Scott Brown’s Achilles Heel: Voting for Dirtier Air

Scott Brown has parked his pickup truck in New Hampshire and is considering a run for the Senate from the Granite State. The prospect has already set GOP hearts aflutter. They love the idea of their Carhartt-clad candidate giving the popular incumbent Jeanne Shaheen a run for her money.

Brown is a gifted fundraiser who will attract national attention and financial support to the race. But he also comes with an Achilles heel: a track record of voting against children’s health in favor of polluting industries.

Those votes hurt him in Massachusetts, and they will hurt him New Hampshire as well.

The Northeast is known as the tailpipe of our country, because so much of the nation’s pollution filters through the region. This takes a heavy toll on kids. The childhood asthma rate in New England tops 10 percent—one of the highest in the country.

Pollution from power plants, vehicles, and heavy industry is a leading contributor to asthma, heart attacks, and cancer. So is climate change, since hotter temperatures increase the amount of smog in the air. Last July, for instance, officials warned that scorching heat in New England was making air pollution worse and increasing the risk of asthma attacks and heart problems.

Yet when Brown represented Massachusetts in the Senate, he voted for an extreme proposal that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from reducing carbon pollution from power plants. The League of Women Voters ran ads in Massachusetts taking him to task for the vote and linking climate change to increased asthma in children. Polls from before and after the accountability ads showed his popularity ratings drop; voters did not like their lawmaker choosing polluters over their kids’ health.

Brown was unbowed. He supported a Senate budget bill that was called “the worst anti-environmental bill EVER” for its crippling cuts to the EPA and the Department of Energy’s clean energy programs and for its dozens of harmful environmental riders.

Plenty of GOP lawmakers in the Congress have worse records than Brown’s. Yet he is now running against a proven champion of clean air, clean energy, and climate action. Senator Shaheen has earned a score of 100 percent from the League of Conservation Voters for 2013, and a lifetime score of 95 percent. She voted for strong standards for mercury and other air toxins, reductions in cross-state air pollution from power plants, and for firm limits on climate change pollution. She has also sponsored bipartisan legislation to expand energy efficiency—the cleanest and cheapest form of energy we have.

People in New Hampshire –and around the nation—value leaders who stand up for public health and climate action. More than two-thirds of voters in several battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. for the NRDC Action Fund. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.

Those are powerful numbers, and they don’t bode well for a carpetbagger who is 10 points down and comes with a history of voting in favor of polluters. Brown might consider putting his pickup in reverse and heading back to Massachusetts.

Can the Environment Save the Republican Party?

The Republican Party is primed for success in 2014. In addition to benefitting from redistricting wizardry, the party has history on its side: off-year elections give opposition parties the clear lead, especially in the second term of a lame duck president.

Yet the GOP has failed to turn these advantages into real gains. It may be winning battles, but it is losing the war because it keeps eroding its voter appeal.

It has turned off young voters with leaders who routinely belittle the severity of climate change, like when Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told a town hall meeting that “global warming is a total fraud.”

It has alienated women with candidates like Colorado’s Ken Buck who said people should vote for him “because I do not wear high heels.” It has angered Latino voters with lawmakers like Representative Steve King (R-IA) who said that for every Latino valedictorian, there are 100 more hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

And it has even turned off one of the most reliable voting blocs in the country: senior citizens. In 2011, 43 percent of seniors said they viewed Republicans in a favorable light, but now only 28 percent do, according to a poll by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. Maybe voting 40 times to undue Obamacare had something to do with the decline.

Being the Party of No may get the extremist blood pumping and help win individual primaries, but it doesn’t offer much in the form of leadership or vision for the future.

As an environmental advocate fighting for climate action, I suppose I should welcome the listlessness of a group that promotes climate paralysis. But as an American citizen, I know our democracy functions best when it has two vibrant parties jostling with one another and staking out common ground.

To become vibrant once again, the GOP has to stop featuring the craziest voices in its choir and start singing a tune that appeals to more voters. The environment is a good place to start.

This might sound shocking in the age of climate denial, but the truth is that clean air and clean water don’t observe party lines. They benefit all Americans, and poll after poll shows American voters value them. A Pew poll released earlier this year showed 79% of people surveyed were worried about the pollution in their drinking water.  The same poll found 70% of people worried about air pollution.

Wise Republicans have recognized this through the years, from President Teddy Roosevelt preserving our shared natural heritage to President George H.W. Bush helping to strengthen the Clean Air Act in 1990 and launch the cap and trade program to reduce acid rain.

Since the rise of the Tea Party, however, environmental protections are often cast as government overreach instead of what they really are: the safeguards that stand between your family and the polluter down the street. No matter what your ideological persuasion is, chances are you don’t want your children or parents breathing more smog or swimming in sewage.

This is the fundamental appeal of environmental issues. They are local, and if all politics are local, then calling on a nearby industrial plant to clean up its waste and making sure the state’s beaches are clean enough to keep the tourist dollars coming will generate political momentum.

