Recent Posts:

Climate Valentines: Time to Define the Relationship

February 14th is the day when Americans celebrate love with cards, flowers and chocolate. At my house, the kids are busy making paper hearts and cranking out scores of cards for their friends. Their handiwork inspired me to create a Valentine for members of Congress who need to have “the talk.”

Until just a few weeks ago, Republicans in Congress had largely denied or ignored the urgent need to act on climate change. Things have started to shift ever so slightly in the past few weeks: suddenly #DirtyDenier$ are getting real.

Maybe a climate cupid shot his arrows through the halls of the Senate, but at the end of last month, 53 GOP senators passed an amendment acknowledging the climate is changing, 15 approved an amendment saying humans have something to do with those changes, and 5 endorsed one saying human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change.

What do these votes mean? Is the GOP reconsidering its monogamous relationship with fossil fuel companies? Are they asking for an “open relationship” with the Koch Brothers? Is the GOP interested in seeing other voters?

It’s time for the talk: the “DTR” conversation that defines the relationship. That’s how we’ll know if the GOP is ready for that ultimate public declaration of love: the relationship status change on Facebook.

Voters are ready for a commitment. Two thirds of Americans favor the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants, according to a November survey by Harstad Strategic Research.

A New York Times/Stanford poll released last week found that a full 54 percent of Hispanics—that increasingly popular voting bloc—say climate change is extremely or very important to them personally, and 63 favor the federal government taking broad steps to address this crisis.

As Republican leaders try to define their relationship with climate change in advance of the 2016 election, the “it’s complicated” status will no longer suffice with the majority of voters.

GOP candidates who want to win in the next cycle have to get serious. It’s not enough to recognize that the climate is changing. They need to do something about it. They need to offer an action plan for confronting the biggest public health and environmental threat of our time. They need to put a ring on it.

My wish for this Valentine’s Day is for #DirtyDenier$ to truly define their relationship with climate change. And that they begin by ending their love affair with dirty polluters. Here’s what I would put on my Valentine:

Roses are red, the climate is hot. #RunningClean is cool, but #DirtyDenier$ are not.

Ok, so the makers of Sweethearts candies might not be hiring me anytime soon and the puns in the blog post may be a bit much. But my heart is in the right place: I truly hope the Republican Party will decide to act on our generations’ biggest challenge.

 

Toomey Votes Out of Touch with Pennsylvanians

Senator Toomey’s home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is only about 3 hours from Washington, DC, but judging from the senator’s voting record the past few weeks, it seems a world away. Toomey has cast one vote after another designed to block action on climate change, undermine clean energy growth, and weaken protections for air and water.

Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, the vast majority of residents have been calling for the exact opposite.

A full 72 percent of Pennsylvania voters, for instance, support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to a survey from Hart Research Associates. Even in western coal-producing regions, 63 percent say the EPA should limit this dangerous pollution. And a large majority of Pennsylvanian Republicans—58 percent—feels the same.

Toomey hasn’t gotten the message. The NRDC Action Fund gave him a Dirty Denier award last year for voting against every piece of environmental legislation except one in 2013. Now he is siding with the GOP leadership’s Big Polluter Agenda instead of his state’s own interests.

Perhaps it has something to do with the $445,966 Toomey has received from the oil and gas industries. Or the $865,283 he’s gotten from the conservative Club for Growth, an organization which consistently opposes climate action and where Toomey served as president from 2005 through 2009.

It’s time to bring the news home. Washington, DC is not Las Vegas, and what happens here shouldn’t stay here. People deserve to know what Toomey’s polluter-friendly votes could mean for Pennsylvania.

The nation’s leading experts report that, if we fail to reduce climate change pollution, stronger heat waves and smoggier air will pose significant threats to Pennsylvanians’ health. They also will be hit by more intense storms and floods, like those that came with Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene.

You wouldn’t know it based on Toomey’s votes when the Senate took up the GOP’s Keystone XL bill.

Climate Denial: Toomey voted to acknowledge that climate change is not a hoax and that humans play a role in the crisis, but he opposed an amendment stating that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change. That’s like refusing to say gravity “significantly” contributes to falling objects. Overwhelming evidence confirms that pollution from human activity causes climate change. To shy away from these facts in any way is to deny scientific reality. And to fail to offer any solutions is to leave Americans vulnerable to harm.

Clean Energy Blockade: More than 57,000 Pennsylvanians currently work at 4,200 clean energy businesses across the state. Yet Toomey voted down two amendments that would help solar and wind industries expand—even as he supports giving dirty fossil fuels a free pass from cleaning up their pollution.

