5 Ways the Midterms Will Shape the Clean Energy and Climate Future

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the campaign season is about to heat up in earnest. Candidates, strategists, and pundits will vie for the spotlight from now until November 4. Yet try as they might, midterms never garner as much attention as presidential cycles.

This year’s election, though, matters more than most.

The outcome of the 2014 races could have a major impact on the air we breathe, the health of our families, and the intensity of the climate change outside our doors.

Victory could come for candidates who take millions of dollars for fossil fuel companies and ignore the climate threat—I call these folks the Dirty Denier$. Or environmental champions will triumph and expand clean energy and climate action to protect our health and create jobs.

The choices we make in the voting booth always carry weight, but they have even greater heft in a year when control of the Senate is up for grabs, when GOP leaders have promised to roll back decades-worth of public health and environmental safeguards, and when the threat of climate change grows more severe.

Here are five forces that could shape the outcome of the 2014 midterm.

Climate Denial Is Alive and Well in the GOP

Two weeks ago, Scott Brown was asked if “the theory of man-made climate change has been scientifically proven.” His reply: “Uh, no.” Yet when Brown was campaigning for Senator from Massachusetts in 2012, he said, “I absolutely believe that climate change is real and I believe there’s a combination between man-made and natural.” Now that he is running in New Hampshire, he backpedalled. Brown isn’t alone. Across the nation, Republicans either deny the existence of human-caused climate change or feign ignorance because they aren’t trained scientists. If these lawmakers gain a majority, they will try at every turn to stop the Obama Administration from fulfilling the President’s Climate Action Plan.

McConnell Would Use a Majority to Dismantle Safeguards

Since 2010, GOP lawmakers in the House have voted several hundred times to undermine public health and environmental protections. They haven’t just gone after measures associated with President Obama. They’ve dug deep and torn into the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other bedrock laws that have held firm for four decades. The only thing stopping these radical bills from becoming law? A lack of support in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell says if he wins a majority, he will launch his own attack, using bills and policy riders to strip away protections that keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe. He will also wage an assault on every effort to shield our communities from climate change. And he’s willing to even shut down the government to implement his radical agenda.

Fossil Fuel Companies Are Looking for Better Results

Oil and gas companies and their allies have spent more than $31 million on this election already. They favor lawmakers who put industry concerns before the public interest. Senator Marco Rubio, Representative Fred Upton, Senator Mitch McConnell and other Dirty Denier$ have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the fossil fuel industry. They have also voted for oil and gas subsidies and tried to prevent the EPA from finalizing limits on climate change pollution from power plants—the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. But industry investments don’t always pay off. The US Chamber of Commerce, known for its climate denial and fossil-fuel friendly policies, spent more than $32 million in the 2012 election but achieved less than 7 percent of desired outcomes.

Smart Candidates Are Running Clean

It turns out voters prefer leaders who stand up to polluters. In the 2012 cycle, candidates who supported clean energy and climate action won up and down the ticket, even in contested purple states. Recent polling shows that sentiment is growing.  More than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a March poll done by Harstad Strategic Research for the NRDC Action Fund. The poll was conducted in red and purple states, and still 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats supported carbon limits. Many 2014 candidates—including Michigan’s Gary Peters, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen—have recognized that running for office on a platform of protecting the environment, promoting clean sources of energy, and curbing climate change is a proven winner.

Environmental Champions Could Make Climate History

President Obama has called on the EPA to do the single most important thing the US can to fight climate change right now: limit carbon pollution from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the country, and cleaning them up will help us defuse the climate threat. An environmental majority in Congress will help the EPA realize this goal. It would also help expand renewable power and strengthen environmental safeguards.  Lawmakers could point to these accomplishments and say: this is when America began combating climate change and building the clean energy future.

 

 

#DirtyDenier$ Day 20: Senator James Inhofe

James Inhofe

Though the winds often come sweeping down the plains in Oklahoma, they have not blown hard enough to clear away the misguided, misleading views of Senator James Inhofe. Inhofe is a top ranking Dirty Denier because of his campaign funding from dirty sources and his terrible votes against the environment.

