Dimming the Light of Prosperity in Ohio

To say I’m a proud Ohioan is an understatement. I still shriek with joy when I see someone proudly displaying scarlet and grey in DC. And I never miss an opportunity to yell “O-H” to another buckeye fan, much to the chagrin of my Gator husband.

I extol the virtues of Ohio to anyone who will listen. And until a few days ago, I also had a proud clean energy story to tell about my state. While Ohio suffered through the economic downturn with the rest of the country, there was a bright light at the end of the recession tunnel: a booming clean energy economy.

Thanks to a bipartisan effort, comprehensive legislation was passed in 2008 to ensure Ohio would properly invest in clean energy and energy efficiency in order to create the jobs of tomorrow, today. The legislation has been a huge success for a once struggling state. Thousands of jobs were created, emissions were reduced creating cleaner air and water, and consumers benefited to the tune of $1 billion in energy savings.

Unfortunately, the Ohio legislature must subscribe to the idea that all good things must come to an end. Because on Wednesday they gutted these clean energy standards in an obvious payback to the utilities who pad their pockets with campaign contributions. Yes, those same utilities that didn’t even have the courage to come out of the shadows and publicly testify.

Lest you think the only opposition to this decision was us “enviro-socialist rent-seekers”, check out just a few of the other members of a broad coalition of organizations actively working to protect clean energy and energy efficiency in Ohio:

Ohio Manufacturers’ Association

Evangelical Environmental Network

Ohio Advanced Energy Economy

In fact, more than 14,000 pro-life Christians signed a petition calling on Governor Kasich to veto the bill in order to protect the health and well-being of all children. A petition, which the Governor promptly ignored when he indicated he would sign the bill into law. While we wait for the stroke of Governor Kasich’s pen, editorial boards from all across Ohio continue to plead with him to veto the bill because: “SB 310 is more than a simple freeze; the bill also will chill what have been burgeoning alternative-energy investments in a state, and during a governorship, that aims to create Ohio jobs.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/28/14)

So as the once brightly shining light at the end of a dark economic tunnel starts to dim, I worry less about my state bragging rights and more about the Ohioans who will lose their jobs, the recent college graduates who will find no reason to stay in Ohio and my friends and family who will be forced to pay higher utility bills and breathe dirtier air.



Five Ways the New Limits on Carbon Pollution Will Influence the Midterms

The Obama Administration just did the most important thing it could to confront climate change right now: it set limits on carbon pollution coming from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon pollution in the US, yet they get a free pass to foul our atmosphere and destabilize the climate. The Environmental Protection Agency is finally holding these plants accountable.

The new carbon limits will help protect our health, generate clean energy jobs, and shield communities from extreme weather and other hazards of climate change.

They will also give a boost to climate champions running for election this fall. Good climate policy means good politics, and candidates who support cleaning up carbon pollution will benefit at the polls. Here is why.

1. Voters Favor Government Action to Cut Carbon Pollution

President Obama was emboldened to take strong climate action because the American people want it. Poll after poll has confirmed their support, even in red and purple states. In March, the NRDC Action Fund asked Harstad Strategic Research to survey voters in the closest Senate races in the country, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The results were resounding: more than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. That includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.

2. Climate Voters Could Make the Difference in Narrow Senate Races iStock_13548366-Vote badge

Concern about climate change is growing among the general public, but it is even stronger among three significant voting blocs: women, Latinos, and young people. Eight in 10 Latinos, for instance, want President Obama to curb carbon pollution, according to a January poll conducted by Latino Decisions for NRDC. People who care about climate change have proven to be dedicated volunteers (in 2008) and able to sweep climate champions into office (2012). Their enthusiasm could be pivotal in 2014, especially when so many Senate incumbents are running in toss-up races.

3. The Carbon Rules Tap into Reality that All Politics Are Local

The EPA has taken a state-by-state approach to reducing carbon pollution. Every state has its own reduction target and a great deal of flexibility in how to reach it. This keeps the focus squarely on the local level. Candidates can engage voters in a conversation about what climate change is doing to towns and cities, and how low-carbon solutions like energy efficiency and renewable power will benefit their state. Representative Gary Peters, for instance, has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land for failing to recognize how climate change is threatening the Great Lakes. He could also point to the fact that Michigan’s energy efficiency measures—the cheapest way for states to meet carbon reduction targets—have saved people a net $800 million on electricity bills in the past few years.

4. Carbon Limits Will Create Jobs and Save People Money

Local carbon reduction translates into local job creation. NRDC asked ICF International, an independent firm that analyzes electricity markets for industry and government, to analyze the economic impact of carbon limits. Their study found that reducing carbon pollution by 25 percent could save Americans $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020. It would also create more than 274,000 jobs. Some candidates may claim carbon limits will spell doom for the economy, but even the Chamber of Commerce failed to produce numbers to back them up—the chamber’s recent attempt didn’t even account for jobs that will be created in wind and solar power and energy efficiency efforts.