Dirty Air: Toomey and his colleague from Pennsylvania, Democratic Senator Casey, introduced an amendment that would give power plants that burn “waste coal” a free pass on clean air safeguards. These protections reduce acid rain pollution and sulfur dioxide linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.  Pennsylvania has 14 of these plants, and though many similar plants already meet the standards, this amendment would exempt the Keystone State’s polluters—leaving residents to breathe dirtier air.

It’s disappointing to see Casey co-sponsor this dirty amendment, especially when he is usually a champion of clean energy and climate action.

Lawmakers of both parties would be wise to refocus on building a sustainable energy future for their state. Most Pennsylvanians want to tackle climate change and clean up pollution. And those same voters will be going to the polls in 2016 when Senator Toomey is up for reelection.

 

Cory Gardner’s Wind Hypocrisy

Gardner photo copy

Do you remember the worst words your mom could say to you when you were a kid? I do. She’d look down at you and her eyes would be devoid of anger. In its place would be a kind of sad pity as she said, “I’m disappointed in you.” Well, Sen. Cory Gardner, I’m disappointed in you.

I keep looking at this image from Sen. Cory Gardner’s campaign ad of him in the middle of a wind farm claiming that he supports the next generation and suggesting that he’ll support clean energy. And then I think about how he voted this week. This week the Senate is considering its very first order of business – S.1. And the first chance Sen. Gardner had to do the right thing, he failed.

The picture above shows a guy who looks like he supports wind energy. And, while he definitely wasn’t the Running Clean candidate in his Senate contest, the picture seems to speak for itself. Why would you trot around a wind farm if you don’t support wind?

Yet, twice in the past 24 hours Cory Gardner has voted against wind energy. Last night he voted against a nonbonding sense of the Senate resolution offered by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a conservative Democrat from the fossil fuel-heavy state of North Dakota. The Heitkamp amendment would have done nothing more than express the viewpoint that wind energy tax incentives should be extended. Today he voted against an amendment from Sen. Tom Udall to create a national clean energy standard, which would have given wind energy a huge boost without requiring taxpayers to pay a dime.

Gardner has tried to justify his anti-wind vote on the Heitkamp amendment. He argues that extending the wind tax incentive should be paid-for, should be part of a larger overhaul of the tax code and should include a plan to phase-out the incentive. While Gardner’s concerns might be valid questions to address in the context of an actual bill that would have the force of law, they are a bit overblown on a simple sense of the Senate resolution. Don’t you think a supporter of wind energy could set aside these details in order to vote on the “sense” that the incentives should be extended? Even Sen. Heitkamp, a supporter of plenty of fossil fuels, managed to do it. Why can’t Gardner?

Even after these anti-wind votes, Gardner still likes to claim he’s pro-wind. He must know that being pro-wind is good politics because the public supports clean energy. But his claims are nothing but wind. He just voted to undermine wind development, and he can’t deny that.

I don’t know how his mom feels, but I, for one, am disappointed.

 

Rubio’s Week Ahead: Ditch DC, Deny Science

Senator Marco Rubio has ambitious plans this week. As the Senate wrestles with the Republicans’ Keystone XL pipeline legislation, Rubio will be skipping town to bolster his presidential bid. This legislation has implications for fossil fuel dependence and climate change. And one of its amendments may address offshore drilling in the senator’s own state of Florida. But Rubio has a book to sell and a campaign to fund.

This isn’t the first time Rubio has turned his back on issues that matter for his state.

Florida is ground zero for climate change. According to America’s top scientists, the state is “exceptionally vulnerable” to sea-level rise and extreme heat events that trigger asthma attacks, heat stroke, and other health risks.

Yet Rubio willfully ignored the climate threat. He has leaned on the “I’m not a scientist” line, placing him in the GOP know-nothing camp. And he has opposed any effort to address climate change, putting him firmly in the GOP do-nothing crowd as well.

Paralysis may play well with the conservative base, but it won’t help Rubio in a general election.

A climate denier can’t win the White House in 2016. Polling shows that too many Americans are concerned about climate change to give the highest office in the land to someone who ignores this threat to our health, economy, and security.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey, a full 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats support limiting climate change pollution from power plants. In Rubio’s own state of Florida, a bipartisan team of researchers from Hart Research Associates and American Viewpoint found that 74 percent of voters favor limits on this dangerous pollution.

Voters are looking for a leader who will confront the big challenges, not deny their existence.

