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.

Americans Elect a Leader on Clean Energy, Clean Air, and Climate Action

This blog is re-posted from the NRDC Switchboard.

Last night Americans reelected a president who made clean energy and environmental protection a cornerstone of his first term. They chose the one candidate who spoke seriously about climate change on the campaign trail and used his authority to reduce America’s carbon pollution. They rewarded this leadership by calling for four more years of action.

This is a victory for all Americans who want to breathe clean air, drink safe water, and protect treasured landscapes. And it is a setback for the fossil fuel companies that invested so heavily in this election and have so little to show for it.

Energy issues figured prominently in this election. Candidates mentioned it frequently on the stump and it was among the top three topics discussed in campaign ads.  Oil, gas, and coal companies tried to influence the debate by spending more than $150 million in campaign ads by mid-September. Polluters’ anti-environmental messages were reflected on the campaign trail, where Governor Mitt Romney ran on a platform of more drilling, more coal-fired power plants, more climate paralysis, and weaker pollution standards.

Yet despite the dirty ad blitzes and the anti-environmental policy proposals, voters rejected this outdated vision for our country. Poll after poll has identified people’s preference for a clean energy economy. Last month, for instance, Hart Research Associates found that nine out of 10 Americans, say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress, and that includes 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Independents. A survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that 80 percent of car owners want to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2025,

The majority of Americans realize cars that go farther on a tank of gas, wind and solar energy, and cleaner power plants will improve our health and wellbeing far more than dirty companies can.

President Obama must tap this public support and push for health and environmental progress. And he can demonstrate bold and resolute leadership on climate change. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy— and the drought that turned nearly 1,300 counties into designated disaster areas and the wildfires that forced thousands of people from their homes this year—reveal the danger climate change poses to our families and communities.

President Obama has already taken important steps to curb climate change. His administration issued fuel economy standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half. It also proposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. But we must do still more. We need carbon limits on existing power plants (click here to send a message to the administration in support of carbon limits). We need to extend incentives for wind energy and spur investment in clean energy research. And we need to promote energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances.

All of these measures will generate jobs and help clean up our air. But make no mistake, plenty of polluters and lawmakers will be lined up in opposition. Oil and gas companies will continue to pour money into the political system. The Tea Party still has many stalwarts in the House of Representatives—a body that voted over 300 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards since 2011. And the Republican leadership will still try to erode investment in clean energy innovation and technology.

It will take tremendous effort to realize the sustainable future we seek. But we will succeed with a combination of presidential leadership and citizen action. The president can’t do it alone. He must have American people behind him. The administration moved forward with its carbon limits for new power plants in part because people sent more than 3 million comments in favor of them. We must create the same momentum for similar breakthroughs.

NRDC stands for the environment, not for any party or elected official. We will do everything in our power to help President Obama deliver on his goals of clean energy and environmental protection. You can help by adding your voice to the call for clean air and clean energy. Together we can use the next four years to solidify the foundation of America’s sustainable future. 



Sandy Should Help Us Close in on the Election’s Closing Arguments

Hurricane Sandy may reshape the presidential race as surely as it just reshaped the eastern shoreline.  It reminds us that a central debate in this year’s election boils down to what we think is the appropriate size and role of government.  Big challenges require the right size of government in the mix and the response to Sandy dramatically illustrates the point.  

It’s hard to imagine adequately dealing with the disaster from Sandy without a well functioning federal response.  The Republican governor of New Jersey pleaded for help from FEMA and congratulated President Obama for facilitating it

But in the larger political debate this year the side backing Governor Romney makes it sounds like President Obama only wants to replace the market economy with more Big Government.  In fact, as President Obama made clear in his second debate closing, he and his adversaries agree that the private sector is the main source of growth in the economy.  The choice in reality is different but still important.  Do you want enough of the right kind of government or do you want nearly none?   In other words, a choice between President Obama’s sensible view that the federal government has a vital but not boundless role in meeting big challenges, or that the government is the problem and makes everything worse so the market should be left entirely alone, as Romney’s backers claim. 

No doubt the first presidential debate reshaped the public’s perception of the candidates on their view of the role of government, blurring the significant difference between them.  This was more a matter of style than substance, as Governor Romney purposely projected a more moderate manner than he had when appealing to the Republican base.  That’s why it was so surprising not to hear three key phrases during the debate, which President Obama should now bring home in his closing argument. 

Etch a Sketch 

Like an etch a sketch pad – that’s how the Romney campaign had promised that it would change his positions in the general election.  He supported health care reform before he opposed it.  He backed a woman’s right to choose before he didn’t.  He often seems to lack core convictions more than he’s hiding them.  In figuring out what he’s likely to do it’s probably best to consider whom he will owe if he wins.

