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Sen. Johnson says blocking SCOTUS nominee about politics, Clean Power Plan

Source: Gage Skidmore

Sen. Ron Johnson speaking at CPAC in 2011 in Washington, D.C. | Source: Gage Skidmore

A third Republican Senator has now admitted that his real reason for wanting to obstruct the constitutional process for filling Supreme Court vacancies is rooted in large measure in his opposition to the Clean Power Plan.

Last week, I blogged about Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rand Paul (R-KY), who both recently vented their disdain for the EPA, including its plans to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, as a reason for refusing to allow the constitutional process of filling Supreme Court vacancies to move forward.

Then E&E News reported (subscription required) that panelists at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) “vowed yesterday to place ‘another Justice [Antonin] Scalia on the Supreme Court’ to ensure that the Obama administration’s carbon rule for power plants would not survive legal challenges.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the Republican Senators who has joined the GOP leadership in refusing to consider any nominee, was quoted saying, “The Senate would confirm a “Justice Scalia replacement that is like Justice Scalia in 2017.” Sen. Johnson may be echoing his Republican leaders, but based on the editorials coming out of Wisconsin, he’s way off-track. Just the headlines make it pretty clear:

And those ran even before last week’s CPAC meeting where, according to E&E News, Sen. Johnson went on to say “The Republican majority in the Senate will not allow the Supreme Court to flip. You can take that to the bank,” adding “that there was ‘no such thing as moderate judges,” and suggesting that any judges who find the Clean Power Plan to be legal are ‘super-legislators’ who are not following the Constitution.

It’s worth noting that climate change poses serious health, economic and environmental threats for Sen. Johnson’s constituents. NRDC has a great webpage on this. Here’s a quick sample:

  • Asthma sickens an estimated 123,700 kids and 401,500 adults. Ground-level ozone, whose formation is aided by warmer temperatures, is a well-known trigger of asthma attacks. As Wisconsin’s temperature increases, so will the number of asthma attacks.
  • The number of Wisconsin days over 90°F (32°C) per year may double in the south and triple in the north by 2050.
  • Combined sewer overflows are a health risk for the cities of Milwaukee and Superior; sewage spills into Lake Michigan are expected to rise 50-120% by the end of the century.
  • The state has been declared a disaster area 9 times since 2000, due to severe storms and flooding. Extreme rains where at least 2” fall are projected to increase in frequency 25% by 2050.

Clearly, Wisconsin editorial boards understand the importance of addressing climate change. “EPA Rules Are Reasonable,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial headline put it shortly after the Clean Power Plan was announced last summer. The Wisconsin State Journal and LaCrosse Tribune have editorialized in support of the Clean Power Plan. And here’s what the Capital Times wrote in support:

“Not only will Obama’s new rule help stem climate change, it will improve public health — especially among children and the elderly — by cutting pollutants that lead to soot and smog. The American Lung Association lauds the rule.”

Furthermore, most people in Wisconsin — 66% — support cleaning up carbon pollution from power plants, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change.

So to sum up, Sen. Johnson is following the extremists in the Republican Party by helping to obstruct a constitutional process, despite broad public opinion in his home state, in order to try to block the Clean Power Plan which will help address climate change, protect the health of children and the elderly, and which also has strong editorial and public support. Just who is Sen. Johnson representing in this?

Yep, you read that right. This isn’t about the current Congress doing its job, or even about Congress letting the current President do his job. In the view of Sen. Johnson and his obstructionist allies, it’s about ignoring a constitutional process in the hopes of blocking health and environmental standards that they don’t like.

On Thursday, during a radio interview, Sen. Johnson went even farther to outright admit that he opposes considering a new Supreme Court justice nominated under President Obama because of political reasons:

“Generally, and this is the way it works out politically, if you’re replacing — if a conservative president’s replacing a conservative justice, there’s a little more accommodation to it…. Let’s face it, I don’t think anybody’s under any illusion — President Obama’s nominee would flip the court from a 5-4 conservative to a 5-4 liberal controlled court.”

Take a moment to tell your Senators today that they should do their jobs by committing to a hearing and a vote for whomever the President nominates.

Pete Altman is the Climate & Clean Air Campaign Director of the NRDC Action Fund.