In addition, Inhofe wrote the book, literally, on climate denialism (The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, published in 2012). His whacky views on climate change take a page from the playbook of the most conservative groups promoting dirty fossil fuels. And if Republicans take control of the Senate, Inhofe would be in line to be chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where he would have a stranglehold on environmental progress.

He has received an astounding $1,671,521 in contributions to his campaign committee and Leadership PAC from the oil & gas industry over the course of his political career, including $489,250 in the 2014 election cycle alone. Among his top contributors are individuals and political action committees associated with Koch Industries, the multinational corporation run by the libertarian oil baron Koch brothers and their cronies, and a leading funder of climate change denialism, and  Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in America, which has sued the EPA multiple times and has an outspoken climate changer denier as CEO.

Oil companies ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Exxon Mobil, and OGE Energy are also among the top Inhofe contributors over the course of his career. Maybe they like Inhofe’s  outrageous claims, such as calling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a “Gestapo bureaucracy”, and saying that “those individuals from the far left want us to believe it’s because we are contributing CO2 to the atmosphere, that’s causing global warming. It’s all about money.”

He has launched a full-on attack of the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan. Inhofe consistently votes against the environment: he has taken numerous votes against cleaning up carbon pollution, against cleaning up pollution in our air and water from power plants and industrial farms, and against funds for disaster relief and shoreline planning in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Yet he strongly supports subsidies for the oil, gas and coal industries despite their record profits and lower than average tax rate. This is why he has a lifetime score with the League of Conservation Voters of only 5 percent, among the very worst in the Senate.

Our advice: While Senator Inhofe continues to deny humans are contributing to climate change, 67 percent of Oklahomans want “the government to step in and limit greenhouse gas emissions from industry.” Senator Inhofe needs to start aligning his votes with his constituents. It’s time for action to protect Oklahomans and Americans across the country from the health and environmental impacts of the dirty, old fossil fuels industry.

Dirty Denier$ Day 19: Congressman Fred Upton

Fred Upton

Today’s Dirty Denier$ is Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan and Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton has used his leadership position to try to move the nation backward, and his record on clean air and climate change keeps getting worse.

Upton has been all over the map on the facts about climate change.  In 2011, he said he didn’t believe humans are contributing to global climate change. Since then, he’s been mostly silent on that basic issue, but he’s been loud in his opposition to doing anything about climate. He has used extreme rhetoric to characterize the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan, calling it “an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs” and a “train wreck.

And consider that one of the first bills that Upton sponsored upon assuming the chairmanship of the committee would have permanently blocked EPA from doing anything at all to address carbon pollution. Moreover, the bill would have increased America’s dependence on oil by undermining efficiency standards for motor vehicles, and cost consumers $58 billion. Upton has also given his blessing to multiple bills to undo various aspects of the Clean Air Act.

The dirty fuel interests that have given nearly $2 million in campaign contributions to Upton over the course of his career are no doubt pleased with his record. However, the same can’t be said for his constituents back home. According to recent polling from the NRDC Action Fund in key states including Michigan, overwhelming majorities of voters in that group of states support strong action to stop dangerous carbon pollution. This includes 53% of Republicans. Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder has said, “People may not agree about why climate change is happening, but it is certainly affecting Michigan.”

Michigan has a lot to gain from a clean energy policy. In 2013 alone, Michigan announced more than 1700 jobs in the renewable energy sector, placing it 12th in the country for new job creation. And in a signal that better days are ahead for both the economy and the environment, 380 of those jobs were in clean vehicle manufacturing.

Our advice: It’s time for Congressman Upton to once again reinvent himself. It’s time to stop being a Dirty Denier$ and start being a clean energy champion for his state.