It might also bring back some women voters, who care so deeply about the health of our families, and maybe even some Latino voters who routinely rank environmental safeguards as a priority. These are good groups to get on your side, because they will pound the pavement for you: the two largest groups of volunteers in Obama’s 2012 reelection army were women and Latinos.

The environment can be a bridge builder for the GOP, but only if it makes room for moderate leaders who have championed environmental safeguards in the past—leaders like Sherry Boehlert and Mike Castle and even Fred Upton before he began pandering to the Tea Party in 2010. If the GOP wants to shore up its broad-based appeal instead of living off the rage of a dwindling group, it will listen to its own clean water and clean air voices once again.

 

Election Takeaway for Fossil Fuel Industry: Money Can’t Buy You Love

Americans have returned a clean energy champion to the White House, but they didn’t stop there. All the way down the ticket, voters overwhelmingly favored candidates who support clean energy, clean air, and strong public health safeguards.

This is victory for everyone who likes to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and it is a resounding defeat for polluters and the dirty agenda they tried to sell to voters.

The fossil fuel industry went all in on this election. By mid-September, oil, gas, and coal companies had spent more than $150 million on campaign ads. Texas oil barons handed over $10 million to Governor Romney in one week alone—the week before he released his energy plan. By the time all the checks are tallied, the amount spent by dirty energy companies will be well over $200 million.

And yet the fossil fuel industry has little to show for it. Oil, gas, and coal companies spent $20 million to defeat Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), but he won anyway. He ran on his record of supporting renewable power and environmental protections and voters rewarded him for it.

They did the same thing in the New Mexico Senate race. Fossil fuel companies opened their checkbooks for Former Representative Heather Wilson, a pro-drilling, anti-climate action candidate. But voters preferred Representative Martin Heinrich and the fact that he made clean energy and climate action a central part of his campaign.

In Virginia, fossil fuel companies and other outside interests spent heavily to take a senate seat away from the Democratic Party. Voters weren’t buying it. They elected Former Governor Tim Kaine who has a long history of standing up for clean air and public health safeguards.

It turns out my mother was right: money can’t buy you love. If you can’t buy it for $200 million, then it’s not for sale.

That means these Senators are free to do the right thing on clean energy and clean air. They underwent a full-throttled, deep-pocketed attack on from the right and survived. Why? Because voters did not take the side of polluters. They took the side of clean energy champions.

This shouldn’t come as a big surprise; poll after poll confirmed voters’ desire for a clean energy economy. A September survey by Public Policy Polling, for instance, found that 53 percent of undecided voters in battleground states said they would support a Congressional candidate who wants to extend tax incentives for wind power, while 31 percent would choose the candidate who would kill those incentives. Fifty-nine percent said they favored Congressional candidates who support reducing mercury pollution from power plants and only 23 percent would chose candidates who oppose mercury standards.

Voters recognize that clean energy and clean air deliver real benefits to our communities. More than 120,000 Americans have jobs in the solar industry, and more than 150,000 people work building parts for and assembling clean cars—hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that weren’t even available 10 years ago. More than 1 million Americans are now saving money on their electric builds because they made their homes more energy efficient. And soon, hundreds of thousands of children will breathe easier once power plants start following new limits on mercury, lead, and other air pollutants.

Oil and gas companies thought that if they spent millions and millions of dollars, they could distract Americans from these benefits and undermine support for clean energy. They were wrong, and they lost. Now the case is closed. It’s time for champions in the White House and Congress to respect voters’ wishes and stand  up for clean energy, clean air, and a stable climate.

Americans Elect a Leader on Clean Energy, Clean Air, and Climate Action

This blog is re-posted from the NRDC Switchboard.

Last night Americans reelected a president who made clean energy and environmental protection a cornerstone of his first term. They chose the one candidate who spoke seriously about climate change on the campaign trail and used his authority to reduce America’s carbon pollution. They rewarded this leadership by calling for four more years of action.

This is a victory for all Americans who want to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and protect treasured landscapes. And it is a setback for the fossil fuel companies that invested so heavily in this election and have so little to show for it.

Energy issues figured prominently in this election. Candidates mentioned it frequently on the stump and it was among the top three topics discussed in campaign ads.  Oil, gas, and coal companies tried to influence the debate by spending more than $150 million in campaign ads by mid-September. Polluters’ anti-environmental messages were reflected on the campaign trail, where Governor Mitt Romney ran on a platform of more drilling, more coal-fired power plants, more climate paralysis, and weaker pollution standards.

Yet despite the dirty ad blitzes and the anti-environmental policy proposals, voters rejected this outdated vision for our country. Poll after poll has identified people’s preference for a clean energy economy. Last month, for instance, Hart Research Associates found that nine out of 10 Americans, say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress, and that includes 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Independents. A survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that 80 percent of car owners want to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2025,

The majority of Americans realize cars that go farther on a tank of gas, wind and solar energy, and cleaner power plants will improve our health and wellbeing far more than dirty companies can.

