First 50 Days: Nothing but the Big Polluter Agenda

Around the time the new Congress marked its first 50 days, my children’s classes were celebrating the 100th day of school. Students did a hundred math problems, read books for a hundred minutes, and brought in bags of a hundred objects like dried beans and pasta.

If Republicans in Congress marked their milestone in a similar way, they would probably write up 50 ways to gut environmental safeguards or haul in 50 miniature smokestacks.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be at the top of the class.

Fifty days into the new Congress, McConnell has established himself as a champion of polluting industries. McConnell devoted much of this session to supporting the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil and trying to block the EPA from reducing climate change emissions. These efforts get a failing grade from public health experts because they would increase pollution linked to asthma attacks, respiratory illness and cancer.

Why has the GOP leadership used the first 50 days to push pollution? Perhaps it has something to do with their super-wealthy donors. Oil, gas, and coal companies spent more than $721 million to support their candidates and interests in Congress over the past two years. McConnell raked in $608,000 from the fossil fuel industry for his 2014 campaign.

Yet while most Republican lawmakers stump for more pollution, Americans are calling for less.

A Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that fully 70 percent of Americans say the federal government should limit the amount of climate change pollution coming from power plants. Most Americans trust the EPA more than Congress when it comes to addressing pollution, according a recent poll done by the American Lung Association. And 51 percent of Kentuckians wanted McConnell to say he recognizes that human activity causes climate change—something he refused to do in the election season.

A strong majority of Americans want leaders to confront the climate crisis, but the Republican leadership has refused. They have failed utterly to offer any plan for dealing with the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our time. During his campaign, McConnell promised to handcuff the EPA and stop climate action. That attracted industry dollars. But it’s not why most people voted for him. Kentuckians want to breathe clean air and shield their children from disastrous impacts from climate change.

The NRDC Action Fund also made a promise during the midterms: We vowed to hold lawmakers accountable for backing polluters over people.

Our commitment doesn’t end with the campaign cycle. We stay on the job, tracking member votes, tallying industry lobbying dollars, and letting voters know when lawmakers try to make the air dirtier or the water less safe to drink.

So when McConnell spends 50 days pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, we spread the word in Kentucky and beyond. And when Colorado’s Senator Cory Gardner votes against incentives for wind energy just months after he posed for a campaign ad in the middle of a wind farm, we let people know.

Because Washington shouldn’t be like Vegas: what happens there shouldn’t stay there. Voters should know what their lawmakers are doing. And they should expect those lawmakers to keep our kids safe from pollution.

 

Toomey Votes Out of Touch with Pennsylvanians

Senator Toomey’s home in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is only about 3 hours from Washington, DC, but judging from the senator’s voting record the past few weeks, it seems a world away. Toomey has cast one vote after another designed to block action on climate change, undermine clean energy growth, and weaken protections for air and water.

Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, the vast majority of residents have been calling for the exact opposite.

A full 72 percent of Pennsylvania voters, for instance, support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to a survey from Hart Research Associates. Even in western coal-producing regions, 63 percent say the EPA should limit this dangerous pollution. And a large majority of Pennsylvanian Republicans—58 percent—feels the same.

Toomey hasn’t gotten the message. The NRDC Action Fund gave him a Dirty Denier award last year for voting against every piece of environmental legislation except one in 2013. Now he is siding with the GOP leadership’s Big Polluter Agenda instead of his state’s own interests.

Perhaps it has something to do with the $445,966 Toomey has received from the oil and gas industries. Or the $865,283 he’s gotten from the conservative Club for Growth, an organization which consistently opposes climate action and where Toomey served as president from 2005 through 2009.

It’s time to bring the news home. Washington, DC is not Las Vegas, and what happens here shouldn’t stay here. People deserve to know what Toomey’s polluter-friendly votes could mean for Pennsylvania.

The nation’s leading experts report that, if we fail to reduce climate change pollution, stronger heat waves and smoggier air will pose significant threats to Pennsylvanians’ health. They also will be hit by more intense storms and floods, like those that came with Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene.

You wouldn’t know it based on Toomey’s votes when the Senate took up the GOP’s Keystone XL bill.

