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Chris Christie Not “Telling It Like It Is” On Climate Change



“Real. Honest. Direct. Tell It Like It Is.” Those were the words on a banner at a recent campaign event by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is one of the latest entrants in the crowded 2016 presidential field, and political observers say that he’s trying to distinguish himself by telling voters the truth, even when it’s tough to hear. The trouble is, Christie doesn’t seem willing to tell the truth when it comes to climate action, clean energy, and the environment.

Denying Need to Act

Where does Christie stand on climate change? He’s not denying the science of climate change, but he does deny the need to act.

Back in 2011, Christie said:

There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate.[…] But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.

More recently, in May 2015, Christie said: “I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it. […] There’s no use in denying global warming exists. The question is what we do to deal with it.”

That’s a good start, and it is certainly a big improvement over competitors who claim that evidence of climate change is “not conclusive” (Rand Paul) or that snow and ice in New Hampshire prove that climate change is fake (Ted Cruz). However, accepting the science of climate change means accepting scientists’ pleas to act urgently to avoid the worst consequences of a warming world. And, on that count, Christie has failed miserably.

Christie closed his state’s Office of Climate Change and Energy and withdrew New Jersey from the regional carbon reduction program, known as RGGI, calling it a “gimmicky [program] that hasn’t worked.” In fact, RGGI has returned “more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households and 17,800 businesses” while avoiding the release of 1.3 million tons of carbon to date. More than $1 billion has been invested in programs including energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance. If that’s a gimmick, sign me up!

Like His Friend Bobby Jindal

Like Bobby Jindal, you’d think Christie might know better when it comes to climate action. After witnessing Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, you’d think Christie would be eager to act. You’d be wrong. Christie has denied a link between climate change and the hurricane, and New Jersey is the only state on the eastern seaboard without a statewide climate plan.

One might think that, as a Catholic, Christie would respond to Pope Francis’s recent encyclical calling for action on climate change as a moral imperative. So far, Christie is still denying the need to act. I’m hoping that he’ll change his tune and tell the “truth” about the need for urgent action as the campaign (and the globe) heats up.

Koch Brothers Influence

For those wondering why Christie is so opposed to climate action, and the RGGI program in particular, some people have an answer: the Koch Brothers despise climate action.

In a New York Times profile of Christie’s refusal to participate in RGGI, a representative from the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity said, “We were exceedingly pleased that the governor got New Jersey out of the R.G.G.I. boondoggle. […] It’s something that A.F.P. in New Jersey worked hard on.” According to the Times, the AFP representative “said the move would be sure to help Mr. Christie’s efforts in the Republican primaries, should he run.”

In March this year, Christie reportedly visited David Koch’s Palm Beach mansion.

Time to Tell The Truth

It’s time for Christie to live up to his self-proclaimed mantra of truth-telling.

Sometimes he says things that are like a breath of fresh air. In 2012, he said, “Having renewable energy in our state, having it be a larger part of our portfolio, creating jobs, is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It’s an issue that the people of our state demand we work on together.” I read that and I think, “So true.” But then I read that Christie has cut more than $1 billion from the state’s Clean Energy Fund in order to balance budgets in recent years and I’m reminded that telling the truth isn’t enough. Telling the truth is essential, but acting on that truth is what really matters.

“Here’s the one thing you’ll get with me: You never have to wonder where I stand,” said Christie. Actually, Chris, until your action matches your rhetoric, I have no clue where you stand.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to check out other recent profiles of 2016 contenders Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Hillary Clinton.

Bobby Jindal Should Know Better

Bobby Jindal

As we struggle to keep pace with our reviews of the ever-widening 2016 presidential field, we are ready to talk about one of the latest contenders: Bobby Jindal. Jindal is the current governor of Louisiana and a former member of Congress. When it comes to energy and climate policy, the governor has done some hemming and hawing, but it’s clear his allegiance lies with the Big Polluter Agenda and those who deny the need to act.

(And, in case you’ve missed them, don’t forget to check out our recent posts on Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio).

This Should Be Easy For Jindal

There are plenty of reasons to think Jindal might be particularly concerned about climate change given the state he governs and his own personal beliefs.

As the leader of Louisiana, he knows that memories of Hurricane Katrina still haunt residents of New Orleans. Effects of the BP oil spill still reverberate along the Gulf Coast. And the potential for future climate-related disaster is acute with predicted rises in sea level that would swap the coast, and science telling us that hurricanes will intensify while saltwater intrusion could harm the state’s agricultural industry. The costs could be in the billions as soon as 2030.

LA coast loss

As a Catholic, Jindal has surely heard Pope Francis’s calls to act on climate change as a moral issue. As Pope Francis said in his recent encyclical on the environment:

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The need to act to protect Jindal’s home state and the world’s poor has never been clearer.

Still Skeptical

Yet, despite the strong case for action on climate change in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal just doesn’t see the big deal. Jindal has been a leader of the “I’m not a scientist” camp of lame defenses. Last September he said:

“It’s not controversial to say that human activity is contributing in some way. The question is how serious that is….I’d leave it to the scientists to decide how much, what it means, and what the consequences are…. Let the scientists debate and figure that out.”

Previously, he took it a step farther. According to reporting in the National Journal, in a meeting at the Heritage Foundation suggesting that the campaign to act on climate change is some sort of vast liberal conspiracy:

At Heritage, Jindal said that climate change is a “Trojan horse” for the Left’s plans to try and reshape the economy and people’s lives to their liking. “It’s an excuse for the government to come in and tell us what kind of homes we live in, what kind of cars we drive, what kind of lifestyles we can enjoy,” he said.

Note to Jindal: 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. Seventy-eight percent of voters think the government should limit global warming pollution. Americans are looking for leadership, not conspiracy theories.

Blocking Action

Jindal has done all he can as a state official to block President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward on actions that would limit harmful carbon pollution. As governor, Jindal’s Department of Natural Resources wrote against EPA’s finding that carbon pollution was a threat to public health. Jindal erroneously claimed that reducing carbon pollution would have “devastating consequences” for Louisiana’s economy and would result in “significantly higher energy prices.” In fact, the legislation being considered at the time would have cost a mere postage stamp per day and both it and the Clean Power Plan being considered now have far greater economic benefits than costs.

In addition, Jindal has griped about FEMA taking steps to ensure that climate change considerations are part of disaster planning. Jindal called this common-sense step, which will save money and save lives, a way to “force acquiescence to their left-wing ideology.”

(An aside: as a member of the House of Representatives, Jindal uncharacteristically voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution that endorsed the idea of mandatory limits on carbon pollution. In the context of his otherwise consistent opposition to climate action and his abysmal 6% LCV score, you almost wonder if this vote was a mistake.)

Drill, Baby, Drill

Well, we know Jindal doesn’t want to act on climate change. What does he want to do when it comes to our nation’s energy policy? Last September, Jindal released his blueprint for American energy policy and it fully echoes the Big Polluter Agenda. His top priority is more drilling for fossil fuels, including in our offshore areas and on public lands including in sensitive Arctic ecosystems, and building the Keystone XL pipeline to transport dirty tar sands oil. He also focuses on what he calls “eliminating burdensome regulations,” which, in my experience, is usually code for “eliminating public health protections.” In calling for “fundamental reforms” to bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act, Jindal makes clear that protecting public health and the environment will not be his priority.

Time to Wake Up

When voters go to the polls next November, they will be looking for leadership. Americans see the consequences of climate change unfolding before their eyes. Bobby Jindal has seen some of the worst effects up close. The leader of his faith is calling for action. Yet, he still denies the need to act. He should know better.

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 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.