That’s why his debate answer to a question on the role of regulation was so notable.  Of course we need regulations, he said, just not too many while the economy is recovering.  In fact he gave an extensive defense of how regulations were good even for business.  This apparent reversal was astonishing for a candidate who had placated conservatives by taking the view that regulations were the cause of our economic woes and who had endorsed a House bill that would grind most regulation to a halt.  This was President’s Obama’s chance to make clear this was one of those etch a sketch moments.  One in which Governor Romney was being misleading, not just changeable. 

Clean energy and environmental policy serves as another prime example of this etch-a -sketching.  Romney believed in climate change before he didn’t.  He thought coal plants were a health hazard before they weren’t.  He supported renewable energy before he didn’t, but then he did in the debate again (but not really as proven by his opposition to extending the production tax credit for wind power). 

What President Obama needs to do is bring home the point about whom do you trust.  Do you think Governor Romney, the guy who the fossil fuel industry bankrolled, will correct the health-threatening practices of that sector?  Do you think Governor Romney, the guy who proposes increasing taxes on renewable energy, supports ushering in a new, renewable energy future?  Not really. 

47 Percent

Meeting America’s challenges will require contributions by everyone.  Take addressing the budget deficit.  The question is not whether we should all contribute, but how those contributions will be distributed.  It’s about what’s fair. 

There is little fair about the Romney tax plan.  It gives the greatest tax reductions to the people who already have the most.  This is in addition to the math not adding up.  Quite simply, if you care about the budget deficit, you don’t start with extending temporary tax cuts that were adopted when we had a budget surplus.  That’s why it’s strange that the phrase “47 percent” never came up.  That’s the number of people Romney believes deserve no financial relief because they contribute nothing economically to society. 

Clean energy policy provides an example of what’s at stake in tax policy. The oil industry alone receives $4 billion a year in taxpayer support to help cover production expenses when oil companies are some of the most profitable companies in the world.  Yet Governor Romney has not called for repeal of these write-offs that were protected in the Ryan budget.  Instead, he’s called for raising taxes on the renewable industry by allowing the highly successful production tax credit for wind power to expire at the end of this year.  How is that fair?  It’s not. 

Obama needs to drive the point home that his energy tax plan would redirect investment resources from those who need them least to those who would use them the most.  Extending the production tax credit specifically would permit the wind industry to keep creating the jobs today and into the future.  That’s not only fair, it’s smart. 

Climate Change

Yes, climate change.  OK, maybe the phrase from President Obama should have been “economic accomplishments including more clean energy to fight climate change.”  President Obama later said he was surprised that a question about climate wasn’t asked during the debates.  Maybe he should have brought it up.  But at least he has brought up clean energy solutions for climate change on the campaign trail unlike Governor Romney who now mocks it.

One of the Obama’s administrations unheralded accomplishments is the stimulus bill, or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  As the Michael Grunwald documents in his new book about the effects of the stimulus bill, The New New Deal, the government investments did help create or save millions of jobs, perhaps preventing the Great Recession from becoming a depression. 

The premise of the stimulus bill was that the economic crisis was being worsened by a lack of sufficient overall demand.  A short-term stimulus in the Keynesian tradition — the basis for FDR’s New Deal — was needed to reverse the situation.  Notably a third of the stimulus bill went to tax cuts though to hear opponents tell it, it was full of nothing but wasteful government spending (for them a redundant phrase).  This raises the question as to why for these critics Democratic tax cuts only create deficits but Republican tax cuts only create growth.

Assessing the impact of the stimulus requires selecting the correct starting point.  Romney measures the success of the Obama’s policies from the day he took office even though the effects of Bush’s policies were still being felt.  The better comparison would start a year later after the stimulus had a chance to take effect.  Since then and through September the S&P 500 has advanced 27 percent (308 points) and the unemployment rate has declined 20 percent (1.9 percentage points).  

More needs to be done.  As Grunwald and others have noted, the stimulus bill was too small.  It made a 2.5 million contribution to an 8 million job problem.  Still its $90 billion in clean energy investments of the Obama administration has helped fueled the recovery that has taken place.  And it has done this by making progress in advanced biofuels, more efficient electricity distribution, improved battery powered cars, and domestic manufacturing of these energy system parts.   

President Obama has a great record in other ways on creating a clean energy economy that helps address climate change.  He brokered a deal that will cut the cost of driving cars in half by doubling fuel mileage.  He saved thousands of lives a year by modernizing coal plants and reducing mercury emissions. 

