With This Congress, a GOP President Could Damage Environment

trump bushThroughout four Republican debates and plenty of campaign coverage, GOP presidential candidates have said little about how they would tackle climate change or protect the environment. Yet voters concerned about clean air, clean water and climate stability need only look to Congress to see what a Republican presidency could mean for public health and environmental protection.

Since gaining a majority, GOP lawmakers have tried to eviscerate the bedrock environmental laws that have protected America’s air, water and health for decades. The public doesn’t support these efforts. And the veto pen has killed any serious threats that have made it through the entire Congress. But proposing and passing dirty bills sends a powerful message (including to super PACs—many funded by polluting industries) that if a Republican is in the White House environmental laws will be gutted.

The Republican-led attacks in Congress have intensified as primary season nears. The Senate just passed a resolution that would kill the new Clean Water Rule, which restores protections for America’s streams, lakes and wetlands. That was followed by a vote this week on a resolution to wipe out the Clean Power Plan. And tensions are mounting over policy riders to funding bills that limit the federal government’s ability to safeguard against reckless fracking and conservation measures for endangered species.

Republicans will lose all of these battles. President Obama has promised to veto their anti-environmental bills and Republicans don’t have the votes to override those vetoes. Though they may slip a few riders through, their assault appears destined to fail this year—as it has in the past.

Yet many bills undercutting public health and environmental protections have garnered nearly 100 percent support from Republican lawmakers and less than 5 percent from Democrats. While some were blocked in the Senate, many of those bills would have become law if Obama had lost.

None of the leading Republican presidential candidates have offered a positive agenda for preserving the environment. Instead, they have embraced the party’s conservative hostility to any form of regulation—including those that keep pollution out of the air we breathe and the water we drink. When asked about the EPA, Donald Trump said simply, “What they do is a disgrace.” Even supposed “moderates” such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie oppose the Clean Power Plan.

And yet, this return to darker, dirtier days is not what the vast majority of Americans want.

Voters of both parties want to provide their families with clean air and water, public lands to explore and home towns safe from extreme floods, drought and other hallmarks of climate change.

A full 94 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans favor the Clean Water Rule protections for headwater streams and wetlands, according to a survey from Hart Research Associates. And 90 percent of Americans back the Endangered Species Act, according to a recent poll, and support stretches across the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, poll after poll after poll shows the vast majority of Americans want leaders to tackle climate change. And most Republican voters support clean energy. Seven in 10 conservative voters in early primary states want the next president to have a clean energy plan, and three-quarters of those voters want their state to submit a plan to comply with the Clean Power Plan, according to a survey by American Viewpoint.

The current GOP initiatives in Congress would block the very protections most voters support. But they would make life easier for polluting industries. Oil, gas and coal interests have spent billions of dollars in the past few years to elect and influence ideological lawmakers who will eviscerate our nation’s safeguards and halt climate action.

Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail are letting polluting companies know what they can expect from future GOP leadership. Americans should take note and vote for their own public interest—not dirty polluters.

Methane Standards: A Step Forward In Climate Fight

methane blog

Photo: Deacon MacMillan/Creative Commons

The Obama Administration took another step forward in addressing climate change last week with the release of proposed standards to limit methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. On the heels of the Clean Power Plan, it’s more good news for people and the planet, and bad news for those pushing the Big Polluter Agenda.

What Is Methane?

What is methane pollution? It’s a dangerous climate change gas that traps 80 times as much heat on our planet over a 20-year period compared to carbon dioxide, which is emitted by burning coal. Big Polluters are carelessly leaking and venting millions of tons of methane pollution and toxic chemicals into the air from oil and gas drilling operations with virtually no oversight. These industrial leaks are like an invisible oil spill happening every day. Last year, the oil and gas industry sent enough gas into the atmosphere to heat nearly 6 million American homes. You can literally see the leaks in the video below from Earthworks. Big Polluters have been getting away with this wasteful and harmful pollution problem — until now.

A Health Issue

Methane’s contribution to climate change would be reason enough to limit this pollution. What’s more, methane pollution also contributes to other health concerns. Methane and other pollution from the oil and gas industry react in the air to form ozone smog, which triggers asthma attacks especially in children. Leaking oil and gas equipment also produces toxic gases that can cause serious health problems, including cancer. Workers and neighbors are often most at risk.

Solutions Exist

The good news is that technology to solve this problem is widely and easily available and affordable. The oil and gas industry would only need to spend one percent of its revenue this year on safeguards to reduce this pollution, protect Americans’ health, and slow climate change. And since methane that isn’t wasted can be sold for profit — many of those measures quickly pay for themselves.

The Obama administration should be commended for taking another step to act on climate change. But I know our work is far from over. For one thing, I know it won’t be long before the Dirty Air Villains in Congress start pushing legislation and loopholes to allow this pollution to continue unabated. We’ll be counting on our Clean Air Heroes to fight for our air and our climate. Second, these standards only cover new facilities. We’ll be looking to our leaders in Washington (and the next occupant of the White House) to finish the job and limit pollution at existing oil and gas sites, which are responsible for the vast majority of the industry’s methane pollution.

