate change is essential to ensuring continued American prosperity. As detailed in the Risky Business report, unchecked climate change could result in the loss of up to $507 billion in coastal property by 2100, labor productivity losses of up to three percent, and increased energy costs of $12 billion per year. In contrast, a recent report found that international action to address climate change could create more than one million jobs in the clean energy sector. These wouldn’t be government jobs—they’d be private sector jobs in innovative fields. America should be leading the way on clean energy innovation.
  4. Party of Vision. Republicans have a long history of leadership on the environment, going back before Teddy Roosevelt to the creation of Yellowstone National Park by Ulysses S. Grant. This legacy was carried on as President Richard Nixon established the EPA and President George H.W. Bush enacted the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and as even a Republican congress, led by Newt Gingrich, managed to pass two massive environmental bills in the mid-nineties. For a party that praises this legacy so strongly, they sure aren’t living up to it today.
  5. Party of Strength. Our military believes climate change is a threat multiplier and that failure to act threatens our national security. The United States must maintain its international leadership as a world leader in climate action.
  6. Party of the Future. The Tea Party is the only segment in American society that doesn’t believe climate change is happening—and the Tea Party is a small, small slice of American society. In contrast, only three percent of young voters believe climate change is not happening. To stay relevant, the Republican Party must put forth a plan to act on climate change.

Party of the Future?

Will the Republicans embrace climate action in order to stay relevant? In his final post for Grist, David Roberts argued that the party is already pivoting away from denial, but instead of pivoting to solutions, they are pivoting to chicken-little economic arguments, saying that the cost of addressing climate change is too high. Those hyperbolic, sky-is-falling cost arguments are staples of the dirty energy industry that’s looking to protect its own bottom line, but they have no place in a party platform that proclaims a commitment to vision, strength, and the future.

If the Republicans want to protect their worthy legacy and be the party of the future, it’s time to follow Lindsay Graham’s advice to do some soul searching, and start acting on climate change.

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.