Trump Picks Pence as VP, Spelling Double Trouble for the Environment

The reality show that was the GOP VP nominating process is now at an end. Trump to Mike Pence: You’re hired.

Many Republican strategists hope this is good news for the party’s prospects in November up and down the ballot. For Americans who care about clean energy and the environment, it’s more trouble ahead.

Part of the narrative about Pence is that he balances the ticket by being more temperamentally moderate than Trump and yet more ideologically reassuring to conservatives on issues such as trade. But let’s be clear on the implications for clean energy and environmental policy, Donald Trump has doubled-down on his dirty positions where the extremist Pence is no moderate.

The following is a first-take view of Pence’s record on key environmental policies.

He’s a climate denier. Here Pence’s double-play on Trump is undeniable. Like Trump he does not believe the science on climate change warrants action to fight it. Instead he calls the science “mixed” as a way of justifying inaction, and then like Trump has called for scrapping Obama’s plan to clean up old, dirty coal-fired power plants and for getting the polluting Keystone XL tar sands pipeline built.

He was a consistent opponent of environmental protection as a member of Congress. He has a career record of voting for the environment only 4% of the time in the U.S. House of Representatives, as scored by the League of Conservation Voters. What more can you say? This includes a bewildering history of voting at times against cleaner air and water, increased safety for potentially hazardous chemicals, and reduced taxpayer subsidies for polluting industries.

He let progress on clean energy get whacked as governor. Environmental policy hasn’t been in the forefront of state politics during his three-and-a-half years as governor, but he has shown his colors when he has had a chance. In March of 2014 he allowed the legislature to repeal Energizing

Photo Credit: Krista Kennell

Photo Credit: Krista Kennell

Indiana, a program that had helped utility customers cost-effectively reduce their energy consumption while creating 19,000 jobs, according to an independent study.

He is into the pockets of big polluting donors. Given that Pence is a reliable vote for electric utilities and other coal interests, it’s not surprising that companies and individuals with a vested interest in these matters have channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to him in the past year. Look for this amount to balloon as the Trump-Pence ticket moves to the general election.

Maybe it was too much to hope that Trump would balance the ticket by getting someone with at least an open mind about how a clean environment and a healthy economy can go together. If nothing else, though, the Pence choice makes doubly clear what the pro-environment choice is this fall.

NRDC Action Fund’s Weekly News Summary

This is what the NRDC Action Fund has been reading this week:

Democratic U.S.  presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders stand together during a campaign rally. Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders stand together during a campaign rally. Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Bernie Sanders endorses Hillary, uniting over climate change– Bernie Sanders endorses Hillary Clinton, saying “this election is about climate change” and unifying Democrats over the issue. (Grist)

Clean energy creates jobs in California– California’s push for renewables is creating well-paying jobs in economically distressed parts of the state. (LA Times)

Fossil fuel group endorses Trump– American Energy Alliance, tied to the conservative Institute for Energy Research, backs Trump for president in its first-ever endorsement. (The Hill)

According to Republicans coal is clean energyGOP draft platform declares coal to be a clean energy source for Americans. (Think Progress)

The Democrats’ draft platform is strong on climate– Climate experts are calling The Democrats’ draft platform on climate change a ‘monumental victory’ and a chance for Hillary Clinton to run on the strongest climate platform in history. (The Guardian)

‘Web of climate denial’ infects US Congress– US senators detail the destructive forces of fossil fuel industry-funded climate denial that stretches all the way to Australia. (The Guardian)

Global warming is a growing concern among Hispanics– Growing concern about global warming could determine who Hispanics vote for in the presidential election. (Sun Sentinel)

Senator Kirk: It’s time to pick a side on climate action

Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois is stuck between the desires of his constituents who overwhelmingly support action on climate change and voices within the Republican party desperate to derail climate action on behalf of the Big Polluter Agenda. But with a series of votes intended to derail the historic Clean Power Plan to cut dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants coming through Congress, he is going to have to pick a side. The decision should be easy for a politician who has constituents who care about the integrity of the environment. The Senator has devoted time and energy towards protecting the health of Illinoisans, fighting for the Great Lakes and working hard on national security issues: all issues that will require addressing climate change to move the ball in the coming years.

Kirk ad in Trib

That is why the NRDC Action Fund has been running digital ads across Illinois and a social media campaign to urge Senator Kirk to work for climate action and vote against bills targeting the Clean Power Plan. As part of that effort, we were joined by national security and business voices on a letter to the Senator outlining the issues at hand. Here’s the letter:

Senator Kirk:

On behalf of our members in Illinois, the undersigned organizations, businesses, and civic leaders urge you to support real and timely climate action. Among the most important actions in this area would be for you to oppose any proposals to block, delay, weaken or otherwise prevent the EPA from protecting public health under the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

Your work on behalf of the Great Lakes has been greatly appreciated by our groups and memberships, but we want to reach out to stress the need to protect our fresh water seas on all fronts. And looking forward, one of the greatest threats to the Lakes comes in the form of climate change. Climate action is essential for protecting the Great Lakes—not to mention the lives and livelihoods of future generations and our communities.

There is strong business support for the clean power plan, including more than 100 businesses that make up the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition working toward implementation of the plan at the state level.  A study by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute estimated that this legislation would create 32,000 new jobs designing, making and installing the clean energy projects that will put Illinois in compliance with the federal rules.

It’s absolutely essential that we reduce dangerous carbon pollution, which traps heat and is fueling climate change. The nation’s fossil-fuel power plants are the single-biggest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total. Today we limit mercury, lead, and soot from these power plants, but no such limits exist for carbon pollution.

