The “Bipartisan Bust” – Attack on EPA is Losing Ground in the Senate

McConnellThe headline in yesterday’s Washington Examiner reads:  “Greens: GOP support for climate rules rising.”  If you are asking yourself right now what that means, here’s the story.…

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attack on the Clean Power Plan this week was supposed to demonstrate to the world the strong bipartisan opposition to the United States’ first ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from power plans. His party has a majority in the Senate, but the measure passed by a not very strong majority of 52 votes—nowhere near the 67 votes needed to make it veto proof.

Even more problematic for McConnell and his polluter allies, though, is that the vote ended up showing that the Clean Power Plan actually has bipartisan support, and enough of it to ensure that it will keep moving forward.

What happened when the time came to vote?  As the New York Times reported:

“Three moderate Republicans, two up for re-election next year, Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, as well as Senator Susan Collins of Maine, broke from their party to vote against the resolutions and back the environmental regulations.”

What explains the loss of Republican momentum in the attacks on the EPA? E&E News explained the actions of Senators Ayotte and Collins this way:

“Of the three Republicans who voted to keep the plan in place, Ayotte and Kirk are part of a recently formed Republican working group on environment and energy issues.

“Ayotte, who is in a tough re-election battle with New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, last month publicly announced that she was in favor of the Clean Power Plan. Kirk, though, was the target of an aggressive campaign by environmentalists after reports surfaced that he was planning to vote in favor of the resolutions. He is also vulnerable next year.

“After the vote, Collins touted Maine’s actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. She said she was concerned that global warming was adding to pollution-linked asthma issues and a higher incidence of lime disease as ticks’ habitats shift to the north.”

The backstory on Senator Kirk is even more interesting.  According to the National Journal, “Kirk is one of many moderate Republicans facing a tough reelection (National Journal’s Charlie Cook has rated the race a tossup).”  And as Energy Guardian explained:

“Kirk, who faces a tough re-election challenge from Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, took fire from environmentalists in June for a vote against the power plant carbon limits in an EPA and Interior appropriations bill. Groups had charged Kirk with casting the “deciding vote” for language that would have blocked funding for the rules.”

(NRDC, by the way, was one of those groups that held Senator Kirk accountable last summer.)

An aide for Senator Kirk elaborated to Politico:

“‘Senator Kirk today voted to improve air quality and reduce rising childhood asthma rates,’ a Kirk spokeswoman said in a statement explaining the senator’s vote. ‘With our diverse energy portfolio, Illinois is already leading the way in energy efficiency and is well positioned to balance the needs of the environment and the economy.'”

So, the next time you hear someone saying there is bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Senate to roll back the EPA Clean Power Plan, please set that person straight.  What’s growing is the bipartisan support for the Clean Power Plan. And that’s not speculation or any political tea-leaf reading.

The votes prove it.

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Congressional Candidates Should Lead on the Clean Power Plan

When Hillary Clinton announced her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, she made clear the main reason for her decision: the threat of global warming. Clinton called the pipeline “a distraction from the important work we have to do on climate change.”

Clinton is not alone in emphasizing climate change on the campaign trail. Every Democratic presidential candidate has made clean energy and other climate solutions a central part of their platform. Smart Congressional candidates are doing the same.

They understand that addressing climate change will make America stronger. They also know the vast majority of voters are looking for climate leadership.

More than two-thirds of Americans support government limits on carbon pollution, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. And 48 percent of Republicans said they were more likely to cast their ballots for candidates who tackle climate change, according to a New York Times/Stanford survey.

This election cycle, many Congressional candidates are demonstrating their commitment to climate action by supporting the Clean Power Plan. This national plan gives states a great deal of flexibility in how they reduce carbon pollution from power plants. All 50 states will gain new jobs, cleaner air and savings on energy bills. In other words, the Clean Power Plan touches on what most voters care about most: health, jobs and savings accounts.

Plenty of GOP leaders will continue to be mired in climate denial and inaction, but strong candidates will lead on the issue. NRDC Action Fund research found that candidates who run on clean energy and climate action are more likely to win their races. Talking about the benefits of the Clean Power Plan will help them do it.

Public Health: Cleaner air means fewer trips to the ER for our kids’ asthma or our parents’ heart attacks. Yet climate change contributes to higher levels of smog, which is linked to respiratory illness, heart conditions and premature deaths. The EPA estimates that the Clean Power Plan will help reduce this pollution and prevent 90,000 asthma attacks a year. This will be especially welcome news in Florida, Colorado, and others states home to a large number of Latinos, 50 percent of whom live where pollution levels are often too toxic to breathe safely.