The basic choice comes down to this – will we have enough government to help do the correct things or will we have nearly no government and just trust the market system alone to sort everything out?  The latter approach is what got us into this economic situation to begin with. Obama’s record using the former approach offers an advantage he should press. 

And Hurricane Sandy should remind us of exactly what’s at stake in this choice.

Voters Face Clear Choice on Energy, Climate

Contact:          Melissa Harrison, NRDC Action Fund, 202-486-1905,

Voters Face Clear Choice on Energy, Climate

WASHINGTON (October 3, 2012) –  In response to tonight’s presidential debate in Denver, Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC Action Fund, made the following statement:

“The candidates laid out a clear choice. President Obama wants to invest in energy efficiency and renewable power while protecting our health. Gov. Romney would bet our future on the fossil fuels of the past. This is a choice between responsibility and recklessness, and the choice is ours to make.”

# # #

The NRDC Action Fund’s mission is 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

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.

GOP Candidates’ Energy Distortions Defy Basic Logic

Mitt Romney has won the New Hampshire primary. That news doesn’t surprise many, since many pundits predicted it. What is more interesting is who landed in the second and third spots and the closeness???

Ron Paul came in second and beat out Santorum as the far-right candidate of choice. John Huntsman, meanwhile, had his long-awaited “surge” and came in third.  Now momentum shifts to South Carolina, with all candidates staying in the race until that primary is over.

No doubt we will be hearing more about the candidates’ positions on energy and the environment. While these issues haven’t dominated in the campaign, they’ve been a constant thread, featured in debates and talk shows. Sadly, few candidates have offered the energy solutions our country needs right now.

Over the weekend, my daughter and I were reading side-by-side. She looked over at my magazine article and saw a photo of a pelican drenched in oil, and said, “Mommy, you go and make that stop.” Even a four-year-old could see something was wrong with oil run amok.

The next day, I saw a photo from of the man whose job it is to measure California’s snowpack high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He uses a giant ruler to assess how much water our thirsty state can look forward to in the spring. As of now, however, the guy has nothing to do. The picture showed him standing in a dry mountain meadow devoid of snow.

We are surrounded by shots like these — images that reveal something is profoundly wrong with our energy picture. In the face of intensifying climate change and rising gas prices, we leaders to offer smart policies based on the facts. Instead, GOP candidates are giving us more spin. All but John Huntsman continue to pretend climate change doesn’t exist — despite several of them acknowledging it in the past. Rhetoric trumps reality in their campaigns, and we can’t expect any climate solutions to come from their administrations.

But the distortion isn’t limited to climate. In the GOP debate on Sunday, Gingrich conjured a popular Tea Party boogey man: mythical dust regulations. To illustrate why he thought the Environmental Protection Agency was “incorrigible” he said, “In Iowa they had a dust regulation underway because they control particulate matter… They were worried that plowing on a corn field would leave dust to go to another farmer’s corn field. They were planning to issue a regulation.” That may whip up the anti-regulation crowd, but it is patently false.

As my colleague John Walke, the director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program, wrote on his blog: “Let’s be clear. There are no EPA farm dust regulations. There are no such proposed regulations. There are no EPA intentions for such regulations. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has specifically disavowed such intentions in Congressional testimony when quizzed by suspicious Congressmen.” That didn’t stop Gingrich from hawking bogus claims.

Gingrich’s environmental falsehoods didn’t stop there. He said, “The long term answer to $4 heating oil is to open up offshore development of oil and gas, open up federal lines to oil and gas, flood the market… Under Obama, 2011 was the highest price of gasoline in history. It is a direct result of his policies.”

It is true gas prices soared last year, but the spike was the result of growing demand from China and India, political instability in Libya, trouble with refineries in France, and a host of other global forces.

If Gingrich believes more drilling would have made a difference, then Obama proved that claim false as well. Under the Obama Administration, companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of 2011—the highest number in almost 30 years. That’s nearly double the amount drilling the same period last year, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009. Yet none of this expanded drilling made a difference to the global price of oil.

Huntsman was the only candidate in Sunday’s debate to give a nuanced view of energy markets. He said America needs to diversify its energy resources if we want to attain energy independence. “One of the first things I would do as president is I would take a look at that one-product distribution bias that always favors one product.  And that’s oil… We have got to disrupt that one product monopoly that does not serve this country or its consumers.”

Now I may not agree with Huntsman on how to break up that monopoly or which energy resources we should expand, but at least he is looking at the problem head on. That is what America needs right now. You don’t have to have a PhD in economics and you don’t have to write a chapter on climate change for Gingrich’s book to recognize America’s energy future is not secure. My four-year-old can tell you that.

In the face of very real problems like global competition for oil and impacts of climate change, we need real solutions. Not leaders who peddle in false claims.