Rand Paul and the Big Polluter Agenda

As the 2016 presidential candidates are declaring themselves, we here at the NRDC Action Fund and the Markup blog are trying to keep up. We’ve run down Hillary Clinton’s strong record on the environment, reflected on Ted Cruz’s failure to connect his Christian faith with the imperative to act on climate, and profiled Marco Rubio as a Dirty Denier. Next up is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who announced his presidential run in early April.

I’ve written about Sen. Paul before, though it’s been a while. Back when he was first running for Senate in August 2010, I wrote about my experience growing up and attending grade school in Kentucky. That grade school eventually closed because of its proximity to harmful pollution from a nearby oil refinery. I argued then that Paul’s focus on “jobs” was blinding him to the workers and families doing those jobs and being harmed by the destruction of the local environment and degradation of air and water quality.

Dirty Air Villain

Unfortunately, once elected, Sen. Paul didn’t see the light. He’s continued to advocate for big business and dirty energy at the expense of regular folks. Senator Paul earned the title of Dirty Air Villain for voting against clean air 100% of the time in our WhoVotesDirty.com vote tracker. Among his worst votes, he voted to attack EPA’s Clean Power Plan, to block cuts in mercury pollution, and to block standards for dirty boilers and incinerators.

Paul hasn’t just been a loyal foot soldier, voting in lockstep with the Dirty Energy industry that has funded his campaigns to the tune of $235,890. He’s been a leader of dangerous efforts to roll back long-overdue clean air protections and efforts to permanently hamstring the government agencies that set standards to protect public health and the environment.

Attempt to Overturn Good Neighbor Rule

In November 2011, Paul led the effort in the Senate to void EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which will reduce smog and soot pollution from dirty coal-burning power plants that travels across state lines. If Paul’s effort had succeeded, the rule’s projected benefits – preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths, avoiding 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma attacks – would never have been realized. The $280 billion in annual benefits of the rule outweigh the rule’s costs by 116 to 1.

Paul’s attack on the Clean Air Act failed in a vote of 41 to 56.


Earlier in 2011, Paul was the Senate sponsor of a bill nicknamed the REINS Act. Rather than target any particular lifesaving regulation, the REINS Act targeted the entire process that produces every lifesaving regulation. The bill would have turned the current regulatory process upside-down by allowing a majority in any single chamber of Congress to stop a regulation it didn’t like. The consequences would have been sweeping. In the last four years that Dirty Deniers have been in the majority in the House, they’ve voted to block many lifesaving Clean Air Act Rules, but those bills have gone nowhere in the Senate and would have been vetoed by president. If the REINS Act process had been in place, House action alone would have been enough to stop every one of those rules.

A large Big Polluter Agenda bill, which included the REINS Act, failed on a vote of 40-56.

Climate Denier

Sen. Paul is a climate denier. His profile at WhoVotesDirty.com shows that he’s voted at least nine times to deny the human contribution to climate change or to block action on climate change. Paul has claimed that there is a “full throated debate” on climate change science and that the science on climate change is “not conclusive.” Paul has been given some credit for voting earlier this year in favor of an amendment declaring climate change as real and acknowledging a human contribution and for suggesting in an interview with Bill Maher that he’d be open to regulation. However, with Paul’s otherwise consistent support for the Big Polluter Agenda, I’m far from convinced he is on the side of climate action.

A Denier Can’t Win

Paul surely knows that two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Republicans surveyed, are more likely to vote for a candidate who says human-induced global warming is happening. I’m skeptical, but trying to remain hopeful, that Paul might come around to a more environmentally-friendly position. He’s not making it easy when just last week he introduced a new bill that would essentially repeal the Clean Water Act.

As a physician, you’d think Sen. Paul would understand the importance of clean air and clean water to human health. As a politician, you’d think he’d understand that voters don’t want to elect leaders who are advocating The Big Polluter Agenda.

Who Votes Dirty? 


