GOP Has No Mandate for Attack on Clean Air and Climate Solutions

Most voters didn’t go the ballot box to demand dirtier air and contaminated water. And yet Republican leaders have proudly proclaimed that gutting environmental safeguards is one of their top priorities for the new Congress. They have vowed to roll back national limits on climate change pollution, strip protections from waterways that feed drinking supplies, and launch a host of other attacks.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his top priority for the next session is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

That’s a bold statement to make when the vast majority of Americans value the EPA’s role in protecting their families from pollution. Seven out of 10 Americans, for instance, support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey.

The GOP pro-polluter agenda is out of step with what Americans want. Republicans may have gained control of the Senate, but they did not receive a mandate to dismantle environmental safeguards.

Given the dismal voter turnout in the midterms, it’s hard to declare a mandate for anything.

  • 36.2 percent of eligible voters participated in the midterm elections, the lowest turnout since World War II. Even if every single one of them favored the GOP, the party still wouldn’t have the majority of Americans behind them.
  • Several races were settled by small margins. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Republican Thom Tillis won the North Carolina Senate race by a margin of 1.7 percent—about 48,000 votes.
  • Republicans lost among people under 40 years old and among all minority voters, according to the National Journal.
  • The voting center grew this year: 40 percent of voters identified as moderates, while 36 percent called themselves conservative, down from 42 percent in the 2010 midterms. Fewer voters are calling for the radical changes espoused by the Tea Party.
  • Since the last midterm election, 21 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, which means fewer people are able to vote and fewer voices are being heard.
  • 69 percent of all dark money—campaign funding from undisclosed donors—went to Republican candidates. The vast majority of it came from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads/GPS—polluter friendly groups known for attacking environmental safeguards.  That money means Mitch McConnell may be able to claim the Koch Brothers’ mandate, but certainly not a mandate from the voters.

These numbers paint a picture of a discouraged electorate. Many are tired of the gridlock in Washington; many are overwhelmed by the money in politics. But nowhere in the polling does it say Americans want to breathe dirtier air or get hit by more extreme weather brought on by climate change.

Indeed, exit polling showed that six out of 10 voters leaving the voting booth support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants.

Republicans won several hard fought races this year, but they would be wise not to let it go to their heads. When candidates won roughly 52 percent of about 36.2 percent of eligible voters, making a declaration of war against the environment sounds like the beginnings of overreach.

Compare those small portions to the 98 percent of scientists who say climate change is a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. Now that’s what I call a mandate for action.

4 Midterm Lessons about the Politics of Climate Change

The Republican Party has taken control of the Senate after winning a handful of red states. This makes Senator Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader, yet voters have not endorsed McConnell’s pro-polluter agenda of dirty air and unlimited climate change pollution.

All year long, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans want to protect clean air, promote clean energy, and shield future generations from unchecked climate change.

People went into the voting booth with many issues on their minds, from the tepid economy to health care to international turmoil. They rewarded those who have led on climate issues in Congress or on the campaign trail, including Rep. Gary Peter in Michigan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and Senator Susan Collins.

Yet even in races where people did not vote on climate change alone, one thing is clear: Americans have not given the GOP a mandate to let polluters foul our air and destabilize our climate.

It’s time for incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to get the message. Thus far, they have ignored science and voters’ concerns. They’ve promised to attack safeguards for our children’s health and blocking any attempt to reign in climate change pollution.

Most voters will not welcome this overreach. Just ask Former Speaker Newt Gingrich; he learned the hard way when he tried to gut environmental protections after the 1994 midterm elections.

Here are some of the lessons we can take away from this year’s elections.

Most Voters Support Limits on Climate Change Pollution

Prolonged drought, destructive storms, toxic algae blooms, and other extreme events brought climate change home this year, and most Americans want leaders to tackle the climate threat.

An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce greenhouse gases. A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. And a Bloomberg News poll found that 62 percent of Americans were even willing to pay more for energy if it meant reducing carbon pollution. Most people want to protect the country from dirty air and extreme weather. They aren’t asking for Senator McConnell’s plan to make life easier for polluters.

Climate Change Gained New Prominence in This Cycle

During the 2012 election, climate change received little national attention. This time around, more Americans have felt the brunt of climate change in their own lives, and voters, debate moderators, and journalists wanted to know where candidates stood on the issue.  Nearly 40 percent of voters in battleground states heard candidates’ positions on climate change, and majorities heard their views on energy, according to a poll conducted for the NRDC Action Fund. Many candidates made climate change and clean energy a central part of their platform. Even Tea Party favorite Cory Gardner felt compelled to travel to a Colorado wind farm for one of his TV ads.

It Was a Tough Map for Climate Champions

Polluters eager to gut environmental standards and allow unlimited carbon pollution always had the upper hand this cycle. Most of their preferred candidates were trying to recapture Republican strongholds—indeed pundits started forecasting how tough this race would be back in 2008 when several Democrats won traditionally red states. Climate champions also faced an added challenge of history: as Politico’s Charlie Cook points out, the president’s party has suffered in five out of six midterm elections since the end of World War II, averaging just six Senate and 29 House seats.

A Climate Denier Can Not Win the White House in 2016

GOP strategists read the same polls environmentalists do, and they are starting to realize most voters care about climate change and want leaders to do something about it. Voters are tired of candidates who deny or ignore global warming and they view this ignorance as a sign of being out of touch. This includes members of important voting blocs: By margins of 20 to 22 percentage points, independents, women and younger voters describe themselves as less likely to vote for their Republican candidate after learning of his or her views on energy, the environment and climate change. Many GOP candidates have walked back from extreme denial by embracing the new “I am not a scientist” rhetoric. Even they recognize that voters will no longer elect a president who ignores the biggest economic, public health, and environmental threat of our time.

There is much to fight for in the next two years. No matter who holds the gavel in Congress, climate change is accelerating and Americans are growing alarmed. It’s time for lawmakers of both parties to act.

 

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.

 

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.