The “Bipartisan Bust” – Attack on EPA is Losing Ground in the Senate

McConnellThe headline in yesterday’s Washington Examiner reads:  “Greens: GOP support for climate rules rising.”  If you are asking yourself right now what that means, here’s the story.…

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attack on the Clean Power Plan this week was supposed to demonstrate to the world the strong bipartisan opposition to the United States’ first ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from power plans. His party has a majority in the Senate, but the measure passed by a not very strong majority of 52 votes—nowhere near the 67 votes needed to make it veto proof.

Even more problematic for McConnell and his polluter allies, though, is that the vote ended up showing that the Clean Power Plan actually has bipartisan support, and enough of it to ensure that it will keep moving forward.

What happened when the time came to vote?  As the New York Times reported:

“Three moderate Republicans, two up for re-election next year, Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, as well as Senator Susan Collins of Maine, broke from their party to vote against the resolutions and back the environmental regulations.”

What explains the loss of Republican momentum in the attacks on the EPA? E&E News explained the actions of Senators Ayotte and Collins this way:

“Of the three Republicans who voted to keep the plan in place, Ayotte and Kirk are part of a recently formed Republican working group on environment and energy issues.

“Ayotte, who is in a tough re-election battle with New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, last month publicly announced that she was in favor of the Clean Power Plan. Kirk, though, was the target of an aggressive campaign by environmentalists after reports surfaced that he was planning to vote in favor of the resolutions. He is also vulnerable next year.

“After the vote, Collins touted Maine’s actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. She said she was concerned that global warming was adding to pollution-linked asthma issues and a higher incidence of lime disease as ticks’ habitats shift to the north.”

The backstory on Senator Kirk is even more interesting.  According to the National Journal, “Kirk is one of many moderate Republicans facing a tough reelection (National Journal’s Charlie Cook has rated the race a tossup).”  And as Energy Guardian explained:

“Kirk, who faces a tough re-election challenge from Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, took fire from environmentalists in June for a vote against the power plant carbon limits in an EPA and Interior appropriations bill. Groups had charged Kirk with casting the “deciding vote” for language that would have blocked funding for the rules.”

(NRDC, by the way, was one of those groups that held Senator Kirk accountable last summer.)

An aide for Senator Kirk elaborated to Politico:

“‘Senator Kirk today voted to improve air quality and reduce rising childhood asthma rates,’ a Kirk spokeswoman said in a statement explaining the senator’s vote. ‘With our diverse energy portfolio, Illinois is already leading the way in energy efficiency and is well positioned to balance the needs of the environment and the economy.'”

So, the next time you hear someone saying there is bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Senate to roll back the EPA Clean Power Plan, please set that person straight.  What’s growing is the bipartisan support for the Clean Power Plan. And that’s not speculation or any political tea-leaf reading.

The votes prove it.

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$52 Million in Big Polluter Contributions Behind Lawmakers Trying to Block the Clean Power Plan

industry-80956_1920The Senators co-sponsoring the latest attack on the Clean Power Plan have taken more than $52 million in campaign contributions from big polluters, according to a new analysis of data from the NRDC Action Fund’s website Data are provided to by the Sunlight Foundation and are based on contributions from the Oil & Gas, Electric Utilities and Coal Mining sectors, as reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

As of today, 49 Senators have co-sponsored a resolution to disallow the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a move that would completely repeal the nation’s first-ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. The resolution, which is allowed under the Congressional Review Act, would also make it difficult for EPA to reduce carbon pollution in the future.

Now, it’s been widely reported that President plans to veto the measure, and there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to override his veto. So why would lawmakers go to all this effort to if they can’t stop the Clean Power Plan anyway?

Good question. Climate risk just seems to be something that most Republican lawmakers feel obligated to trivialize, and climate solutions something they feel obligated to oppose. Maybe it’s because the Republican Party has no plan of its own. Any formal admission that something needs to be done leads would immediately raise the question of “what”?

But hey, that’s speculation. It’s hard to know what is motivating each one of these anti-science, pro-pollution Senators, but we know who has been helping them stay in office.  Big polluters are filling the campaign coffers of those who stand in the way of climate progress.  And those big polluters aren’t spending all that political money out of the goodness of their hearts.

The average anti-Clean Power Plan co-sponsor has taken just over $1 million from polluters. Senator John Cornyn of Texas has taken the most—$5.4 million over the course of his career. Denier-in-Chief Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has taken $3.2 million. And the Senate’s ringleader, the man directing reckless efforts to block climate action, Senator Mitch McConnell has taken $3.8 million from polluters during his career.