Washington doesn’t have the bright lights and flashy showgirls of the Vegas strip, but some lawmakers sure seem to have adopted Vegas’s motto. Unfortunately for them, what happens in Washington is no longer going to stay in Washington. Thanks to a newly designed whovotesdirty.com website, it’s easier than ever for concerned citizens to find out the truth about the voting records of their elected officials—and the dirty industries that help get them in office.

WhoVotesDirty.com is a new one-stop shop for holding lawmakers accountable when it comes to clean air and clean energy. Americans from across the political spectrum and from every part of the country strongly support strengthening protections for clean air, investing in clean energy and acting on climate change. So, why aren’t their Representatives and Senators in Congress consistently voting in favor of these clean policies? Maybe receiving thousands of dollars from dirty energy interests is clouding their view—just like their dirty air votes are polluting our skies. Their votes to increase pollution may be harming the hearts, lungs and brains of Americans, but armed with the facts, our voices will be stronger than ever.

WhoVotesDirty.com puts the facts about dirty votes and dirty money at voters’ fingertips.It makes it easy to speak out and hold Dirty Air Villains accountable. Here’s how it works:

  1. Find your elected officials. Search your zip code or a lawmaker’s name.
  2. Villain or hero? Officials are clearly labeled as villains or heroes. Villains vote dirty at least 80 percent of the time, while heroes vote clean at least 80 percent of the time. Anyone not labeled falls somewhere in the middle.
  3. Dirty money. The amount of money received from polluters is clearly displayed. You may notice a trend: those receiving more money from polluters tend to vote dirty more often than those receiving little money from polluters.
  4. See the votes. Click on any legislator to see exactly how they voted on every major clean energy or clean air bill, resolution and amendment from the last three years.
  5. Talk back. A link to each lawmaker’s Twitter feed is embedded right into the website. When you find out your elected representatives are Dirty Air Villains, you are just 140 characters away from reminding them that they answer to their living, breathing constituents, not the Big Polluter industriesthat bankroll their campaigns.

Let’s take it for a spin. Say you are from Louisville, Kentucky. Let’s get started by putting in your zip code.


What do you find? Ouch, two very villainous senators when it comes to clean air and clean energy.


Wow. Senator Mitch McConnell received $3.8 million from polluters and the newly-announced 2016 presidential contender, Senator Rand Paul, received $235,890.

At least your House Member, Rep. John Yarmuth is a clean air hero!


Let’s take a closer look by clicking on Mitch McConnell to see his envrionmental voting record. It’s not pretty—11 dirty votes in the last three years. A 100 percent record of voting against clean air and clean energy. No wonder the NRDC Action Fund is holding him accountable on the airways with our new ad bringing to light his first 100 Dirty Days pushing the Big Polluter Agenda.


It’s time to take action. Let’s send him a tweet right now.


You just helped unmask lawmakers who have already been voting as Dirty Air Villains, showing them that their anti-health, anti-environment priorities are not going unnoticed. But, to make your voice heard when it really matters—before the votes are cast—click on the “take action” and “join us” tabs at the top of WhoVotesDirty.com to stay informed in real-time of pending votes and opportunities to speak up.

Sorry, Dirty Air Villains, WhoVotesDirty.com is taking what happens in Washington to every living room, office and mobile phone in your district.

NRDC Action Fund Launches Ad Marking Mitch McConnell’s First 100 Days, Unveils Website Showing Congressional Villains and Heroes on Climate & Clean Air

Contact: Melissa Harrison, mharrison@nrdc.org, 202-513-6278, or Elizabeth Heyd, eheyd@nrdc.org, 202-289-2424

WASHINGTON (April 15, 2015) – As Mitch McConnell marks his first 100 days as Senate majority leader, the NRDC Action Fund today unleashed an ad blasting him for standing with “dirty polluters,” and introduced a first-of-its-kind website enabling users to track dirty votes by members of Congress and campaign contributions from polluting industries.

The five figure “100 Days of McConnell”  ad, running on social media channels, hits the Kentucky Republican for leading a GOP agenda to try to dismantle the first-ever carbon pollution limits on power plants. These standards, the ad’s narrator says, “will save as many as 6,000 lives per year, slow climate change, and are supported by most voters.”

