Running Clean or Running Scared?

A batch of Senate amendments this week revealed the awkward maneuvering going on within the Republican Party on climate change. After months of some GOP lawmakers holding fast to denial and some demurring “I’m not a scientist,” a handful of Senate Republicans voted to forthrightly acknowledge that human activity is driving climate change.

But the Senate Republican membership as a whole still stuck to a dispiriting mix of denial and obfuscation.  And perhaps worst of all, even most of those Senators who voted to acknowledge the existence of man-made climate change, simply shifted from the know-nothing category to the do-nothing one.

Neither position will help our nation deal with this crisis. And neither will resonate with the vast majority of Americans who say in poll after poll they want leaders to address climate change and reduce the carbon pollution that drives it.

So what happened in the Senate?  One amendment, offered by climate champion Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) put the Senate on record, by a vote of 98-1, saying that climate change was not a “hoax.” The amendment passed almost unanimously because it was interpreted as just saying the climate is changing – not why.  The real test for deniers was the amendment put forward by Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) stating that human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change.

The former amendment is the equivalent of saying cigarettes release smoke. The latter recognizes that cigarettes cause lung cancer—and gets us headed toward solving a devastating problem.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that pollution from human activity causes climate change. To stand on the side of fact and reality, lawmakers must recognize the link between pollution and climate disruption.

Republicans who flirt with references to a changing climate but refuse to acknowledge the human role in that change can’t shake off the label of climate denier—or flat Earther or ostrich with head in the sand.

The Schatz amendment failed 50-49, but five Republicans demonstrated leadership by voting for it: Senators Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), Ayotte (NH), Graham (SC), and Alexander (TN).

In an effort to give Republicans wiggle room, Senator Hoeven (R-ND) offered an identical amendment that struck the world “significantly” from the text on human activity causing climate change.

The Hoeven amendment does not acknowledge what the science actually says.  The scientific consensus is that the changes we’re seeing in our climate cannot be explained without including human activity, and cannot be addressed without limiting carbon pollution.  The Hoeven amendment was a way to make it look like Republicans accepted the science without actually having them do so.  This simply combines denial with cowardice.  At least figures like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) are open about their beliefs.

Support for the Hoeven amendment seemed strong enough that Hoeven himself panicked and voted no, apparently fearing that denialism is so strong in some quarters that even his tepid amendment would lead some Republicans to turn against the underlying bill which forces approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In the end, the amendment failed 59-40, but fifteen Republicans supported it—seven of whom are up for reelection in 2016, some in purple states.

It’s no wonder Republicans eyeing the next election are rethinking their climate positions. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that two-thirds of voters support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This support reaches into purple and red states: a survey conducted by Harstad Strategic Research reported that 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats say the EPA should limit carbon pollution.

Mitt Romney’s team may be reading the same polls. As he considers a third run for president, Romney described himself this week as “one of those Republicans” who believe that humans contribute to climate change and the U.S. make show “real leadership” on the issue. Romney knows he needs moderate votes to win the White House, and 62 percent of moderate Republicans view climate change as a serious threat, according to new analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Having a few more Republican Senators on-the-record accepting climate change science is, sadly, a notable development. So is more Republicans tacitly acknowledging that forthright denialism is bad politics.  But they can’t stop there. They have to offer a plan for solving it. Right now the GOP Leadership in Congress has not only vowed to block the Obama Administration’s climate action at every turn, they have failed entirely to present their own blueprint for reducing carbon pollution. Their do-nothing position is the hoax that needs revealing.

GOP Choice for Response to State of the Union Shows Their True Intentions- Support Dirty Polluters

The GOP is taking another lurch to the far right tonight. Republican leaders have chosen recently elected Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to deliver the party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Ernst is a veteran who grew up on an Iowa farm. She is also a pistol-packing, anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean-Water-Act opponent endorsed by Sarah Palin, Senator Marco Rubio, and other Tea Party stalwarts.