Carbon pollution drives climate change, which is a clear and present danger to Illinoisans’ health and communities, bringing stronger storms, harsher droughts, and rising temperatures—most recently highlighted by findings that 2014 was, globally, the hottest year on record. The National Climate Assessment, a recent report from 13 federal agencies, warned that human-induced climate change impacts are happening today, and worsening in every region of the United States.

Here in Illinois, rising temperatures, along with greater air stagnation and other climate effects, increase ground-level ozone smog. There are more than 1.7 million people with asthma or chronic respiratory disease in Illinois who are especially vulnerable to the harmful health effects of ozone smog, which makes it harder to breathe.  Eleven counties in Illinois currently have ozone levels that exceed EPA standards, and models indicate that areas with high ozone levels, like Chicago, are at risk of even greater ozone smog pollution due to climate change and rising temperatures.

Without efforts to reduce our carbon pollution, heat waves like the one in Chicago in 1995— which killed more than 700 people—could occur as often as once every two years by the 2050s. Heat waves far worse than the one in 1995, such as the 2003 European heat wave that resulted in 30,000 deaths, could occur once every two summers by the 2080s.

The devastating impacts of climate change are not limited to land and air. For decades, climate scientists have warned that significant swings in water levels would afflict the Lakes, warming waters would impact fish species and a loss of Lake ice pack could scour away shorelines. According to the National Climate Assessment, climate change encourages the production of the toxic algae that plagues our lakes and forced the city of Toledo to suspend water service last summer—and it should be noted an algae-related dead zone has now appeared in Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.

So much of the good work you have done on behalf of this globally unique and essential ecosystem which stands at the core of our region’s sustainability and quality of life will be utterly undone by climate change. In order to protect the Great Lakes, you must address climate change.

Senator Kirk, you and Illinois’ leaders have an opportunity to chart a healthy, clean energy future for our state. The Clean Power Plan presents Illinois with the opportunity to improve public health, foster new economic development, and help stabilize our climate.

And people across the state agree. Recent bipartisan polling shows Illinoisans are ready to fight climate change and advance clean energy by an overwhelming margin. Sixty-six percent of Illinoisans support the Clean Power Plan itself, and when informed that states can create their own plans to meet the pollution reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan, a whopping 83 percent of Illinoisans said they support the state developing a plan to reduce carbon pollution, as well as increasing the use of clean energy and energy efficiency.

This is an essential moment for climate action—we urge you to protect our state, our health, the Great Lakes and future generations by committing to oppose any proposals to block, delay, weaken or otherwise prevent the EPA from protecting public health under the Clean Power Plan.

Please let us know what you plan to do on this important issue.

If the Senator needs a reminder that climate issues are already wreaking havoc on his home state, he need look no further than downtown Chicago, where the Chicago River ran backwards last night due in part to climate-induced storms that dumped immense rainfall on the area, overwhelming the stormwater system and forcing millions of gallons of sewage-tainted water out into Lake Michigan.

But the chorus of voices advocating for climate action extends far beyond the environmental and business communities. The military and intelligence community has focused on the destabilizing impacts of climate change–something clearly noted in the most recent quadrennial review.

The climate votes should be easy for Senator Kirk. All the issues he cared about early in his career, and the consensus of his state point to the need for prompt climate action. We will quickly see who he is representing. In the meantime, let him know which side you are on with this online action.

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 Has No Mandate for Attack on Clean Air and Climate Solutions

Most voters didn’t go the ballot box to demand dirtier air and contaminated water. And yet Republican leaders have proudly proclaimed that gutting environmental safeguards is one of their top priorities for the new Congress. They have vowed to roll back national limits on climate change pollution, strip protections from waterways that feed drinking supplies, and launch a host of other attacks.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his top priority for the next session is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

That’s a bold statement to make when the vast majority of Americans value the EPA’s role in protecting their families from pollution. Seven out of 10 Americans, for instance, support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey.

The GOP pro-polluter agenda is out of step with what Americans want. Republicans may have gained control of the Senate, but they did not receive a mandate to dismantle environmental safeguards.

Given the dismal voter turnout in the midterms, it’s hard to declare a mandate for anything.

  • 36.2 percent of eligible voters participated in the midterm elections, the lowest turnout since World War II. Even if every single one of them favored the GOP, the party still wouldn’t have the majority of Americans behind them.
  • Several races were settled by small margins. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Republican Thom Tillis won the North Carolina Senate race by a margin of 1.7 percent—about 48,000 votes.
  • Republicans lost among people under 40 years old and among all minority voters, according to the National Journal.
  • The voting center grew this year: 40 percent of voters identified as moderates, while 36 percent called themselves conservative, down from 42 percent in the 2010 midterms. Fewer voters are calling for the radical changes espoused by the Tea Party.
  • Since the last midterm election, 21 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, which means fewer people are able to vote and fewer voices are being heard.
  • 69 percent of all dark money—campaign funding from undisclosed donors—went to Republican candidates. The vast majority of it came from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads/GPS—polluter friendly groups known for attacking environmental safeguards.  That money means Mitch McConnell may be able to claim the Koch Brothers’ mandate, but certainly not a mandate from the voters.

These numbers paint a picture of a discouraged electorate. Many are tired of the gridlock in Washington; many are overwhelmed by the money in politics. But nowhere in the polling does it say Americans want to breathe dirtier air or get hit by more extreme weather brought on by climate change.

Indeed, exit polling showed that six out of 10 voters leaving the voting booth support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants.

Republicans won several hard fought races this year, but they would be wise not to let it go to their heads. When candidates won roughly 52 percent of about 36.2 percent of eligible voters, making a declaration of war against the environment sounds like the beginnings of overreach.

Compare those small portions to the 98 percent of scientists who say climate change is a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. Now that’s what I call a mandate for action.