President Obama must tap this public support and push for health and environmental progress. And he can demonstrate bold and resolute leadership on climate change. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy— and the drought that turned nearly 1,300 counties into designated disaster areas and the wildfires that forced thousands of people from their homes this year—reveal the danger climate change poses to our families and communities.

President Obama has already taken important steps to curb climate change. His administration issued fuel economy standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half. It also proposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. But we must do still more. We need carbon limits on existing power plants (click here to send a message to the administration in support of carbon limits). We need to extend incentives for wind energy and spur investment in clean energy research. And we need to promote energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.

All of these measures will generate jobs and help clean up our air. But make no mistake, plenty of polluters and lawmakers will be lined up in opposition. Oil and gas companies will continue to pour money into the political system. The Tea Party still has many stalwarts in the House of Representatives—a body that voted over 300 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards since 2011. And the Republican leadership will still try to erode investment in clean energy innovation and technology.

It will take tremendous effort to realize the sustainable future we seek. But we will succeed with a combination of presidential leadership and citizen action. The president can’t do it alone. He must have American people behind him. The administration moved forward with its carbon limits for new power plants in part because people sent more than 3 million comments in favor of them. We must create the same momentum for similar breakthroughs.

NRDC stands for the environment, not for any party or elected official. We will do everything in our power to help President Obama deliver on his goals of clean energy and environmental protection. You can help by adding your voice to the call for clean air and clean energy. Together we can use the next four years to solidify the foundation of America’s sustainable future. 

 

 

Ten House Dirty Air Villains to Watch Tonight

There are ten key House races to keep your eye on tonight that will determine if this election will make a difference in the House of Representatives. While most pundits agree that there are not enough hotly contested seats for the House to change hands, the results of today’s election will determine if moving forward we will have fewer dirty air villains and more clean air heroes, or if we will continue to have a House of Representatives that continues to vote against clean air protections the same way it did before.

Earlier in the year, the NRDC Action Fund produced a report identifying those members of the House that voted against clean air protections every single time, 13 votes altogether.  We also identified a list of clean air heroes who voted to protect clean air every single time. 

Below you will find a list of the most important races for clean air. Pay close attention to the most important race in Ohio’s 16th district between Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton. Renacci is a Dirty Air Villain who not only voted against clean air protections every single time but has also accepted more than $140,000 in contributions from polluters, while Sutton is a Clean Air Hero who voted to protect clean air every chance she got and has also been a strong supporter of clean energy policy that helped fight climate change.

Here are the other nine races:

2. CA-07: Dan Lungren v. Ami Bera
Dan Lungren is a Dirty Air Villain who has voted against clean air protections all 13 times and is one of League of Conservation Voter’s Flat Earth Five which are five of the worst members of Congress that deny the reality of climate change. He received $199,600 in polluter contributions.

3. CO-06 Mike Coffman v. Joe Miklosi
Mike Coffman is a member of the Tea Party Caucus and a Dirty Air Villain who has voted against clean air protections every time. He received $272,800 in polluter contributions.

4. FL-18 Allen West v. Patrick Murphy
Allen West is a member of the Tea Party Caucus, a freshman member of Congress and a Dirty Air Villain who has consistently voted against clean air protections. He received $100,522 in polluter contributions.

5. FL-26 David Rivera v. Joe Garcia
David Rivera is a freshman member of Congress and a Dirty Air Villain who has voted against clean air protections all 13 times. He received $50,600 in polluter contributions.

6. IA-04 Steve King v. Christy Vilsack
Steve King is a member of the Tea Party Caucus and is a Dirty Air Villain who has voted against clean air protections time and time again. He received $95,800 in polluter contributions.

7. IL-08 Joe Walsh v. Tammy Duckworth
Joe Walsh is a freshman member of congress, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, a Dirty Air Villain who has voted against clean air protections 13 times and is one of LCV’s Flat Earth Five.  He received $23,250 in polluter contributions.

8. MI-01 Dan Benishek v. Gary McDowell
Dan Benishek is a freshman member of Congress, a Dirty Air Villain who has always voted against clean air protections and is one of LCV’s Flat Earth Five. He received $135,000 in polluter contributions.

9. NY-24 Ann Marie Buerkle v. Dan Maffei
Ann Marie Buerkle is a freshman member of Congress, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, a Dirty Air Villain who has voted against clean air protections every time and is another one of LCV’s Flat Earth Five. She received $18,750 in polluter contributions.

10. TX-23 Francisco Canseco v. Pete Gallego
Francisco Canseco is a freshman member of Congress, a Dirty Air Villain who has consistently voted against clean air protections and is one of LCV’s Flat Earth Five. He has received $222,401 in polluter contributions.