Savings Accounts: Spending less on energy bills puts more money in our pockets. The fastest and cheapest way for states to meet their carbon pollution limits is to help people make homes and businesses more energy efficient. Incentives for installing efficient windows, furnaces, air conditioners and other solutions will drive down energy use—and the cost of our monthly bills as well. In addition, the EPA is offering states extra incentives to help low-income communities put money-saving energy efficiency measures in place. Taken together, the Clean Power Plan will help Americans save a total of $155 billion on our electric bills between 2020 and 2030.

Economic Growth: The clean energy economy is booming. Renewable energy attracted $38 billion in investments in American communities last year, and that’s just the beginning. Renewable projects are expected to roughly double by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan, and efficiency programs will also expand. This will generate more good-paying jobs in every state in the nation. Candidates can point to the success of clean energy industries in their states as a sign of the growth to come. For example, Indiana Senate candidate Baron Hill can say that his state is already in the top 10 for clean energy job growth. And, in the crowded race to fill Senator Marco Rubio’s seat in the Senate, for instance, campaigners can highlight the 130,000 Floridians working in the clean energy sector, 100,000 of them in energy efficiency.

Future Generations: Climate change is already hitting home. Candidates have all too many examples of how it can intensify extreme weather, from prolonged drought in Nevada to recording-breaking downpours in Indiana to repeated flooding at high tide in Florida. But they can also offer a solution. Reducing carbon pollution today will help shield future generations from the worst impacts of climate change. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to act now.

As Paris Approaches, Be Confident in the Clean Power Plan

The United States is playing a leadership role in the run-up to the Paris climate conference. The United States announced its own commitment—its “intended nationally determined contribution” (INDC)—earlier this year: a 26-28 percent reduction in national emissions of climate-changing pollution (greenhouse gas emissions) by 2025, from 2005 levels. Domestic implementation of the U.S. INDC is founded primarily on standards and regulations issued under existing U.S. laws such as the Clean Air Act, the vehicle fuel economy law, and other energy efficiency laws. Key measures include carbon pollution standards for power plants, fuel economy and carbon pollution standards for automobiles and trucks, measures to replace HFCs, and standards to cut methane leakage.

Many international observers are keenly interested in whether they can count on the U.S. approach to implementing its INDC. The answer is “yes.” The United States has durable climate laws, and the Clean Power Plan and the other key U.S. climate actions stand on firm legal ground.

The U.S. has durable climate laws

Some observers may think that the United States has not adopted a climate law, but that is not true. The U.S. already has a climate law—the Clean Air Act—a very durable and successful law adopted by the Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon 45 years ago, in 1970. Nixon’s predecessor, President Lyndon Johnson, had alerted Congress to the dangers of CO2-driven climate change in 1965—50 years ago! Congress responded in the 1970 Clean Air Act by giving the Environmental Protection Agency authority to curb pollutants that can change the climate.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling in 2007 that the 1970 Clean Air Act gave the EPA the authority and responsibility to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. The Supreme Court confirmed that authority in two other decisions in 2011 and 2014. It is quite unusual to have three Supreme Court decisions confirming the government’s power to curb carbon pollution in so short a span of years.

It is true that in 2009 and 2010 Congress considered, but did not pass, new legislation that would have amended the Clean Air Act to add further climate change authority. But the decision not to enact those amendments had no effect on the original Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions granted to the EPA. That law remains fully valid.

The Clean Power Plan stands on firm ground

The centerpiece of the U.S. domestic climate program is the Clean Power Plan, issued by President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency on August 3rd. The Clean Power Plan is an EPA regulation issued under the Clean Air Act. Regulations adopted under the Clean Air Act have the force of law. The Clean Power Plan will put enforceable limits on power plants’ carbon pollution starting in 2022. Nationwide, it will cut power plants’ carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Many observers are trying to gauge the political and legal situation in the U.S. They should be confident that the Clean Power Plan will prevail over legal and political challenges. Here are the answers to key questions that international observers may have, and the reasons they should be confident in the U.S.’s implementation of its INDC:

Can Congress block the Clean Power Plan? Most—but not all—Republicans in the current Congress would like to pass legislation to block the Clean Power Plan and to repeal the Clean Air Act’s authority over climate-changing pollution. They do not have the votes, however, to change that law. It takes a 60 vote majority in the Senate to pass most forms of legislation, and the opponents of the Clean Air Act and Clean Power Plan do not have 60 votes. There are several kinds of legislation that require only 51 votes, but President Obama can be counted on to veto any such bill that compromises the Clean Air Act. It requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a veto. The Clean Power Plan’s opponents do not have that two-thirds super-majority in either the House or Senate. So Congress will not be able to block the Clean Power Plan.