But for now, this important step forward is reason enough to celebrate.

Antonia Herzog is a Senior Advisor on Climate and Clean Air for the NRDC Action Fund.

Friends of Polluters Rack Up More Dirty Votes

Many citizens are outraged by how few days Congress is in session. Just last month, Congress took off a full week for Fourth of July and is now in recess for the entire month of August. Me? I am happy when Congress goes home as the Dirty Air Villains who run the place don’t seem to do anything good when they are there.

In the week after the Independence Day holiday, Dirty Air Villains brought forward the annual Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, which (under)funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI), among other things. While the bill was ultimately pulled from the floor over the confederate flag, pro-pollution Members of Congress had plenty of time to go on record against the environment and public health.

The base bill sent to the House floor was bad to begin with. The bill provided far too little funding for EPA to carry out its work of protecting the environment and public health — $718 million less than the 2015 enacted level and $1.17 billion less than the President’s budget request. The bill also included more than a dozen damaging anti-environment riders (i.e. policy provisions unrelated to the agency’s funding level). Among the worst riders were provisions to block both the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule.  As the bill evolved on the floor, it got even worse. Here are a few of the lowlights:

Funding Level

A series of amendments further reduced already-low funding for EPA by a total of about $100 million. The biggest hit to the agency budget came in an amendment from Rep. Paul Gosar that reduced the agency’s budget by more than $60 million and was adopted by voice vote.

Don’t Breathe

In addition to the rider blocking the Clean Power Plan in the base bill, a number of amendments  also targeted the Clean Air Act .

An amendment from Rep. Diane Black, adopted by voice vote, would weaken proposed standards to make medium- and heavy-duty trucks cleaner. The proposed standards would reduce carbon pollution by 1 billion metric tons and save vehicle owners about $170 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles.

Two amendments targeted efforts to reduce ground level ozone pollution, the principal component of smog. In arguing for his amendment, which was rejected by voice vote, Rep. Ted Yoho made the nonsensical argument that “Ozone by itself is not always bad because it is used industrially” and disputed settled science on the impacts of ozone, saying “Yes, there have been reports of it causing respiratory problems, but that is also associated with spores and molds and things like that.” An amendment from Rep. Donna Edwards would have stricken a rider that limited EPA’s ability to strengthen ozone standards; it was rejected 180-249.

An amendment from Rep. Bruce Poliquin would block EPA standards to reduce toxic pollution, including mercury, from industrial boilers. The standards are estimated to avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, 5,100 heart attacks, and 52,000 asthma attacks. The amendment, blocking these benefits, was adopted by voice vote.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Several amendments addressed polluters’ desire to increase drilling and mining for fossil fuels — without a concomitant desire to address safety or fairness for taxpayers.

Rep. Lois Capps, responding to the recent 100,000-gallon oil spill in her district, offered an amendment to increase funding of inland oil spill cleanup. The amendment, which was offset by a reduction in spending for new offshore drilling, was rejected 184-243.

Rep. Raul Grijalva offered an amendment to block a rider aimed at allowing unfettered mountaintop removal mining and the water pollution that sullies nearby streams. The amendment was rejected 189-239. Similarly, an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer aimed to allow EPA to protect drinking water from mining companies that currently dump mining waste in rivers and streams. The Beyer amendment was rejected on voice vote. Rep. Brenda Lawrence offered an amendment that would have undone a rider that aimed to block new safeguards for hydraulic fracturing. The amendment was rejected 179-250.

Finally, two amendments aimed to allow dirty energy companies to continue paying below-market rates for fossil fuels extracted from public lands. An amendment from Rep. Steve Pearce would prohibit any increase in the royalty rates paid for oil and gas. The Pearce amendment was adopted 231-198. An amendment from Rep. Ryan Zinke would have similarly prohibited the closing of a loophole that allows for cheap coal extraction from public lands. If the loophole were to be closed, taxpayers in states like Montana would see millions of additional income. The amendment was not voted upon.

Let Them Go Extinct

A number of amendments targeted DOI’s work to protect endangered species. Reps. Kevin Yoder, Glenn Thompson, and Paul Gosar each offered amendments prohibiting DOI from protecting different threatened species, the lesser prairie chicken, the northern long-eared bat and the Sonoran desert tortoise, respectively. All were adopted by voice vote. Rep. Niki Tsongas offered an amendment to block both the new riders and a rider regarding wolves that was included in the underlying bill. Her amendment was rejected 186 – 243.

A Brief Reprieve

While the bill has been pulled from the floor for now, you can bet the Dirty Air Villain leadership is already on the lookout for their next opportunity to enact the Big Polluter Agenda. We’ll be watching for these provisions to be slipped into the upcoming continuing resolution or to be used as bargaining chips in the development of an omnibus appropriations bill. With Congress heading off for six weeks of recess, at least we know they can’t do any more damage now.

Is Scott Walker is Running for President or for BFF* with the Koch Brothers?