Her selection offers yet another sign the GOP leadership is doubling down on its Big Polluter Agenda.  Instead of offering solutions to any environmental problems, the GOP is just trying to block any action that polluters oppose.

Ernst burst onto the national scene last year with a pair of attention-grabbing campaign ads. In the first, she tells viewers, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” In the second, Ernst rides a Harley and pulls a handgun from her purse. As she fires off a round, an announcer intones: “Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending. And when she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni’s going to unload.”

But those highly visible ads didn’t trumpet Ernst’s support for tearing down the entire structure for protecting health and the environment.

Ernst says, “Let’s shut down the EPA.” Her argument?  “I do believe our states know best how to protect their natural resources,” Ernst said.

But we already know what life would be like without an EPA because we’ve tried it.  And what did we get prior to the creation of the EPA in 1970?  Air pollution so thick you couldn’t see the George Washington Bridge, though you could see Los Angeles’ brown air from space; meanwhile, thanks to lead in gasoline, nearly 90 percent of American children had lead in their blood at levels deemed unsafe by the Center for Disease Control.

The problem with leaving environmental protection up to the states is glaringly obvious — pollution crosses state lines. Mercury from Midwestern power plants ends up in New England, and toxic runoff from Wisconsin flows down the Mississippi River to Iowa. In fact, states assume that the federal government is going to create an environmental safety net.  More than half of all states are precluded by state laws or policy from adopting safeguards stronger than the federal standard. Imagine if that benchmark didn’t exist: we would see a race to the bottom, with some states weakening protections to attract dirty industries.

Maybe it’s not surprising that Ernst wishes away the simple fact that air and water don’t stop at state borders since she also rejects the science of climate change.  In outright denialist fashion Ernst claims that changes in the climate are “natural.” This is at odds with the 97 percent of climate scientists who have concluded that human activity is the main cause of climate change.

Ernst is especially outspoken, but her views are emblematic of the GOP’s Big Polluter Agenda. When it comes to environmental protection, the GOP motto is “Just say ‘no’.”  Congressional Republicans have vowed to block any and all action on climate change; prevent action to limit smog, and stop efforts to protect more waters under the Clean Water Act.  And that’s just for starters.

That’s totally at odds with the majority of Americans. A Washington Post poll found that 7 in 10 people support the EPA’s action to limit climate change pollution. And 78 percent of voters are somewhat or strongly opposed to rolling back drinking water protections, according to a survey by Hart Research Associates.

If voters aren’t driving the GOP agenda, who is? The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections—87 percent of it on Republicans. And now the Republican majority is putting polluters’ interests before the public’s right to clean air and water.

Sarah Palin proclaimed, “We’ve got faith in Joni!”  The American people have no reason to echo her.


Lawmakers who Back Big Polluters Risk Losing GOP Voters

Energy prices may be plummeting, but oil, gas, and coal companies are seeing a dramatic return on investment in one sector: the US Congress. The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections. And now the GOP majority has vowed to make life easier for polluters by gutting long-standing protections for clean air and water and blocking measures the fight climate change.

Last week, for instance, House Republicans voted to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Representatives who supported the Keystone XL bill received over 8.5 times more oil and gas money in 2014 than those who voted against it. Now the action moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from oil, gas, and coal companies in 2014.

These fossil-fuel favors may please donors, but new research shows that lawmakers risk painting themselves into a corner with Republican voters.

Because in order for GOP leadership to carry out the Big Polluter Agenda, they have to ignore the giant elephant in the room: climate change.

To push for Keystone XL, they have to discount the fact that tar sands oil generates 17 percent more climate change pollution than conventional crude. To block the Environmental Protection Agency’s from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, they have to pretend that unchecked emissions won’t make America’s families, farms, coastal cities and local communities more vulnerable to extreme weather.

In other words, they have to reject the facts.