Can states block the Clean Power Plan? Under the Clean Air Act, our state governments have the first opportunity to implement the Clean Power Plan by writing state regulations (called state plans) to put enforceable limits on the power plants within their borders. Many states—with governors of both parties—are working diligently to develop their state plans. A small handful of governors are threatening to refuse to do this, however. Under the law, a state is free to refuse to adopt a state plan, but that does not end the matter. If a state refuses, the Clean Air Act then requires the EPA to directly regulate the power plants in that state. One way or another, power plant carbon pollution will be regulated. Most power companies prefer to be regulated by the states rather than the EPA. So in the end, very few state political leaders will choose to leave regulation of the power plants in their state to the EPA.

Will the courts block the Clean Power Plan? In the American system, the Clean Power Plan’s opponents have the right to challenge it in the courts. The courts have thus far rebuffed all efforts to block the EPA from issuing these standards. The Clean Power Plan’s opponents have already lost eight straight court challenges to power plant carbon pollution standards.

Another court battle will start later this fall when the EPA rules are formally published in the Federal Register. They will file their cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, often called our second highest court. There will be a large number of challengers, and they will make a lot of noise. But as mentioned above, the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the EPA’s Clean Air Act authority over climate-changing pollution three times between 2007 and 2014. The main legal challenges that we expect to see, and the reasons they are likely to fail, are addressed in an NRDC issue brief on what to expect in Clean Power Plan litigation. The EPA wins the vast majority of cases brought against its standards. The EPA is operating on solid ground here, and these challenges are not likely to succeed.

What happens after Obama? There is good reason to expect that the Clean Power Plan, and the other measures in the U.S. INDC, will prove to be durable after the end of the President’s term. Climate change is already a much more prominent issue in the 2016 campaign than in any prior election. The prospective Democratic presidential candidates all promise continuity, and even stronger action. It is true that most potential Republican candidates oppose the Clean Power Plan—in fact, most of them still deny that climate change is real or merits any action. But this is one of many issues where the Republican candidates are playing to a small slice of the electorate, and where they are badly out of step with the majority. Only a minority of the American public doubts or denies climate science. The majority of Americans strongly favor climate action: 60-70 percent of the public backs the Clean Power Plan in public opinion polls. Eight million people—a record number—wrote letters or emails to the EPA in support of power plant carbon pollution standards. Climate is an issue of ever-growing importance to the growing segments of our voting population—especially young people, Latinos, and African Americans.

For all these reasons, the U.S. has a durable legal structure for carrying out its Paris commitments, and there’s good reason to expect continuity and deeper commitments from the United States after 2016.

David Doniger is a Senior Advisor to the NRDC Action Fund.

Emphasizing Need to Combat Climate Change, Clinton Opposes Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton added her voice  to the opposition to the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline noting that it is not in the interests of fighting climate change. This doesn’t come as a surprise given the American public’s focus on climate action. Tar sands crude is about as dirty as it gets when it comes to climate change. Keystone XL would take us in the wrong direction. We need to power our future with clean energy, not lock future generations into the dirty fuels of the past. The stakes for the country demand an approach just as assertive on climate change from any candidate, from either party, who aspires to the highest office in the land.

It is worth reminding ourselves just why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline does not make climate sense. This project would pipe tar sands crude from under the Canadian boreal forests and wetlands to the Gulf Coast where most of it would be exported as diesel to overseas markets. That means putting American farmlands and waters at risk so that the oil industry can access overseas markets for the currently mostly land-locked tar sands.

Tar sands is not your grandfather’s oil. It is strip-mined and melted from deep under Canada’s boreal forest in a process that guzzles energy and water, generating high levels of climate-destroying pollution and devastating miles of wilderness. Dirty fuels such as tar sands have no place in a future of climate action and clean energy.

Keystone XL would drive expansion of tar sands mining and drilling by providing access to new markets overseas. Instead, without Keystone XL, we have seen tar sands projects being postponed and cancelled citing lack of adequate infrastructure. It is no coincidence that the public opposition to Keystone XL has been echoed in opposition to other proposed coastal access pipelines, none of which seem likely to go through.

Because so much of the capital investment in tar sands extraction is up front, once the mines and other facilities are built, they tend to keep producing even as oil prices have sunk to their current low levels. That is another reason why building infrastructure that facilitates expansion of tar sands ends up locking us in to years of dirty fuels production.

Keystone XL fails President Obama’s climate test. Analysis by both the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency show that Keystone XL would significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

It is no accident that Clinton has moved from her “inclined to support” comment while Secretary of State to clear opposition of Keystone XL. As American voices for climate action and clean energy have strengthened, so has opposition to senseless dirty energy projects likes tar sands pipelines.