5. GOP Is Walking Back It’s Rhetoric of Denial

Republican lawmakers may finally have gotten the memo about voter support for climate action. In the past month, several have passed up the opportunity to reject climate change outright. House Majority Leader John Boehner said last week, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.” And when Governor Rick Scott was asked if human activity is causing climate change he said, “I’m not a scientist.” This may be a dodge, but it is not denial. It is a step toward recognizing that if candidates want to reach beyond the Tea Party base, they can’t bet against the majority of voters who care about climate change. That is why a climate denier won’t be able to win the White House in 2016.


All-Points Bulletin: Who’s Killing Clean Energy?

Over the last four weeks, a striking pattern has emerged in the Senate.  Bipartisan, clean energy bills that would create jobs by cutting pollution suffered an untimely fate, cut down in their prime despite broad stakeholder backing, public support, and clear benefits to the economy and our collective health.  

If it had happened only once, it would be cause for alarm. But evidence suggests we’re facing a serial offender whose actions threaten to rob businesses, consumers, and our families of clean energy’s benefits.

Who is the “perp” in this nefarious case?  The preponderance of evidence suggests it’s Republican leadership, aided and abetted by fossil fuel interests.  The All-Points Bulletin below lays out the case to help ensure these actions are put to a stop before it’s too late.

The Victims:

The first casualty was a modest energy efficiency bill proposed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH).  Its aim was to increase energy efficiency through a set of volunteer policies designed to cut energy waste, resulting in dollars saved, less pollution, and more jobs.  The bill garnered support from a wide range of interests, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, environmental organizations, and everyone in between. It sailed through committee consideration and then, in order to blunt objections and ease progress, the co-sponsors worked to incorporate a host of bipartisan amendments. Nonetheless, this non-controversial and well-vetted bill was struck down on the Senate floor.

The second victim, the EXPIRE ACT, had a very similar profile, although the bill’s prominence made its identical fate all the more significant. The measure would reinstate the nation’s expired suite of clean energy tax incentives that are critical to the continued growth of wind, solar, and energy efficiency technologies by providing credits and rebates to homeowners, businesses and industry.  Following an amendment process, the EXPIRE ACT emerged from the Finance Committee with bipartisan support.  Again, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a host of organizations supported immediate passage by the full Senate. Then Republicans, some of whom originally supported the bill, blocked its progress.

Here are a few more relevant facts that make the unfortunate fate of these bills even more inexplicable and tragic:

The Crime Scene:

As it often happens in the wake of a crime, initial press reports were quick to offer a judgment, in this case suggesting the casualties were possibly caught in a political crossfire.  However, thorough forensic analysis of the crime scene — the U.S. Senate floor — reveals a far different MO:  each of the victim bills was held hostage by demands from Republican leadership to offer unrelated, highly controversial amendments.

In the case of the Shaheen-Portman bill, Majority Leader Harry Reid initially acquiesced, formally offering to hold a vote on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the climate impact of which would swamp the benefits of the energy efficiency bill.  But then Republican leadership made new demands, requesting votes on five additional issues, including blocking limits on carbon pollution from power plants – even before the standards have been put forward.

With the EXPIRE ACT, the demand was for a vote on a medical device provision, which falls outside the scope of a bill dedicated to restoring expired tax provisions. (This isn’t the first time Republican leadership insisted on health care-related votes at the expense of energy—or other—legislation.  Such demands stalled a previous attempt to pass the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.)

This pattern strongly argues against claims that GOP leadership was legitimately attempting to hold a debate on energy issues on the merits.  It is hard to see how healthcare issues are relevant to a narrow energy efficiency bill.  Equally revealing is the fact that holding a vote seeking to dismantle EPA’s power plant carbon standards before the plan’s details are even announced represents exactly the opposite of debating something on the merits nor does it acknowledge the public’s right to participate in an open, fact-based discussion.

These shifting demands fit a classic pattern for hostage-takers who hide behind lofty arguments when they really have less interest in the hostage and more in generating attention or making symbolic points.

The Prime Suspect:

Based on the above analysis, the prime suspect—namely, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell–becomes clear.  But did he act alone and what motivated his behavior?

The Motive:

Heading into an election season, there was clear political motivation to block legislation that could be perceived as a Democratic victory while instead highlighting GOP political priorities—even at the expense of measures that would benefit Republican constituents, like continued expansion of wind energy.

Mounting evidence indicates that New Hampshire GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown urged McConnell to tank the Shaheen-Portman bill so as to deny the Democratic opponent, Senator Shaheen, a victory.  A Scott Brown win would put McConnell one step closer to gaining control of the Senate for the Republican Party.  Did he put 2014 politics ahead of passing a bill with wide-ranging support?

In the case of the EXPIRE ACT case, not only is it broadly backed,  key provisions like the tax incentive for wind energy development  directly benefit many Republican districts (80% of wind installations are in GOP districts). While Republican leadership claims to prioritize job creation, previous lapses in the renewable energy Production Tax Credit resulted in nearly 30,000 jobs lost in one year and there are reports  that the current uncertainty surrounding the EXPIRE ACT is already suppressing overall growth in the clean energy sector.