Many Republican lawmakers are comfortable with this arrangement. The Senate alone is now home to 38 climate deniers who received $28,152,466 from fossil fuel companies over the course of their careers, according to Climate Progress.

But Republican voters who notice the costly increase in drought, floods, and fires are starting to question the wisdom of denial.

New comprehensive analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reveals a growing divide within the Republican Party over climate change.

Overall, 56 percent of GOP voters say they favor government action to reduce climate change pollution. A full 62 percent of moderate Republicans said climate change is a real and present threat, while 38 percent of conservative Republicans and only 29 percent of Tea Party Republicans recognize the reality of climate change.

GOP candidates would be wise to ponder these numbers. They may be able to win primaries by appealing to the most conservative base. They may even carry a few Congressional races by playing to the skeptics. But they cannot win the White House in 2016 by denying climate change.

Climate change has become an inescapable issue on the campaign trail. It emerged in every 2014 Senate race, with journalists, debate moderators, and voters demanding to know where candidates stood. The same will happen in the presidential election. And in a year where the geopolitical map favors Democrats, a GOP candidate can’t afford to alienate Republican moderates who understand the steep cost of extreme weather and unchecked pollution.

By pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, GOP lawmakers risk collecting the cash but losing the people—including a chunk of their own voters.

 

Likely 2016 Voters Want Action on Climate Change

NRDC Action Fund Polling: Key Constituency Support for EPA Clean Power Plan is Strong

WASHINGTON (December 18, 2014) – Today the NRDC Action Fund announced key findings from its first poll conducted with a focus on the attitudes of 2016 voters on climate and clean energy issues. The new poll, following the November 2014 elections, shows that despite millions of dollars in polluter campaign attacks, voter support for climate action has remained steady or increased—including from Republicans, Independents, and other key constituencies.

“A climate denier will have a hard road ahead if he or she wants to win the White House in 2016 because green voters intend to show up,” said Wesley Warren, Policy Advocacy Director for the NRDC Action Fund. “It is obvious in our poll results that 2016 voters want action on climate change. Presidential candidates who argue against taking action are going to be aligning themselves against the majority of voters, including those that are typically key constituencies. In addition, 63 percent of voters want their current U.S. Senators to address the impacts of climate change on their local communities—a warning to Senate leadership that voters will not stand for a Congress that tries to roll back progress on climate action.”

Today’s data follows an NRDC Action Fund poll first conducted in February 2014, in nine states, which showed 67 percent of voters surveyed favored an Environmental Protection Agency plan to address climate change that aims to reduce the amount of industrial carbon pollution released by power plants.

Key findings from today’s release include:

  • Two-thirds of likely 2016 voters favor an EPA plan to address climate change that aims to reduce the amount of industrial carbon pollution released by power plants.
  • Groups of voters who will be important in determining the outcome of the 2016 elections are also highly supportive of the new carbon standards.
    • 85 percent of Democratic Primary Voters
    • 71 percent of younger voters (18-39 years old)
    • 70 percent of Latino/African American voters
    • 62 percent of Independent women
    • 59 percent of Republican women
  • Clear majorities continue to see climate change as a serious problem –far more than dismiss it as a problem.
  • A 2-to-1 majority of 2016 voters prefer investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy over coal, oil, and gas.
  • A large majority of voters want their Senators to address the impacts of climate change.
    • 63 percent of likely 2016 voters
    • 62 percent in red states (AK, AR, LA, NC)
    • 64 percent in blue states (CO, IA, MI, NH, VA)

Andrew Maxfield, Senior Vice-President, Harstad Strategic Research added, “Voters know that there is something wrong with the climate, they can see it, feel it, more with each passing day, and most know something needs to be done.  Likely 2016 voters across many key demographics strongly support limits on dangerous carbon pollution, including 59 percent of Republican women. Addressing climate change is an issue both sides of the aisle will need to address in the next election cycle.”