*BFF = Best Friends Forever

With candidates like Donald Trump in the race for the Republican nomination for president, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker might seem almost moderate. But avoiding Trump’s offensive gaffes hardly qualifies Walker as a moderate, especially when it comes to climate change and clean energy.

In fact, Walker’s positions have been extreme — and extremely aligned with the Koch brothers’ Big Polluter Agenda. Before Walker became a presidential candidate (officially on July 13th), the Koch brothers had already given him millions of dollars of support during his tenure as Governor through their organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners. These groups work to elect candidates who are climate deniers, and who want to protect the profits of Big Oil and Big Pollution at the expense of clean air, clean water, public health, and action against climate change.

Charles and David Koch plan to spend close to $900 million in the 2016 election, effectively acting as their own shadow political party.  Although the brothers claim to remain neutral, David Koch reportedly told a room full of donors that they think he should be the Republican nominee.

Though Walker is a relatively new national political figure, he’s made a splash on the national political scene since taking office in 2011 for his controversial actions regarding unions and abortion.  What about his record on energy and environmental issues?

According to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ Executive Director: “He really has gone after every single piece of environmental protection: land, air, water — he’s left no stone unturned. It’s hard to imagine anyone has done worse.”

On climate change, Walker has declared that Wisconsin will not comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aligns him directly with Senator Mitch McConnell’s dirty tactics. He’s pledged to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” Under Walker’s administration, the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted to ban its employees from working on global warming issues on state time.

On environmental protection more generally, Walker said in June that he wants to gut the EPA. He doubled down on this bad idea recently, saying that state environment departments should take charge and that EPA should be “limited to mediating interstate conflicts over, say, where a body of water or a piece of land goes through multiple states.” That’s not an encouraging proposition given his administration’s record: the state Department of Natural Resources, run by a Walker appointee who opposes environmental protection, has laid off staff in the face of the governor’s own budget cuts, delayed important rules and cut back on enforcing laws that protect state residents from pollution.

If you’re concerned about the Koch brothers’ using their Big Oil money to enact the Big Polluter Agenda, then the prospect of a Scott Walker presidency isn’t pretty. With seventy-eight percent of voters saying they think the government should limit global warming pollution, we’ll have to hope those voters’ opinions count for more than the Koch brothers’ millions.

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

A Washington Post reporter attended the speech and posted some of Bush’s remarks on Twitter:

Jeb Bush hits Clean Air Act, airline regulations & Internet regs at Club for Growth — “stifled the ability for people to rise up.”

So Jeb Bush thinks the Clean Air Act “stifled the ability for people to rise up.” Does he mean polluting corporations that a 5-4 Supreme Court says are people?

Or does he mean that loud clamor for ‘rising up’ by ordinary Americans, who consistently voice very strong support for the Clean Air Act and clean air safeguards, with large majorities across the political spectrum Bob Marley, Mr. Bush ain’t.

Jeb Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, signed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 after 89 Senators and 401 House members (including 154 Republicans, all but 16) voted for the law.

President Bush’s signing statement said he took “great pleasure in signing [the Clean Air Act] as a demonstration to the American people of my determination that each and every American shall breathe clean air.”

Newspapers at the time called the president’s signing of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 “the single most distinguished policy achievement of the Bush administration.”

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

chart 2 jw blog copySo this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

Does Jeb Bush know of any federal law that accomplishes greater benefits for Americans relative to the cost? Would a law personally acceptable to him need to achieve $3 trillion in benefits compared to an even tinier fraction of costs? Mr. Bush’s applause line for the extreme right does not yield those answers.

Clean Air Act benefits vastly outweighs costs over the entire study period in this exhibit. But what about any impacts to economic growth due to Clean Air Act implementation?

This chart shows that over the period from 1990 through 2008, primarily due to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 signed by President Bush, U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased by more than 64% while the six most common air pollutants regulated by the Act decreased 41%.

chart 1 jw blogStifling, I say.

I cannot help but wonder whether a related clean air benefit prompted Jeb Bush’s condemnation of airline regulations. Does he mean another law signed by his father, one that “banned smoking on all domestic flights of less than six hours?”

I cannot tell you how many flights I have been on since then where stifled passengers were loudly demanding the right to rise up and fill airplane cabins with choking tobacco smoke.

The Post reporter also tweeted this Jeb Bush comment to the Club for Growth: “the first priority for the conservative cause” should be “growth at all cost.”

It makes you wonder what Bush would have said if he were speaking to the Hair Club for Men.

That “growth at all cost” mentality reminded me of an article I had read: “To Tackle Pollution, China to Drop Pursuit of Growth at All Costs.” The “growth at all cost” vision thing espoused by Bush has resulted in China having some of the most despoiled and deadly air pollution in the world.

The Chinese people are rising up alright—against dangerous air pollution.

china pic jw blog

One might even say it’s stifling.

“But, but,” Bush would protest, “that’s an unfair comparison. America’s air quality is nowhere near as bad as China’s.”

Exactly. Thanks to the Clean Air Act that Jeb Bush’s father called “the most significant air pollution legislation in our nation’s history,” a law that “restores America’s place as the global leader in environmental protection.”