There are some nascent attempts to get the party to think more deeply about these issues. Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina  earlier this week announced a working group to discuss solutions. But they obviously have a lot more thinking to do. While Senator Ayotte has declared she will support the Clean Power Plan, Senators Graham and Alexander are co-sponsors of the measures to repeal the CPP. Kirk reportedly said he’d back repeal.

In the meantime, our planet keeps warming up. What’s at stake? Well, just our health, and the fate of future generations. When the Clean Power Plan is fully in place in 2030, carbon pollution from the power sector will be 32 percent below 2005 levels. Sulfur dioxide will be down by 90 percent and nitrogen oxides down by 72 percent.

Those reductions in harmful pollution will in turn prevent 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work days and school days, each year. That’s on top of the climate benefits that come from cooling down our planetary fever. Combined, this would benefit the American people to the tune of $26 – $45 billion.

Just as importantly, the Clean Power Plan shows that the U.S. has finally gotten serious about doing something about climate change, spurring other major greenhouse gas-emitting countries around the globe, including China and India, to commit to cutting their carbon pollution. That’s going to help get a meaningful global agreement on climate, marking the first time that the world has come together in a serious way to tackle climate change. But if the Clean Power Plan were to be repealed and the U.S. unable to fulfill its commitments, other countries would probably walk away from theirs.

Which raises the question of why Senators like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are so determined to let China and India off the hook. The complaint from deniers for the last twenty years has been “why should the US take action when other countries aren’t?” Well, we finally have those other countries at the table. Now isn’t the time to let them walk away. Not for the polluters, and not for any amount of campaign money.

If you’d like to track how your Senators are voting on key environmental issues, check out It tracks the campaign contributions and climate and clean air of every member of Congress, and lists their total contributions from big polluters. NRDC Action Fund policy experts identify the votes that have the greatest potential to impact clean air and climate policy.

Senator Co-Sponsoring
Measure to Repeal Clean Power Plan
Career Contributions from Polluters
Sen. Alexander (R-TN) $1,108,122
Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) $1,093,632
Sen. Blunt (R-MO) $1,530,696
Sen. Boozman (R-AR) $266,904
Sen. Capito (R-WV) $1,298,822
Sen. Cassidy (R-LA) $1,479,406
Sen. Coats (R-IN) $626,916
Sen. Cochran (R-MS) $899,980
Sen. Corker (R-TN) $1,055,454
Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) $5,378,412
Sen. Cotton (R-AR) $979,610
Sen. Crapo (R-ID) $625,198
Sen. Cruz (R-TX) $1,866,136
Sen. Daines (R-MT) $965,964
Sen. Enzi (R-WY) $1,024,366
Sen. Ernst (R-IA) $50,900
Sen. Fischer (R-NE) $212,640
Sen. Flake (R-AZ) $421,320
Sen. Graham (R-SC) $492,750
Sen. Grassley (R-IA) $522,600
Sen. Hatch (R-UT) $1,309,258
Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND) $337,000
Sen. Hoeven (R-ND) $611,674
Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) $3,229,136
Sen. Isakson (R-GA) $521,028
Sen. Johnson (R-WI) $242,300
Sen. Lankford (R-OK) $1,398,770
Sen. Lee (R-UT) $180,430
Sen. Manchin (D-WV) $512,500
Sen. McCain (R-AZ) $5,342,638
Sen. McConnell (RKY) $3,814,138
Sen. Moran (R-KS) $827,392
Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) $1,432,970
Sen. Paul (R-KY) $235,890
Sen. Perdue (R-GA) $50,900
Sen. Risch (R-ID) $379,100
Sen. Roberts (R-KS) $1,486,800
Sen. Rounds (R-SD) $50,900
Sen. Rubio (R-FL) $529,240
Sen. Sasse (R-NE) $50,900
Sen. Scott (R-SC) $604,802
Sen. Sessions (R-AL) $761,100
Sen. Shelby (R-AL) $571,400
Sen. Sullivan (R-AK) $50,900
Sen. Thune (R-SD) $1,370,624
Sen. Tillis (R-NC) $50,900
Sen. Toomey (R-PA) $887,232
Sen. Vitter (R-LA) $2,207,770
Sen. Wicker (R-MS) $1,210,252
TOTAL: $52,157,772


NRDC Action Fund’s Ad Campaign Tells Sen. Toomey: Support the Clean Power Plan

Toomey AF digital ad

This week, the NRDC Action Fund is launching a nearly $1 million ad campaign in Pennsylvania urging Senator Pat Toomey to take a bold step on climate change by backing the Clean Power Plan.