At the same time, the WhoVotesDirty website, www.whovotesdirty.com, enables users to identify the “villains” throughout Congress who vote against clean air and climate action, and the “heroes” who vote to protect communities and health. The website, which encourages users to hold lawmakers accountable through social media, also tracks contributions from dirty energy interests.

“Senator McConnell’s first 100 days of protecting polluters’ interests certainly do not bode well for his next 100 days. The question is: Where will McConnell’s fellow senators stand—with the polluters or with families who want to protect their children and their health?” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund. “We’re shining a spotlight on those who vote against the best interests of their constituents, who many times are in the dark about what’s happening in Washington. The time has come to make sure that—unlike Las Vegas—what happens on Capitol Hill doesn’t just stay there.

“Clean air and climate protections are vital to protecting our children’s health and ensuring a brighter future for all generations,” Taylor-Miesle added. “And our new tracking system will arm constituents with an easy to use tool to hold their members accountable for voting against those life-saving interests, and instead to protect dirty energy and dirty air.”

The redesigned website uses sophisticated data from the government watchdog group Sunlight Foundation and cutting-edge data-gathering technology to provide real-time information to the public and others revealing how members of Congress are voting on clean air and climate action measures, as well as contributions they receive from polluters from the oil & gas, electric utility and coal mining sectors. The website encourages users to hold members of Congress accountable by sharing the information through social media channels.

“Who Votes Dirty is a compelling use of the legislative and campaign finance information made available through our free and open data offerings,” said Amy Ngai, the Partnerships and Training Director at the Sunlight Foundation. “By using Sunlight Application Programing Interfaces (APIs), the tool takes advantage of real-time data such as bill status and voting records to provide a dynamic and interactive interface for users.”

The enhanced www.whovotesdirty.com is currently tracking 49 pieces of climate and clean air legislation and/or amendments in Congress since September 2011. Based on these votes, the website shows that 293 members of Congress are dirty air villains.  This includes 50 Senators and 243 House members.

What makes a member of Congress a hero or villain? NRDC Action Fund policy experts identify the votes that have the greatest impact or potential to impact clean air and climate policy. Members who vote against clean air 80 percent or more of the time are considered “Dirty Air Villains.” Those who vote to strengthen protections 80 percent or more of the time are considered “Clean Air Heroes.” All other members have no assigned status.

Of the 243 Dirty Air Villains in the House 241 are Republicans and two are Democrats. In the Senate, 49 Republicans are Dirty Air Villains, and one Democrat is a Dirty Air Villain.

The upgraded WhoVotesDirty website utilizes several software tools developed by the Sunlight Foundation. It is refreshed daily and pulls voting records and polluter contributions for every member of Congress. It allows a user to simply input his/her zip code to quickly identify if his/her members of Congress are “Dirty Air Villains” or “Clean Air Heroes.”

Users can also utilize the name search function to find specific lawmakers. And, through additional functionality, users can take the data and tweet directly on Twitter to the member’s official twitter account.

The NRDC Action Fund will promote the site on a regular basis and key votes on climate and clean air legislation. Promotion will include paid online advertising, aggressive social media outreach and earned media channels with reporters and bloggers throughout the United States.

Listen to audio recording of the press conference: http://bit.ly/1OCpRGB

The WhoVotesDirty website can be viewed here: www.whovotesdirty.com

To view the McConnell 100 Days ad, please click here: http://bit.ly/1GHYYjl

The text of the ad follows:

“Mitch McConnell spent his first one hundred days as Senate leader trying to dismantle carbon pollution standards.

“Standards that will save as many as 6,000 lives per year, slow climate change, and are supported by most voters.

“He’s taken more than three million dollars from dirty polluters and has no plan to protect the environment or public health.

“Will your senators stand with Mitch McConnell and dirty polluters, or with families who want to protect their children’s health and future?

“Paid for by the NRDC Action Fund.”