So why would the Senate minority leader put a bulls-eye on this bill? Could it be because McConnell, representing coal-state Kentucky, reportedly has received significant campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, whose network of front groups and allies are spending millions to block pro-clean energy policies like those in the EXPIRE ACT?

The Accomplices:

It’s no secret that fossil fuel interests, like dirty energy barons the Koch brothers, and their congressional allies are on a mission to block clean energy’s development.  A profile provides essential facts that further support the case that these interests played a prominent role in plotting the demise of both energy bills. Meanwhile, Big Oil collects billions in permanent subsidies every year while renewable and energy efficiency credits languish.

The Verdict:

We now have crime scene analysis, a clear motive, and reasonable indications that the attacks on two key clean energy bills represent premeditated, organized actions by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported by Big Oil henchmen.

Now that the MO is clear, our elected leaders must act fast before the culprits strike again and rescue this bipartisan bill by passing it as soon as possible after Congress returns from the Memorial Day break.

Christie’s Crisis and Climate

Hold the presses on the “Christie 2016” bumper stickers (though they’d be easy to read while sitting in a traffic jam). With the New Jersey Governor’s image taking a beating from still-developing public controversies, perhaps the case for Chris Christie as the leading Republican candidate in the next presidential election is not quite as clear-cut as before—unless he can find a way to rebuild his reputation.

Much of Christie’s success has been due to the political brand he has carefully cultivated: a straight if tough talker who’s a true conservative but can reach across the aisle to get things done.  His landslide victory for a second term as Governor seemed to unequivocally demonstrate the broad appeal of this political brand and to prove that Christie represented the GOP’s best chance of winning the White House by appealing to independents and centrist Democrats.

Then the allegations of scandals within his administration hit, portraying a different kind of Christie–saying one thing while doing another; being self-serving, vindictive, even petty.  It remains to be seen whether Christie knew more than he has admitted about the lane closures or doled out sandy relief money based on favoritism instead of need.  But whatever ongoing investigations turn up, the brand Christie worked so hard to build has now been badly tarnished.

A closer examination of Christie’s record, however, suggests that this reputation may always have been predicated more on image than fact.  Where was the straight-talking Christie who could tell his party that it was time to act after he acknowledged climate change as a serious problem? And where was the Christie who seemed able to reach across the aisle after he ran for Governor as a friend to the environment?

Christie’s actions on climate change and clean energy during his first term are revealing in this regard.  Christie unilaterally withdrew New Jersey from a 10-state effort meant to reduce carbon pollution in the northeast region through interstate cooperation (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative).  He also diverted approximately $1 billion from funds dedicated to promoting clean energy initiatives in the state budget. These course reversals are even more perplexing in a “blue state” like New Jersey where government action to protect the environment is popular and the economic benefits from investing in clean energy are great.

If the most serious allegations against Christie turn out to be true, it’s hard to imagine how he would make a recovery.  But even if nothing else turns up, Christie will still have to work to repair his damaged reputation.  He can start by leading on issues people care about, such as climate change, as he should have all along.

An opportunity is in the making for the governor, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to soon issue a proposal for reducing carbon pollution from power plants that use fossil fuels.  This proposal will make sense for New Jersey and the states still remaining in RGGI.  And it wouldn’t be bad for Christie either, who could use a new bumper sticker with a positive message.

Is LePage Ready to Run Clean?

Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to climate change. Despite Maine voters’ clear support for reducing carbon pollution and acting to address climate change, LePage reliably blocks action and denies the gravity of the climate challenge.

LePage’s latest dumbfounding bit of denial was to focus on what he believes is the positive side of climate change. Speaking at a conference, he said,

“Everybody looks at the negative effects of global warming, but with the ice melting, the Northern Passage has opened up. So maybe, instead of being at the end of the pipeline, we’re now at the beginning of a new pipeline.”

While I am certainly a glass-half-full person, climate change is hardly an appropriate place for a nonchalant focus on one person’s perception of a silver lining. In Maine, warmer waters, ocean acidification and extreme weather are threatening clam populations and sea birds. Sea level rise and extreme weather events threaten the state’s coastline. LePage’s certainty on the upside of global warming is also interesting considering his previous comments that climate change is a “hoax” and a “scam” with the science unsettled. If the impacts of a warming world are so apparent in one instance, why not in the others?

I can only hope that LePage’s clumsy climate comments are a sign that he is joining the vast majority of Americans in accepting the truth of climate change science. Certainly many in his own political party, including 61% of non-Tea Party Republicans, accept the science. Perhaps LePage’s shift from denier to opportunist is a sign that he’s understanding his constituents’ views better. After all, polling conducted for the NRDC Action Fund found that 83% of Mainers wanted a reduction in industrial carbon pollution.

We will soon have a chance to see what Mainers think of LePage’s views (and actions) when it comes to addressing climate change and promoting (or obstructing) clean energy. LePage is up for reelection in November 2014 and will face off against Rep. Mike Michaud, a strong supporter of clean energy and climate action. In contrast to his opponent, Michaud says “Any potential benefit of allowing climate change to continue unaddressed is far outweighed by the danger of our failure to act.”

Michaud’s gotten the message that running clean works. Will LePage?