Why focus on Sen. Toomey? He has voted to block climate action at every turn, including voting against the Clean Power Plan—America’s historic effort to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

Pennsylvanians deserve a senator who will stand up for their health, not push the big polluter agenda.  Our TV ad calls out Sen. Toomey on this vital issue. Climate change is serious in Pennsylvania – communities across Pennsylvania got hit with five heat waves this summer. The state was also soaked with nearly twice the average amount of rain in June. Hot, rainy summers are part of life in the Keystone State, but climate change is making them worse. According to a new report from Penn State, Pennsylvania will experience more destructive storms and be over 5 degrees warmer within 35 years. Experts say that means more smog, asthma attacks, property damage and bankrupt ski resorts.

Pennsylvanians know we need to tackle climate change. Seventy-two 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 Pennsylvania Republicans—58 percent—feels the same.

Unfortunately, so far, instead of representing his constituents’ interests, Sen. Toomey has been taking the side of dirty industries. Sen. Toomey has taken more than $1 million from polluters, and now he wants to let them keep pumping unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air.

video screenshot 1

According to the League of Conservation Voter’s analysis, in 2013 Sen. Toomey opposed every single piece of environmental legislation that LCV tracked except one. This includes votes against limits on toxic air pollution from power plants, disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy, Department of Defense investments in biofuels, and safeguards against climate change. He signed on to Senator Mitch McConnell’s 2014 letter urging President Obama to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. And earlier this year, he joined 98 other senators in acknowledging 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.

Meanwhile, he has failed to provide or support a single proposal for how the nation can defuse the climate threat.

Solutions exist. America has the clean energy resources we need to slash carbon pollution and shield future generations from the destructive power of climate change. The Clean Power Plan will unleash many of those solutions, and in the process, it will prevent 90,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths a year and generate enormous energy and cost savings.

Pennsylvania will reap these benefits. The state is already home to 4,200 clean energy companies—companies have created 57,000 jobs in the state. The wind industry has invested more than $2.7 billion in the state, and the solar sector attracted more than $114 million to Pennsylvania in 2013 alone.  The Clean Power Plan will expand these opportunities. According to an NRDC analysis, Pennsylvania could see the creation of 5,100 new jobs and the state’s households and businesses will save $465 million on their electric bills in 2020 if the state takes a bold approach to reducing carbon pollution.

Yet instead of fostering these benefits, Sen. Toomey is aligning himself with dirty energy donors. It’s time for him to change course and stand with the people of Pennsylvania. It’s time for Sen. Toomey to support the Clean Power Plan—and the good jobs, clean air, and reduced climate risk it will deliver.

Pete Altman is the Climate Campaign Director for the NRDC Action Fund.

Sen Capito’s Polluter Protection Act

UPDATE: This post was last updated on June 25, 2015 to reflect additional cosponsors.

Last week, a team of Senators supported by nearly $43 million in contributions from dirty polluters—and who have voted in favor of polluters over people 98 percent of the time—teed up yet another proposal to block much-needed efforts to protect the health of children and future generations from dangerous carbon pollution.

This newest pro-polluter proposal comes from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) who introduced a bill that aims to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan by thrusting “multiple knives into the Clean Air Act,” as my colleague David Doniger explains.

The Clean Power Plan sets the first ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants and invests in clean energy sources and energy efficiency, while Sen. Capito’s bill protects the big polluters and lets them off the hook by:

  • Rubbing out the Clean Power Plan altogether. The bill simply declares that the Clean Power Plan and its first-ever limits on carbon pollution “shall be of no force or effect, and shall be treated as though the rules had never been issued.” With admirable directness, the EPA proposals are simply disappeared. But that isn’t enough for Capito and her cronies. The bill also protects polluters by:
  • Blocking the EPA’s proposed standard for new coal power plants while also effectively blocking EPA’s plans to regulate existing plants too.
  • Forcing the EPA to choose between carbon standards and mercury standards, making them “pick their poison.”
  • Tying up the Clean Power Plan with litigation for years, placing an unprecedented “stop work” order found nowhere else in the nation’s environmental or regulatory laws.
  • Destroying the EPA’s authority to take action to protect our families and communities if states fail to act on their own by letting Governors “opt out,” and letting polluters off the hook.

