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About That Next Debate, President Obama

You can bet on this (let’s say a buck rather than ten grand): Mitt Romney is out on the campaign trail somewhere today trashing the EPA, belittling clean solar and wind energy, dumping on electric cars, and making it sound like we should ditch “apple pie” and start talking about America as being all about motherhood, baseball and coal.

As they look to recover from the disappointing first debate performance, President Obama and his advisors should recognize one central fact: Romney is not taking all of these anti-environmental stances just because his funders and Tea Party backers want him to do so. The other reason is that Romney wants to muddy up these issues precisely because he knows that they can hurt him.

That may sound a little counter intuitive, but it is how the game of politics is played. Its an old strategy – attack your opponent’s strengths to cover up your own weakness (remember how George W. Bush went after Kerry’s 3 purple hearts?) It may be “smart politics” for Romney to protect his exposed flank this way, but it would be nothing short of silly for President Obama to go along with that strategy.

As the President looks ahead to tomorrow night’s debate, here are three compelling reasons for calling Mitt Romney out on his diverse range of anti-environmental stances:

  1.  Let’s not mince words about it: Romney is flat wrong about much of what he says about clean energy and clean air. His debate performance and other recent political claims have been fact checked and debunked far and wide. For Obama, this isn’t a case of having to argue one side of an issue against another.  All that is necessary is for President Obama to point out that Romney either doesn’t understand the issues or, even worse, he gets them just fine and he’s fine with making up his own facts about them.   (Call me cynical, but my money is on the latter.)  Either way, voters are not going to be comfortable with a candidate who can be so cavalier about the truth when our clean air and clean water are at stake.  But you need to call out Romney on all of this to make the point, Mr. President.
  2. President Obama, you have compiled a strong first term record on the environment.   Embrace it.   Tout it.  Shout about it from the rooftops.   You have advanced the growth of clean wind and solar power.  Your Environmental Protection Agency has made major strides on the Clean Air Act Front while protecting American jobs.   And let’s not forget the health benefits of a vigilant EPA:  The Obama campaign web site correctly points out that your Administration “established the first national safeguards to cut down on mercury and other toxic air emissions from power plants, which will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 540,000 missed work days, and 130,000 cases of asthma each year, helping to keep our children out of the hospital and in school.”  This is one of the health standards that Romney would cut down with his plan to “take a weed whacker”to the EPA.It doesn’t stop there:  You also are making possible the revival of the U.S. auto industry through increased fuel efficiency standards for autos.  These are huge accomplishments that should not be allowed to disappear under a blizzard of Romney lies.    You have a hell of a story to tell here, Mr. President.  Don’t be bullied into silence on this important topic.
  3. Voters support what you are doing; don’t let Romney sucker you into ditching what are winning issues.  Everyone knows that this election has come down to a narrow band of undecided voters in eight or so swing states.  Good news, Mr. President!  Recent Public Policy Polling survey of more than 22,000 likely voters in battleground states shows the following:   “Undecided voters in eight swing states — Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — decisively favor candidates for president and Congress who support clean air and clean energy policies over candidates who don’t, according to eight new state-specific surveys.”Romney has come out on the wrong side of the issue again and again – from opposing measures to reduce toxic mercury pollution, to rejecting standards for more efficient autos, to dismissing the need to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. Voters side with your views on these issues, but you still need to get in there and make that point, Mr. President.  And it is definitely there to be made!

This whole issue of undecided voters really is the heart of the matter when it comes to the Romney strategy of fuzzing up the environmental issues, Mr. President.  If he can get you to stay away from environmental topics in the campaign, you get fewer undecided voters in the key battleground states. In some ways, Romney is running less to persuade those voters to join him than he is to keep you, President Obama, from connecting with them. Don’t fall for it, Mr. President. Not only are you too smart to play Romney’s game, but you’ve got the winning formula in your environmental track record to “seal the deal” in the key swing states.

Tomorrow’s debate is only part of the challenge that the President faces in the coming weeks on environmental issues.   Fossil fuel giants and their allies have poured $153 million into campaign ads as of mid-September, and there will be millions more lavished on the dirty air and dirty energy agenda.    That fact just makes it even more important that the second debate is one in which President Obama takes back the environmental issues that he already owns in this campaign.

Thirty (five) Deadly Signatures

Some steal with a sword, some with a pen, the saying goes.

And some steal the rights of Americans to breathe clean air, and are willing to allow thousands to die and hundreds of thousands to get sick, in order to protect the powerful utility industry from having to cut its deadly toxic pollution.