Climate Denial: Toomey voted to acknowledge that climate change is not a hoax and that humans play a role in the crisis, but he opposed an amendment stating that humans “significantly” contribute to climate change. That’s like refusing to say gravity “significantly” contributes to falling objects. Overwhelming evidence confirms that pollution from human activity causes climate change. To shy away from these facts in any way is to deny scientific reality. And to fail to offer any solutions is to leave Americans vulnerable to harm.

Clean Energy Blockade: More than 57,000 Pennsylvanians currently work at 4,200 clean energy businesses across the state. Yet Toomey voted down two amendments that would help solar and wind industries expand—even as he supports giving dirty fossil fuels a free pass from cleaning up their pollution.

Dirty Air: Toomey and his colleague from Pennsylvania, Democratic Senator Casey, introduced an amendment that would give power plants that burn “waste coal” a free pass on clean air safeguards. These protections reduce acid rain pollution and sulfur dioxide linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.  Pennsylvania has 14 of these plants, and though many similar plants already meet the standards, this amendment would exempt the Keystone State’s polluters—leaving residents to breathe dirtier air.

It’s disappointing to see Casey co-sponsor this dirty amendment, especially when he is usually a champion of clean energy and climate action.

Lawmakers of both parties would be wise to refocus on building a sustainable energy future for their state. Most Pennsylvanians want to tackle climate change and clean up pollution. And those same voters will be going to the polls in 2016 when Senator Toomey is up for reelection.

 

Happy Thanksgiving from the NRDC Action Fund

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. I so need this. Even-numbered years are always grueling at the NRDC Action Fund, but this one was particularly tough. The stakes seem to grow higher every day and most of the outcomes of this year’s election weren’t what I’d hoped for. I’m looking forward to a few days off, a few days home with my family, some delicious food, and a chance to reflect on all of the things for which I am grateful.

I’d like to share with you a few of the things on my environmental gratitude list this Thanksgiving.

Re-election of Clean Energy Champions

I am thankful the voters in New Hampshire and Maine re-elected their fantastic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Susan Collins. These two were Running Clean from the start, working for solutions to climate change, improvements in energy efficiency and investments in new technologies like offshore wind that will reduce carbon pollution. Shaheen and Collins both have track records of working to find bipartisan solutions to big problems like climate change, and I’m so glad to know they’ll be back in the Senate for six more years. They join other reelected champs, like Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley, (D-OR), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Election of New Clean Energy Champions

I am thankful the House and Senate will be welcoming some great new members in January, who are well-prepared to go toe-to-toe with the Dirty Deniers who will be in control. Michigan voters will be represented by Gary Peters in the Senate and we are eager to see what Gwen Graham of Florida and Brad Ashford of Nebraska will do in the House. Peters has been working toward climate solutions, especially with regard to clean cars, for years in the House and Graham and Ashford are a welcome change from the climate skeptics they are replacing.

Progress on the International Stage

I am thankful the world is moving forward on tackling climate change. Just two weeks ago, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly agreed to make substantial reductions in their countries’ carbon pollution. It’s been called a “watershed moment” as the world’s two largest emitters have agreed to break the deadlock that has gripped the world’s climate negotiations for years. While we need to make progress much more quickly, I’m thankful for this important step forward.

Clean Power Plan

I am thankful for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The draft plan, released in June, would reduce carbon pollution 30% below 2005 emissions by 2030. It would also save the lives of 3,500 Americans in 2020 and every year after. We can’t afford to wait, and the EPA’s work to reduce carbon pollution is galvanizing international action.

Clean Energy Getting More Affordable

I am thankful the world’s investments in clean energy are paying off. Clean energy is getting cheaper. According to a recent report from Deutsche Bank, “solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states” by 2016. Even if our solar tax credits are reduced, we’ll still see “grid parity” in 36 states that year. As prices come down, the arguments for clean energy and climate action get stronger. The Dirty Deniers are running out of excuses.