And who else has their hands on the proverbial knife? Thirty-three other U.S. Senators joined Senator Capito to support these extremist attacks on public health.

We took a look at the records of Senator Capito and her bill’s co-sponsors using our website, which tracks polluter contributions to members of Congress and their votes. Here’s what we found:

  • Combined, the Senators backing Capito’s bill have taken $42,762,026 from polluters for their election campaigns.
    • Among the top three recipients of polluter contributions among these Senators are Senator Mitch McConnell who has been flailing away at the carbon standards for months now, and Senator Jim “the Snowball” Inhofe who has promised to make this bill a central focus of his Senate Committee in the coming weeks.
    • On average, each Senator has received nearly $1.26 million from dirty polluters each.
  • Combined, these Senators have cast 538 dirty votes on 49 pieces of climate and clean air legislation and/or amendments in Congress since September 2011.
  • These Senators have voted dirty 98 percent of the time they’ve had to choose between protecting polluters or public health.

Among other dirty bills, these lawmakers voted to block public health safeguards many, many times, to block all efforts to cut carbon pollution, to undermine science, and to block funding for climate change research.

Sen. Capito and her bill’s supporters aren’t looking out for the American public—they’re looking out for the Big Polluter Agenda and their own campaign coffers.

Americans want to carbon to be regulated. Poll after poll shows that that a bipartisan majority—70 percent of Americans—support the federal government limiting greenhouse gases from existing power plants, and 70 percent also support requiring states to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in their borders (check out the most recent poll from the Washington Post.)

But these Senators think they can get away with taking dirty money from the deep-pocketed polluters and voting against clean air and protecting. They think their voters won’t notice them voting against the very policies Americans support.

You can help shine a spotlight on those lawmakers who are voting against the best interests of their constituents by going to and tweeting at the Dirty Air Villains. Tell them to reject the Big Polluter Agenda and listen to the American people.

Co-Sponsors / Sponsor Dirty Money Number of Dirty Votes Percent of Dirty Votes
$5,378,412 15 100%
John Cornyn [R-TX] $5,342,638 14 100%
John McCain [R-AZ] $3,814,138 15 100%
Mitch McConnell [R-KY] $3,229,136 15 100%
Jim Inhofe [R-OK] $2,207,770 15 100%
David Vitter [R-LA] $1,866,136 9 100%
Ted Cruz [R-TX] $1,530,696 15 100%
Roy Blunt [R-MO] $1,486,800 15 100%
Pat Roberts [R-KS] $1,479,406 36 100%
Bill Cassidy [R-LA] $1,432,970 14 93%
Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] $1,370,624 14 100%
John Thune [R-SD] $1,298,822 38 100%
Shelley Capito [R-WV] $1,210,252 15 100%
Roger Wicker [R-MS] $1,108,122 11 73%
Lamar Alexander [R-TN] $1,093,632 15 100%
John Barrasso [R-WY] $1,024,366 15 100%
Michael Enzi [R-WY] $979,610 25 100%
Tom Cotton [R-AR] $965,964 25 100%
Steve Daines [R-MT] $899,980 15 100%
Thad Cochran [R-MS] $626,916 15 100%
Daniel Coats [R-IN] $625,198 15 100%
Michael Crapo [R-ID] $611,674 15 100%
John Hoeven [R-ND] $604,802 24 100%
Tim Scott [R-SC] $521,028 15 100%
Johnny Isakson [R-GA] $512,500 12 80%
Joe Manchin [D-WV] $379,100 15 100%
James Risch [R-ID] $266,904 15 100%
John Boozman [R-AR] $242,300 15 100%
Ron Johnson [R-WI] $235,890 15 100%
Rand Paul [R-KY] $212,640 10 100%
Deb Fischer [R-NE] $50,900 9 100%
David Perdue [R-GA] $50,900 9 100%
Mike Rounds [R-SD] $50,900 9 100%
Thom Tillis [R-NC] $50,900 9 100%
Dan Sullivan [R-AK]

*NRDC Action Fund policy experts identify the votes that have the greatest impact or potential to impact clean air and climate policy. Members who vote against clean air 80 percent or more of the time are considered “Dirty Air Villains.” Those who vote to strengthen protections 80 percent or more of the time are considered “Clean Air Heroes.” All other members have no assigned status, but their dirty and clean percentages are listed