At least thirty US Senators were known to have put their signatures on a petition to force the US Senate to debate and vote on Senator James Inhofe’s proposal to repeal the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard.

The EPA estimates that the standard will save as many as 11,000 lives and prevent as many as 130,000 heart attacks every year once implemented. But as far as 35 US Senators are concerned – and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, we’ve learned – preventing those health consequences just isn’t worth the effort.

That puts them – and any Senators voting to repeal the health standard – way out of step with the majority of Americans, according to a bi-partisan poll sponsored by the American Lung Association which found in March that 78% of likely voters support the stronger standards.

NRDC and NRDC Action Fund repeatedly asked Senator Inhofe to reveal the “Dirty Thirty” but the Senator refused those requests.  Only yesterday, as the deadly debate got underway on the Senate floor, did the list become public-only with 35 names on it.

Who are these Dirty Thirty and Filthy Five? Our best interpretation of the signatures on the petition produces the following list (any who are mistakenly listed, please let us know):

  1. John Boozman (AR)
  2. David Vitter (LA)
  3. John Cornyn (TX)
  4. Jon Kyl (AZ)
  5. Pat Roberts (KS)
  6. Jim Inhofe (OK)
  7. Tom Coburn (OK)
  8. John McCain (AZ)
  9. Pat Toomey (PA)
  10. John Thune (SD)
  11. John Barrasso (WY)
  12. Thad Cochran (MS)
  13. Jim DeMint (SC)
  14. Roy Blunt (MO)
  15. Richard Burr (NC)
  16. Rand Paul (KY)
  17. Jerry Moran (KS)
  18. Rob Portman (OH)
  19. Michael Enzi (WY)
  20. Lisa Murkowski (AK)
  21. Daniel Coats (IN)
  22. Saxby Chambliss (GA)
  23. Roger Wicker (MS)
  24. Orrin Hatch (UT)
  25. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)
  26. Jeff Sessions (AL)
  27. Mitch McConnell (KY)
  28. Ron Johnson (WI)
  29. Mike Johanns (NE)
  30. James Risch (ID)
  31. John Hoeven (ND)
  32. Richard Shelby (AL)

While we are quite sure that the signatures on the petition are from the Senators listed above, it isn’t quite as clear for those below. We are attempting to confirm this list with the Senate. If any of the following Senators are not signatories to the Inhofe petition, please let us know and we will correct the list.

 33. Mike Lee (UT)

 34. Johnny Isakson (GA)

 35. Mike Crapo (ID)

The constituents these members represent should be furious at the betrayal of their health in favor of corporate polluters.

UPDATE:  In a welcomed show of bi-partisan support for clean air, the US Senate just voted against Senator Inhofe’s proposal to repeal the Mercury and Air Toxics standard. We’ll have more posts on the vote shortly.

Voting Against Children is Bad for Lawmakers’ Political Health

Turns out dirty air isn’t just bad for kids’ health – its bad for members of Congress who vote for it.

New polling conducted by Hart Research finds:

In a policy climate that is heavily focused on jobs and economic issues . . .  pollution and clean air standards—especially when framed around public health impacts—are an important and electorally relevant issue for voters in this critical target audience.

The findings are based on an intensive polling program commissioned by the NRDC Action Fund and focusing on three members of Congress, two of whom voted to block clean air standards and one of whom voted to strengthen them.

Following their votes to block the cleanup of toxic pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers (HR 2250), the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and the League of Conservation Voters ran an ad criticizing Representative Tim Walberg (MI-07) and Environment Ohio ran an ad criticizing Representative Steve Stivers (OH-15).

Environment Ohio also praised Representative Betty Sutton (OH-13) in a TV ad, for her vote to clean up the toxic pollution from these sources.

NRDC Action Fund commissioned Hart Research to poll moderate ticket-splitting voters in each of their districts before and after the ads ran, to find out what effect knowledge of their member’s votes on air pollution would have on how they see them.

In other words, how members of Congress vote on air pollution and health motivates most swing voters; voting against clean air can politically hurt politicians, while voting for it can help them.

A quick recap of the findings:

In Tim Walberg’s district (MI-07):

  • Swing voter support for Tim Walberg dropped by 9 points between the pre-ad and post-ad polls; while the percent of undecided voters increased by 14 points during the same period, landing at 48% undecided after the ad.
  • Most swing voters – 57% say that knowing their Representative had voted to weaken clean air standards would cause them to feel less favorable toward the Rep – and 33% say this would make them feel much less favorable.
  • Walberg’s favorability among swing voters took a hit as well, his unfavorability going up 6 points from before to after the ad. Of those voters who definitely recalled the ad, 42% viewed Walberg negatively.