You

I am thankful for you. I am thankful for all the supporters of the NRDC Action Fund. I’m thankful for the more than 23,000 people who follow our Facebook page and the 4,500 people who follow our Twitter stream. I’m thankful for every one of you who have taken action to support candidates who are Running Clean with your donations and your votes and for every one of you who have told your elected leaders that you want Action on Climate.

Now, let’s go eat some turkey.

Doug Ose Was Dirty Then, Dirty Now; Bera is Running Clean (CA-07)

The campaign to represent California’s 7th House District is a clear contest between old and new. The incumbent is a freshman who is looking ahead to innovative, clean energy sources of the future. The challenger is a former congressman from a previous generation whose views on climate change and fossil energy are almost as old as the fuels themselves.

The incumbent, Dr. Ami Bera, is a physician by training. With his background in science, he understands the facts about climate change. Bera strongly supports government action to address the climate challenge. Bera has said that “Creating a clean energy future would generate millions of jobs, help our economy, and improve our lives. We can lead the way if we recognize the intersection of environmental sustainability, economic growth, national security and public health.”

Bera’s votes echo his rhetoric. He has earned a 93 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters for his first term in office. He consistently voted in favor of climate action, against taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, and in favor of protecting bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Bera has also sponsored legislation to promote public-private partnerships to increase energy efficiency.

In contrast to Bera’s forward-looking approach, Doug Ose is stuck in the past. As a congressman from 1999 to 2005, Ose was already on the wrong side of history with his support for dirty energy and his votes against environmental protection. During his three congressional terms, Ose earned a pitiful 12 percent lifetime LCV score. He voted to increase offshore and Arctic drilling and opposed legislation to reduce smog pollution and increase energy efficiency and vehicle fuel economy.

Today his positions are even harder to understand as the climate science has strengthened and the need to act has grown more urgent. Ose is a #DirtyDenier$ who has said of climate change, “I am skeptical because of the science being sketchy.” He opposes government action to address the problem. Those who follow this blog regularly won’t be surprised to learn that Ose has received more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry over the course of his career.

Voters in California’s 7th district are looking ahead to a bright, clean energy future. Only Dr. Ami Bera is Running Clean to lead them there.

 

Polluters Try to Make Something Out of Nothing

Climate change polluters don’t have a lot to work with this election season. Since the vast majority of American voters have repeatedly said they support limiting the carbon pollution from power plants, fossil fuel companies and their allies are left trying to make even the weakest numbers sound good.

This week the Partnership for a Better Energy Future—a mining, manufacturing, and agricultural coalition that includes frequent climate deniers like the US Chamber of Commerce—released a survey claiming that 47 percent of voters in oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to reduce carbon pollution.

As if less-than-a-half was something to trumpet.

These results stand in sharp contrast to nearly every independent poll conducted this year.

  • 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 conducted for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of American residents support the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
  • A Bloomberg News poll even found that 62 percent of Americans were willing to pay more for energy if it mean reducing carbon pollution.
  • And a survey done by Yale University said voters are three times more likely to vote against a candidate who opposes government action to address climate change.

NRDC Action Fund got similar results when we commissioned Harstad Strategic Research to poll voters in 11 swing states with close Senate races, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. That includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.

Most Americans recognize that cleaning up dangerous pollution is good for their families and the economy. But that doesn’t stop dirty industries from trying to hold on to their loopholes and giveaways.

The so-called Partnership for a Better Energy Future paid to poll voters in purple states—many of them coal-heavy—and even then, they couldn’t muster a majority. It’s like a punch line. They even tried to stack the deck by posing the kind of technical questions that tend to make respondents more inclined to say no, yet they had little to show for it.

In Iowa, for instance, the survey claimed that 45 percent of Iowa residents were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution. Yet a recent survey from lowa Interfaith Power & Light, meanwhile, found that 75 percent of Iowans were more likely to support a candidate who promotes clean renewable energy. Iowa, after all, gets 27 percent of its energy from wind power and has more than 43,000 Iowans working in the clean economy.

The EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution will bring the benefits of clean energy—including good-paying jobs, safer air, and greater climate stability—to more communities. That’s why so many Americans support it and that’s why smart candidates are running on clean energy and climate action. Even the polluters’ own polling shows that the numbers favor climate champions.