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

The NRDC Action Fund is an affiliated but separate organization from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 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 therefore needs to be identified as from the NRDC Action Fund. Use of the label “Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund” is incorrect; the only correct title is the “NRDC Action Fund.” In other words, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the NRDC Action Fund cannot be used interchangeably. Also, please note that the word “National” does not appear in Natural Resources Defense Council.



On Election Night, Senate Races to Watch

As you gather your election night supplies (popcorn for watching, champagne for celebrating or something stronger to drown your sorrows) be sure you keep handy this primer on important Senate races. The outcomes in these contests could determine whether the Senate is led by a Clean Air Hero or a Dirty Air Villain for the next two years.

New Mexico

Former Rep. Heather Wilson and current Rep. Martin Heinrich are vying for an open Senate seat to represent The Land of Enchantment. A broad coalition of environmental groups have pledged their support for Heinrich because he has voted hundreds of times to protect the environment, to stand up for bedrock environmental laws and to improve public health. In contrast, in the House, Wilson voted four times to shield the makers of a toxic fuel additives from being held accountable for contaminating drinking water all around New Mexico. Wilson is still stuck in her polluter-funded past, supporting projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and more “drill, baby, drill” energy policy and doubting the science on man-made climate change.


In the Bay State, incumbent Senator Scott Brown is being challenged by Harvard professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. While Brown is running as a moderate Republican, he chose to side with polluters in voting for an extreme proposal that would have prevented EPA from reducing carbon pollution (thankfully, it failed). He also supported H.R. 1, the Senate budget bill, which was called “the worst anti-environmental bill EVER” for its crippling cuts to DOE’s clean energy programs and the EPA along with dozens of harmful environmental riders (again, thankfully, it failed). Warren’s campaign platform proclaims a strong commitment to public health and environmental protection. Warren has promised to end subsidies for Big Oil and to invest in clean energy. She isn’t afraid to talk about the promise of green jobs or the threat of climate change.


In Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Former Governor Tommy Thompson are competing for an open Senate seat. On both rhetoric and record, Baldwin can only be considered one of the most pro-environment Members of Congress. She boasts a 97% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, she is one of our Clean Air Heroes, and she has been a leader on the need to address climate change. While Thompson once said that the U.S. “must aggressively take on global warming,” times seem to have changed and his new campaign website never mentions climate change or any of its synonyms. Instead, it focuses on continuing our dependence on dirty energy by building the Keystone XL pipeline, opening new areas to oil and gas drilling and expanding “fracking” for natural gas.


Two former governors, Tim Kaine and George Allen, are competing for an open senate seat in Virginia. On energy, the records are clear. Allen has taken over half a million dollars in campaign cash from the oil and gas industry and consistently voted against the environment and to protect tax breaks and loopholes that line Big Oil’s pockets. What’s Kaine’s record? As Governor, he worked for land conservation, river cleanup, clean air, public transportation and energy efficiency. Fossil fuel interests, however, aren’t content to sit this one out and let the records speak for themselves. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has already spent more than six million dollars opposing Kaine on top of millions being spent by other pro-polluter groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the curiously named American Commitment (commitment to what, asthma?)


In Ohio, incumbent Sherrod Brown is running against challenger Josh Mandel. Outside groups have already spent $9.7 million opposing Brown. Much of this shadow spending (in ads like this, this and this) attacks Brown for his votes on clean energy and protecting public health. After all, he’s a Clean Air Hero, he understands “the very real danger of climate change, which threatens our nation’s economic, environmental, and energy security,” and he’s championed a bill to end $15 to $20 billion in subsidies to Big Oil. In contrast, Mandel is a climate denier who has said he thinks the scientific research on the matter “is inconclusive and riddled with fraud.” He also thinks rules to reduce mercury from coal-fired power plants are “unnecessary” and wants to put a moratorium on any new protections.

Now you are ready. Grab your concessions and settle in for a long election night of watching the returns roll in and finding out whether or not clean energy and clean air champions win the day.