 

 

Dirty Denier$ Day 18: Congressman Ed Whitfield

Ed Whitfield

Today’s Dirty Denier$ is Congressman Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky who chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power. From that perch, Whitfield has been a general in the fight against the so-called “War on Coal.”  Unfortunately for Americans who breathe, Whitfield’s battle has amounted to a War on Health that would have devastating consequences if he were to succeed.

Whitfield has earned a dismal 15 percent lifetime League of Conservation Voters score, and has had particularly bad years since assuming a leadership role; in 2013, Whitfield earned a mere 7 percent. Whitfield’s most significant energy legislation this term was H.R. 3826, which would, according to NRDC’s David Hawkins, “prevent EPA from doing anything meaningful to reduce carbon pollution from America’s biggest source of that pollution: coal and gas-fired power plants.” This Polluter Protection Act passed the House, but has thankfully stalled in the Senate. Whitfield wants to pursue this plan because he sees “no benefits” to reducing carbon pollution.

In addition, Whitfield has sided again and again with Dirty Denier$ in votes to undermine bedrock environmental laws, block clean energy and prop up dirty fuels. He has voted in favor of offshore drilling and drilling in pristine Bristol Bay, he’s voted for Big Oil giveaways and against reducing smog, soot and toxic air pollution like arsenic and mercury.

It’s no wonder Whitfield so perfectly fits the mold of a Dirty Denier$, when you look at who bankrolls his campaigns for Congress. Whitfield has received a whopping $694,115 from electric utilities, $475,497 from oil and gas companies, $310,377 from mining companies and  $277,506 from railroads that want to continue shipping trains full of coal to power our country’s power plants. That’s more than $1.75 million from dirty energy interests.

Our advice: Congressman Whitfield should learn the many benefits of reducing pollution. Lives saved, asthma attacks prevented, and heart attacks avoided just to name a few.

 

Dirty Denier$ Day 17: Congressman Rodney Davis

Rodney Davis

On climate change, Rep. Rodney Davis’ actions certainly speak louder than words.

We’ll give small bit of credit to the first-term congressman from Illinois’ 13th District for publicly acknowledging that “climate change is real.” He even added in a candidate questionnaire:

Many factors contribute to changes in climate, both man-made and natural. Regardless of your views on global warming, we should all agree that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and cutting air pollution without doing economic harm to our citizens will benefit our national security, environment and public health.

Ever hear the saying, talk is cheap? Rep. Davis hasn’t followed up his words with actions. In fact, he’s done just the opposite — voting at virtually every opportunity to block action on climate change.  Maybe he doesn’t want his constituents to know his voting record.

He supported the Whitfield bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from issuing standards to control dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, the Cassidy veto bill giving other federal agencies power to overrule those EPA climate pollution limits, and the  REINS bill (of which he was a co-sponsor) to make it next to impossible to ever put in place any health or safety standards, regardless of the problem being addressed.

Davis also voted against the Schakowsky amendment  to recognize the scientific fact that greenhouse gas pollution is contributing to climate change. That’s outright climate denial.  And Davis voted for an amendment to prevent federal agencies from assessing the costs and dangers of climate change.

Rep. Davis’ record on reining in Big Oil is just as bad. He backed a giveaway to Big Oil, voted against federal restrictions on using dirty fuels, and voted to promote more offshore oil and gas drilling. For all this, he’s earned a deplorable 4 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

But to be sure, one group likes this DirtyDenier$ lawmaker—the right-wing House GOP leadership, for he’s been a reliable champion of their radical anti-health and anti-environment agenda. In reward, the National Republican Congressional Campaign put him in its ‘Patriot Program’, intended to help him raise campaign cash, and his largest donations, $427,000, come from so-called Leadership PACs set up by congressional colleagues. Davis’ campaign also has taken in $92,500 from oil & gas interests, $90,500 from mining interests and $67,000 from utilities.

Our advice: Rep. Rodney Davis is far out of step with most Americans who want clean air, land, water and for the government to do something about climate change. And he needs to show some leadership by embracing his own words by taking action on climate change.

 

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