And there is no denying Rubio is a denier. Noticing changes in the climate is not enough to place you in the realm of reality. The overwhelming scientific evidence confirms that those changes are caused by human activity. You have to recognize both facts in order to shake the denier label. Yet last week, Rubio voted against two amendments acknowledging the role human’s play in causing climate change.

Like so many other Republican lawmakers, Rubio is sticking to denial in the face of scientific fact, voter concern, and campaign strategy. Perhaps because it benefits another important force: political donors.

Over the past two years, oil, gas, and coal companies spent more than $721 million to support their candidates and interests in Congress, and now GOP lawmakers are pushing a Big Polluter Agenda. This dirty agenda includes trying to block measures to reduce climate change pollution from fossil fuels.

These same companies will no doubt pour enormous amounts of money into the 2016 elections. Last weekend, for instance, Rubio kicked off his book tour at a forum hosted by the Koch brothers in Palm Springs for potential GOP candidates and conservative activists and donors.

Pit stops like these will fill the coffers, but come Election Day, most voters will be looking for a leader who doesn’t ignore scientific reality and who stands up for the people of his state.

Running Clean or Running Scared?

A batch of Senate amendments this week revealed the awkward maneuvering going on within the Republican Party on climate change. After months of some GOP lawmakers holding fast to denial and some demurring “I’m not a scientist,” a handful of Senate Republicans voted to forthrightly acknowledge that human activity is driving climate change.

But the Senate Republican membership as a whole still stuck to a dispiriting mix of denial and obfuscation.  And perhaps worst of all, even most of those Senators who voted to acknowledge the existence of man-made climate change, simply shifted from the know-nothing category to the do-nothing one.

Neither position will help our nation deal with this crisis. And neither will resonate with the vast majority of Americans who say in poll after poll they want leaders to address climate change and reduce the carbon pollution that drives it.

So what happened in the Senate?  One amendment, offered by climate champion Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) put the Senate on record, by a vote of 98-1, saying that climate change was not a “hoax.” The amendment passed almost unanimously because it was interpreted as just saying the climate is changing – not why.  The real test for deniers was the amendment put forward by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) stating that human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change.

The former amendment is the equivalent of saying cigarettes release smoke. The latter recognizes that cigarettes cause lung cancer—and gets us headed toward solving a devastating problem.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that pollution from human activity causes climate change. To stand on the side of fact and reality, lawmakers must recognize the link between pollution and climate disruption.

Republicans who flirt with references to a changing climate but refuse to acknowledge the human role in that change can’t shake off the label of climate denier—or flat Earther or ostrich with head in the sand.

The Schatz amendment failed 50-49, but five Republicans demonstrated leadership by voting for it: Senators Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), Ayotte (NH), Graham (SC), and Alexander (TN).

In an effort to give Republicans wiggle room, Senator Hoeven (R-ND) offered an identical amendment that struck the world “significantly” from the text on human activity causing climate change.

The Hoeven amendment does not acknowledge what the science actually says.  The scientific consensus is that the changes we’re seeing in our climate cannot be explained without including human activity, and cannot be addressed without limiting carbon pollution.  The Hoeven amendment was a way to make it look like Republicans accepted the science without actually having them do so.  This simply combines denial with cowardice.  At least figures like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) are open about their beliefs.

Support for the Hoeven amendment seemed strong enough that Hoeven himself panicked and voted no, apparently fearing that denialism is so strong in some quarters that even his tepid amendment would lead some Republicans to turn against the underlying bill which forces approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In the end, the amendment failed 59-40, but fifteen Republicans supported it—seven of whom are up for reelection in 2016, some in purple states.

It’s no wonder Republicans eyeing the next election are rethinking their climate positions. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that two-thirds of voters support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This support reaches into purple and red states: a survey conducted by Harstad Strategic Research reported that 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats say the EPA should limit carbon pollution.

Mitt Romney’s team may be reading the same polls. As he considers a third run for president, Romney described himself this week as “one of those Republicans” who believe that humans contribute to climate change and the U.S. make show “real leadership” on the issue. Romney knows he needs moderate votes to win the White House, and 62 percent of moderate Republicans view climate change as a serious threat, according to new analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Having a few more Republican Senators on-the-record accepting climate change science is, sadly, a notable development. So is more Republicans tacitly acknowledging that forthright denialism is bad politics.  But they can’t stop there. They have to offer a plan for solving it. Right now the GOP Leadership in Congress has not only vowed to block the Obama Administration’s climate action at every turn, they have failed entirely to present their own blueprint for reducing carbon pollution. Their do-nothing position is the hoax that needs revealing.