In Steve Stivers’ district (OH-15):

  • Swing voter support for Steve Stivers dropped by a stunning 15 points between the pre-ad and post-ad polls, cutting his advantage over an unnamed opponent from a twenty point lead to a five point lead. At the same time, the percent of undecided voters increased by 15 points during the same period, landing at 53% undecided after the ad.
  • Most swing voters – 53% say that knowing their Representative had voted to weaken clean air standards would cause them to feel less favorable toward the Rep – and 27% say this would make them feel much less favorable.
  • Swing voters’ negative feelings toward Stivers went up by 6 points between pre- and post-ad polls. Of those voters who definitely recalled the ad, 28% viewed Stivers negatively.

In Betty Sutton’s district (OH-13), ads praising the member for standing up for clean air clearly had a positive impact:

  • Betty Sutton’s net advantage over an unnamed opponent increased by 5 points.
  • 53% of swing  voters say that knowing their Representative had voted to protect clean air standards would cause them to feel more favorable toward the Rep.
  • Positive feelings about Betty Sutton went up as well, going from 28% positive pre-ad to 34% positive post-ad.

The campaign wonks out there will want to dig in to the memo, so I’ll let it get the rest across. But the bottom line message is pretty clear: a vote against clean air can cost members swing votes back home.

This post was updated 11/15/11.

Rep. Altmire: Your Pants Are Officially On Fire

Pennsylvania Congressman Jason Altmire is learning a hard lesson this week: When you vote repeatedly for bills that will mean more illness and death for your constituents, you have to expect to “own” those votes.

And make no mistake about it, Rep. Altmire has repeatedly voted to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from protecting public health and Pennsylvania families from dangerous mercury pollution and smog. (HR2250, House Vote 791, 10/13/11; HR2681, House Vote 764, 10/6/11; HR2401, House Vote 741, 9/23/11; HR1, House Vote 86, 2/17/11).

That’s why the League of Conservation Voters and the NRDC Action Fund is running this TV spotin Rep. Altmire’s congressional District.

In his defense … well, it isn’t much of a defense, really. So, let’s let Rep. Altmire speak for himself and then look at the facts in each case.

Altmire complains that “Once again, a Washington, D.C.-based special interest group has come into western Pennsylvania…”

Funny, Altmire doesn’t seem to have any problem with Washington, D.C. when it comes to fat-cat campaign contributions from energy and other industries. In fact, an analysis of his contributors reveals that his four biggest donors have Washington, D.C. addresses and five out of his top ten donors are based in Washington, DC.

Altmire says: “When I travel around Western Pennsylvania to discuss the factors holding back our economic recovery, onerous EPA regulations are at the top of the list.”

We say: Not so much. According to polling conducted by several different business groups, regulations are NOT on the top of the list:

  • The Small Business Majority (SBM) recently released a report, “Small Business Owners Believe National Standards Supporting Energy Innovation Will Increase Prosperity for Small Firms,” which found only 13 percent of small business owners believe regulation is the biggest problem facing their businesses.
  • McClatchy/Tribune News Services recently surveyed a random sample of small business owners nationwide and found Big Business rhetoric over regulation to be completely overblown. Under the headline “Regulations, taxes aren’t killing small business, owners say”, McClatchy/Tribune News reported that “McClatchy reached out to owners of small businesses, many of them mom-and-pop operations, to find out whether they indeed were being choked by regulation, whether uncertainty over taxes affected their hiring plans and whether the health care overhaul was helping or hurting their business. Their response was surprising. None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it.”
  • The National Federation of Small Business (NFIB) polls reveal that only 14 percent of their members consider regulations the “single most important problem” their business faces.
  • Even the U.S. Chamber’s own survey of small business shows small business owners do not name regulations as a major cause holding back job growth. Only 8% of Chamber members say that “Too much regulation” is the greatest obstacle to hiring new employees.

Altmire says: “I represent 700,000 residents of Western Pennsylvania and live here myself, along with my family,” said Altmire. “To imply that I would support any legislation that would promote an unhealthy environment and pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink is preposterous.”

It is preposterous to think that any Member of Congress would do such a thing. The only problem here is that’s exactly what Rep. Altimire did.