In fact, scientists across North America have called for a moratorium on tar sands expansion and related infrastructure because of its impact on climate change and the environment. These scientists note that addressing climate change will require leaving 75 percent of the world’s fossil fuels in the ground, starting with those that produce the most carbon pollution, like tar sands oil. The choices that Canada and the United States make about tar sands in the coming months and years will reverberate globally, as other nations face the inconsistency of trying to have both climate action and expansion of dirty fuels. Yet Canada has continued on its path of being a climate laggard, recently even labelled as the worst in the industrialized world on climate action by a United Nations panel.

The decision to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline once and for all rests with the Administration. President Obama has made it clear that Keystone XL would be all risk and no reward for the American people. Now it’s time for him to reject the tar sands pipeline for good.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is a Senior Advisor to the NRDC Action Fund.

What Would Carly Fiorina Have Said If Asked About Climate Change During The Debate?


Photo Credit: flickr, with Creative Commons license 

The new face at Wednesday’s night second Republican presidential debate was Carly Fiorina. Fiorina stands out from the crowded field of candidates because she is a woman and the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She was also the only one who could “take on Donald Trump” and she “distinguished herself on the debate stage,” according to two talking heads.

But Fiorina wasn’t ever asked a question about climate change during the debate. (That’s because the topic was given approximately 30 seconds out of a three hour debate, but that’s a topic for another blog post!) Given her recent statements and speeches on the issue, here is what we know she thinks about climate change:

In August, at the Iowa State Fair, Fiorina said: “[A]ll the people who tell us that we can’t do this, we can’t drill, we can’t keep the coal industry going. They all cite the science of climate change. Let me tell you what the scientists say. If you want to quote science you gotta read the fine print. All the scientists that tell us that climate change is real and man made also tell us this: A single nation acting alone will make no difference at all.” [emphasis mine]

This last point is one that she repeats just about every time she’s asked about climate change. While it’s nice to see the Republican presidential candidates varying their reasons for opposing action on climate change, this is another rationalization that doesn’t hold water.

It’s wrong on several counts.  First, it jumps from stating the obvious—no one country alone can fight climate change—to the absurd—therefore, it doesn’t make sense for any country to do anything about climate change.  Talk about a defeatist attitude.

Second, it wishes away the impact of U.S. action.  The United States is the second largest emitter of climate pollution in the world and the largest per person.  The flip side of what Fiorina says is that no plan to combat climate change will matter unless it includes the United States.  And no plan is likely to ever come together or take effect unless it includes U.S. leadership. (Don’t Republicans claim they want the United States to be a leader?)

Third, Fiorina implicitly assumes that other countries aren’t acting on climate.  This isn’t true, and the pace has picked up thanks to the Obama Administration demonstrating that the U.S. will act.  Here are some recent developments:

  • China issued a continued carbon intensity reduction target reaching 60-65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
  • South Korea will cut its emissions to 37 percent below business as usual by 2030.
  • Brazil is pushing for 28 percent to 33 percent of its energy matrix to come from renewable sources (electricity and biofuels) by 2030.
  • Morocco: committed to reduce emissions between 13 percent (unconditionally) and 32 percent (conditional based on access to finance and support).
  • Japan, Australia, and Canada have made pledges that are too weak or that they are not on track for and they are facing pressure to strengthen them. (Natural Resources Defense Council’s Jake Schmidt has more on this here.)
  • India is expected to make a climate pledge next month.

Nobody is suggesting the United States to act alone. That’s a red herring. But we are asking the United States to embrace its role as a global leader and to be part of a global solution to the climate crisis.

Here’s what Fiorina went on to say:

“We can destroy all these jobs in this nation, we can destroy industries in this nation at the altar of science. But here’s the truth ladies and gentlemen, those livelihoods and lives are being destroyed not at the altar of science but at the altar of ideology. This is about ideology. It is not about science.” [emphasis mine]

Again, this statement looks more and more ridiculous the more you read it.  It combines two false premises.  First, it distorts science by claiming that the science says there’s no reason for the U.S. to act.  Second, it distorts economics by assuming that climate action is a job killer.

One study by NRDC found that a strong carbon pollution standard could create 274,000 energy efficiency-related jobs. There is also a huge potential for clean energy jobs in wind and solar industries. Wind energy already accounts for 73,000 jobs, which will only grow with the Clean Power Plan. There will also be an increase in jobs like electricians, construction managers, installers, inspectors, and technicians. All of these are good-paying jobs that can’t be sent overseas.

Fiorina’s other popular “answer” to the climate crisis is that America needs to innovate instead of regulate our way out of the problem. As is pointed out here, no one is saying we don’t need to innovate. But innovation alone – especially innovation with no regulation – will not be enough and cannot be considered a serious climate policy.

It’s nice that Fiorina wants to portray herself as someone in line with the science of climate change.  It would be even better if she actually were.  Right now, she’s just come up with an even more contorted excuse not to act than her fellow Republican candidates have.