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?


All Politics is Local…but so is Energy Development

Voters in three Colorado cities passed anti-fracking measures last month. This week the Colorado Oil and Gas Association announced it would sue two of those communities over their bans. Meanwhile, several state legislatures will turn to fracking bills when they return to session in the new year.

Industry executives and grassroots fractivists will be following these developments, but there is another group of people who should pay close attention: candidates running in mid-term elections.

America is in the midst of an energy boom. U.S. oil production has risen 48 percent since 2008 to the highest level in two decades. Clean power has spiked too. Wind energy quintupled in the last decade, and accounted for 35 percent of all new power generation capacity built in the U.S. in the past four years.

In the past, most energy development took place in lonely outposts and dusty plains. Today it is occurring on people’s property, in school yards, and in beloved community parks. One in 20 Americans now lives within a mile of a fracking operation, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This changing landscape has major implications for elections: if all politics are local, energy development just got local too.

Voters may not be terribly focused on America’s fossil fuel policy or how we are going to fight climate change, but when a fracking operation shows up in their subdivision and starts behaving badly, people engage with state agencies and elected officials in ways they never have before. They start to care passionately, and they take that passion into the voting booth.

That’s what has happened in Colorado. Dorsey Johnson was content living in her home north of Denver until a towering frack pad showed up nearby, bringing truck traffic, industrial noise, and flares with it.

Rod Brueske says that after an oil and gas company installed a five wells across the road from his farm in Longmont his family experienced headaches, sore throats, and persistent nosebleeds. One night he woke up and heard one of the wells hissing. State officials inspected the well and discovered it was leaking condensate and other toxic chemicals. The company hadn’t installed parts of the well correctly, but like Brueske, residents often find that out the hard way.

“There are probably thousands of wells in Colorado just like this that are out of compliance because our state only has very few inspectors,” Brueske said. He may not have thought much about inspector/well ratios or inadequate oversight before, but now he might expect his elected officials to have something to say about it.

That goes for Republicans as well as Democrats, because party affiliation doesn’t protect you from the hazards of living next door to reckless fossil fuel companies. In the deep red region of Appalachia, for instance, the Tennessee Conservative Union is joining with local environmental groups to protest mountaintop removal coal mining. This collaboration is part of what Politico recently called an emerging Green Tea movement, in which Tea Party members join forces with environmentalists. The focus of most of their work together turns out to be energy.

Candidates running for office in 2014 can expect to see more strange energy bedfellows, more energy-related campaign ads, and more pressure to take a stand on local energy debates. These issues can be tricky to navigate. But research done by the NRDC Action Fund confirms that when it comes to energy issues, voters consistently prefer candidates who champion clean energy and stronger safeguards against dirty fuels. Just look at 2012. Up and down the ticket, voters overwhelmingly favored candidates who support building a cleaner, safer, energy future.

Right now, voters are focused on what that future looks like in their own communities. In Georgia, conservative and liberal groups alike want to expand solar power in their state. In Arizona, Representative Barry Goldwater Jr. is working leading a coalition aimed at removing hurdles for business and residents who want to install rooftop solar panels. Local efforts like these will likely play a role in midterm elections, and voters will reward candidates who promote clean energy in our communities.


“Braley Works for Iowa” on Clean Energy

“Braley works for Iowa” is the tagline on the campaign website of Senate candidate and Rep. Bruce Braley. When it comes to clean energy and climate change, Braley’s tagline rings especially true. The congressman has a history of working hard to bring attention and solutions to the energy and climate challenges that affect his heartland district.


High stakes

The Senate race in Iowa will be one of the most important races to win in 2014 and our opponents are already on the attack, buying up the radio waves to mislead the public about climate change and Braley’s record.  It’s a high stakes race for a state that will be profoundly affected by unchecked climate change and that has tremendous clean energy potential. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa currently ranks third for installed wind energy capacity and ranks seventh for potential wind energy production. Iowa wind power is capable of meeting 44 times the state’s current electricity needs, according to AWEA. That’s a good weapon for a state that could be seriously damaged by a changing climate. According to the state’s leading climate scientists, Iowa’s agricultural industry’s ability to “feed the world” is threatened by extreme weather, droughts and intense rain storms caused by a warming world.

Braley’s record

Faced with the energy and climate challenges and opportunities in the Hawkeye State, Braley is the right candidate to continue pursuing sensible solutions to move his state forward. In the House, Braley has a history of working constructively as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to promote progress on these issues. Braley has been especially focused on Iowa’s strong wind energy and biofuel industries. He has sponsored legislation to improve worker training in clean energy jobs, to extend wind energy tax credits and to end Big Oil tax breaks in favor of clean energy investment.

Running clean works in Iowa

Iowans want clean energy and they want action on climate change. Recent polling in the state has found that 80% of Iowans believe global warming is happening and that 73% support government action to reduce greenhouse gases from U.S. businesses.

global warming in iowa 

Running on these popular issues has a history of success. During the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama successfully used clean energy as a winning wedge issue in the state. As discussed in our Running Clean report, Obama regularly discussed wind energy at rallies, in advertising and on his Iowa-specific campaign website. Obama’s campaign manager credited the wind energy message as part of a factor in winning the state.

With his strong record on clean energy and climate change, it is clear that Bruce Braley is the best candidate Iowans can elect to represent them in the Senate in 2014. We’re looking forward to watching Braley show his colleagues how to “run clean” – and win – in the America’s heartland.




Running Clean on EPA Carbon Rules

At this moment, Senators and members of Congress are embroiled in the politics of the government shutdown and how it might affect their reelection next year. However, just two weeks ago, EPA unveiled new rules to reduce carbon pollution at power plants and pundits were speculating about how these regulations might shape the 2014 elections.

Those with the strongest ties to the fossil fuel industry would have you believe that addressing global warming is unpopular and that voters prefer politicians who support the dirty energy status quo. However, clean energy candidates can rest easy knowing that support for clean energy and action on climate change are popular and can be an essential part of the recipe for success – even in “red” states.

In Running Clean, our wrap up of the 2012 election, we found that candidates who ran on their positive clean energy records were able to win in competitive elections, even in red states and states with strong fossil fuel industries. Montana, Virginia and New Mexico are home to oil, gas and coal resources yet clean energy champions won hard-fought Senate races in each of these states.

There are two big reasons these clean candidates were successful in tough races.

1. Americans of all political stripes support action on climate change.

The most recent polling finds that 87 percent of Americans support some EPA action on climate change, including 78 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats. That same poll found that about 75 percent of Americans now say that there is solid evidence that the average temperature has been getting warmer in recent decades, including 61 percent of Republicans.

2. Running clean is part of larger, smarter campaign narrative.

Our research found that successful clean candidates talked about local impacts of climate change and local opportunities from investments in clean energy. They made “clean” part of the values they communicated about siding with families and the future rather than the dirty fuels of the past. And they used clean energy as a way to build coalitions with other local groups. Each of these tactics made clean energy part of building an electoral majority.

Clean energy supporters facing tough match ups should take these facts to heart. Clean energy foes are running $750,000 in ads opposing a carbon tax and the NRSC may be telling folks like Kay Hagan and Mark Begich that they “will be held accountable for supporting a liberal administration that has declared a radical war on coal and American energy development,” but they shouldn’t believe it. It’s true, they’ll be held accountable — but they’ll be held accountable by an American public that believes climate change is a serious threat and that we must take action now. Running clean isn’t just good policy — it’s good politics too.