Polling was conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. from November 18-24, 2014. The survey includes 1,206 voters in nine states. It was paid for by the NRDC Action Fund and NRDC. To view: Polling Results Slide Deck

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The NRDC Action Fund’s mission is to grow the environmental majority across America to achieve the passage of legislation that jump-starts the clean energy economy, reduces pollution, and sustains vibrant communities for all Americans. Now is the time for leadership and action from our elected officials — our current goal is a comprehensive clean energy policy that will repower our economy and fuel our future. www.nrdcactionfund.org

Note to reporters/editors: The NRDC Action Fund is an affiliated but separate organization from the Natural Resources Defense Council. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, the NRDC Action Fund engages in various advocacy and political activities for which the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 501(c)(3) organization, faces certain legal limitations or restrictions. News and information released by the NRDC Action Fund needs to be identified as from the “NRDC Action Fund.” The “Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund” is incorrect. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the NRDC Action Fund can not be used interchangeably. Also please note that the word “National” does not appear in Natural Resources Defense Council.

Why A Climate Denier Can’t Win the White House in 2016

In a year dominated by economic woes and international strife, voters considered many issues when they cast their ballots. Yet more than ever before, climate change emerged as a central concern. Exit polls show that 6 out of every 10 voters view climate change as a serious problem.

The incoming GOP leadership should mark these numbers. The majority of voters have said in poll after poll they want leaders to tackle climate change. They have not given Republicans a mandate to block climate action at every turn—as new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to try to do. Dismissing the need to curb climate change pollution will alienate many voters and put the GOP’s 2016 candidates outside the national conversation.

Because times have changed. An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 70 percent of Americans see climate change as a major challenge and support federal action to reduce climate change pollution. Many campaign strategists and pundits took note and addressed the issue head on.

This focus has created an irreversible shift: climate change is now a significant part of the political conversation. Climate denial or evasion may still be viable in some regions of the country and with an off-year electorate. But it won’t work with the national electorate.

Candidates can no longer dodge the issue of climate change. And a climate denier can no longer hope to win the White House.

In the 2012 election cycle, climate change barely registered on the national stage. This year, it appeared across the campaign trail. Moderators asked questions about it in nearly every debate. Candidates wrote it into stump speeches (and even victory speeches, in the case of Senator-elect Peters). And journalists covered their positions in detail.

As the season unfolded, more polls confirmed that voters cared about the climate threat and wanted leaders to do something about it.

A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This support reached into purple and red states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas: a survey conducted by Harstad Strategic Research reported that 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats say the EPA should limit carbon pollution.

Republican candidates read these polls too, and some started moderating their positions. In August, former Senator Scott Brown was asked if manmade climate change had been scientifically proven, and he replied, “Uh, no.” But by the time the debates rolled around in October, he said climate change “is a combination of manmade and natural” causes.

Some GOP hopefuls tried to appear open to climate solutions like clean energy. In an Iowa debate, Jodi Ernst exclaimed she drove a hybrid car when challenged about her ant-environmental rhetoric. And Colorado’s Cory Gardner ran a campaign ad featuring him standing in front of wind turbines.

Yet many Republican candidates tried to hedge by embracing the “I’m not a scientist” claim. This way a cynical demurral—lawmakers must have views on a wide range of issues—but it revealed the party’s recognition that straight-up climate denial is no longer a viable position. It took them too long to get here. While they spent years discounting science, the climate clock kept ticking and extreme weather intensified.

But now the political landscape has shifted and the days of denial are over. The vast majority of Americans want lawmakers to confront the climate threat. This is especially true among voting blocs critical to winning national office: women, Latinos, and young people.

Climate solutions create benefits so many Americans value, including clean air, safe drinking water, good-paying jobs, and secure energy that never runs out. The next crop of candidates—and the incoming GOP leadership—turn their back on these solutions at their own peril, because path to the White House now leads through climate action.