Here are the facts:

  • One of his anti-EPA votes repeals a clean air standard estimated to save as many as 2,900 lives per year in Pennsylvania alone.
  • Another Altmire vote would allow out-of-state power plants to continue dumping smog and soot pollution into the air would harm the 260,000 asthmatic kids in Pennsylvania, including the 32,500 kids in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties – not to mention the more than 120,000 asthmatic adults in those counties.
  • And as our ad mentions, nearly one in ten women of child-bearing age in the region have blood mercury levels high enough to pose a risk to a developing baby.

Altmire says: “These regulations would dramatically raise our electricity rates and make it impossible for local energy producers to compete economically and to continue employing thousands of western Pennsylvania workers.”

Nonsense. Exelon and Constellation Energy, both major power producers with coal and fossil-fuel plants in Pennsylvania, support the stronger standards. In fact, a group of power companies subject to stronger EPA standards said of them: “these air regulations will not impact rates dramatically. Rather, the capital investments related to these regulations will create needed jobs and will yield many hundreds of billions of dollars in annual health benefits.”

Given that none of Rep Altmire’s rationales for stripping away health protections from his own constituents holds up to scrutiny, constituents can fairly ask the question: why is Representative Altmire protecting polluters, instead of our kids and families?

NRDC Action Fund, LCV Blast Pennsylvania Rep. Altmire for Voting Against Kids’ Health

Throughout this year, Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire (PA-4) has voted repeatedly to repeal, delay and weaken the important healthy air safeguards our kids and families need to protect us from dangerous smog, soot, mercury and other toxic air pollution.

So we’ve teamed up with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) to make sure Rep. Altmire doesn’t get away with voting against our kids’ and families’ health with this hard-hitting TV ad that makes clear just how dangerous Rep. Altmire’s votes have been:

We want Rep. Altmire and all members of Congress to know that they’ll be held accountable for all votes that put kids’ and our families’ health at risk. In Allegheny County alone, there are nearly 25,000 asthmatic kids who are vulnerable to more frequent and severe asthma attacks because of Rep. Altmire’s votes. We think they need protecting a lot more than polluters do.

Here are the highlights of Rep. Altmire’s votes against healthy air this year:

  • September: Altmire Voted for the TRAIN Act. This bill repeals and delays standards that protect kids and families from dangerous air pollution. It repeals the Cross-State Air Pollution standard, which would reduce soot and smog pollution from power plants. It delays the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which would reduce mercury and other toxic pollutants like arsenic, dioxin, and formaldehyde from power plants. The bill eliminates any actual deadlinesfor EPA to re-issue health standards, allowing these life-saving standards to be blocked indefinitely– effectively repealing clean air safeguards that would prevent thousands of deaths and illnesses. Finally, the bills eviscerate the legal authority for EPA to re-issue protective standards.Health impact: 139,500 deaths, 66,000 hospital visits, and 1 million asthma attacks over the next seven years – and over 25,000 additional deaths every year after.
  • October: Voted to block EPA from cleaning up cement plants. By supporting H.R. 2681, Altmire voted to roll back current standards to limit toxic pollution such as mercury, lead, and cancer-causing dioxins from cement plants. The bill Altmire supported eviscerates strong toxic air pollution standards for these plants and eliminates Clean Air Act compliance deadlines for these life-saving standards, meaning companies’ compliance with any future toxic air pollution standards could be delayed indefinitely. See more details here.Health impact: 11,250 deaths.
  • October: Altmire votes to prevent cleanup of toxic pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers.Altmire voted for H.R. 2250, which repeals and weakens Clean Air Act safeguards slated to reduce mercury, toxic metals, acid gases and other hazardous air pollution from incinerators and other industrial polluters. The bill Altmire supported also repeals Clean Air Act compliance deadlines for these life-saving standards, meaning companies’ compliance with any future toxic air pollution standards could be delayed indefinitely.. .See more details here.Health impact: Up to 22,750 deaths, during just the bill’s minimum period blocking safeguards.
  • February: Altmire voted to gut the clean air act. HR 1 was the greatest legislative assault on environmental protection in decades. This bill thoroughly guts the Clean Air Act and all but dismantles the Environmental Protection Agency. Altmire’s vote for HR 1 blocked enforcement of vital environmental and public health laws by slashing EPA funding and through the inclusion of 19 separate policy ‘riders’ that prevent EPA from enforcing its legal obligations to protect public health from air toxics, water pollution and to carry out the laws previous Congresses have required EPA to do.

Help us spread the word and make sure Rep. Altmire hears from his constituents that he should be protecting kids, not polluters.