Red, Blue, and Purple States Agree: Limit Carbon Pollution

Conventional wisdom can be a funny thing, especially in politics. It’s often based on anecdote rather than fact. Take the politics of climate, for instance.  The fossil fuel industry, backed by the Koch brothers, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into defeating environmental champions.  That kind of cash can be scary to an incumbent and can make an issue, like addressing climate change, seem like the third rail of politics.  Never mind that they had a similar win rate in the last election to the 1990 Patriots football team (1-15-0). Never mind that we can now see how climate change is affecting the world around us each day.  Now, with critical mid-terms approaching, some GOP strategists are trying to say that Republicans will benefit in midterm elections if they go on record opposing efforts to clean up our air and protect future generations from climate change.

They are wrong.

Here’s what’s at the center of this scare tactic: The Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants in June. These plants kick out 40 percent of carbon emissions in our country, and yet Republicans leaders are already trying to block the agency from finally cleaning them up. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is actually attempting to force the Senate to vote on (using a maneuver that has no legal basis) to block the carbon limits before they are even proposed.

The fact is, voters want these plants to clean up their carbon pollution. Senators should take notice. More than two-thirds of voters in several battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. for the NRDC Action Fund. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.

When we commissioned this poll a few weeks ago, some thought we were taking a chance – putting it mildly – by hiring a well-known candidate pollster and encouraging him to ask the hard questions.  We didn’t see it as a risky move because we know that voters have consistently supported clean energy and climate action in countless surveys, and in the 2012 election.

Some thought we were a little crazy when we asked them to focus on the toughest Senate battleground states, places where environmental issues don’t usually take a front seat in politics like, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire. Most of them run purple if not red. Yet even within more conservative communities, people support reducing dangerous carbon pollution by wide margins.

Harstad 1

Earlier this week I briefed several Senators on the results, and some were especially struck by what the numbers say about women voters. Pundits are already calling 2014 the “Year of the Woman”. Women are running in several high-profile races and issues associated with the women electorate are in the headlines every day. Republicans are trying to lure women back after alienating them so thoroughly in 2012 and so the female vote could decide several elections.

Now all candidates have yet another thing to add to their list of issues women care about: supporting limits on dangerous carbon pollution. Women understand (by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent) that we have a moral obligation to future generations to make the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable. That begins with holding power plants accountable for the carbon they pump into our skies.

Yet this new poll confirms that climate change isn’t just important to women. Male voters (by a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. Republicans (by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent) and Democrats (by a margin of 87 percent to 8 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. And Northerners (by a margin of 69 percent to 25 percent) and Southerners (by a margin of 64 percent to 28 percent) want to do reduce carbon pollution.

Bottom line: climate is shaping up to be one of those issues that defies conventional wisdom. Voters support doing the right thing on climate. Candidates would do well to pay attention.

View Additional Harstad Polling Results: Harstad NRDC AF 2014

A Gift from Congress Worth Unwrapping

There’s a budget deal after all. Well, it is the season for miracles.

Shedding—if only for now—their hard-earned reputation for a lack of results, Congress on Wednesday passed a bipartisan budget deal.  Gratefully, this agreement should shield the country from senseless shutdowns and artificial crises for the next two years.  It also shows that members of Congress have the ability to get things done, if in this case for no other reason than to let themselves get out of town in time for the holidays.

More than anything, the federal budget expresses the nation’s priorities for the coming years.  This new budget—while far from ideal—replaces the heavy-handed and painful cuts to critical programs caused by sequestration with a more targeted approach to fiscal restraint.  Nearly all programs have taken a hit in funding levels in recent years, and environmental agencies are no exception. Still, the improvement this budget deal represents over the sequester status quo means this new fiscal agreement is good news for the millions of Americans who rely on our nation’s fully-functioning environmental agencies to protect their families and their environment from harm.

This budget plan has another promising feature, namely, a lack of back-room deal-making to add provisions to block environmental protections from being enforced.  Such anti-environmental “riders” have plagued past negotiations on budget bills and other legislation where they have no business being included.

Whatever one thinks about the particulars of the deal (and much remains to be decided by the appropriations committees), it is riveting to see the growing fissures in the Republican Party exposed by this budget process. House Speaker John Boehner’s public admonition of far-right tea party groups was especially astonishing, as he accused conservative groups of misdirecting Republican members leading up to the government shutdown and claimed their opposition to the budget proposal had cost them their credibility. While Boehner refuses to acknowledge that these statements are a sign of a general shift in the conservative approach by the majority of the Republican Party, it’s clear these statements reveal divergent paths for the party moving forward.  One is the path of continued confrontation at all costs spearheaded by Ted Cruz and others that led up to the government shutdown in the fall.  The other is the view held by more reasonable Republicans, loath to take further public beatings in the polls, that getting something done when the public supports it is not such a bad idea after all.

One should not overstate the prospect for more bipartisan cooperation, but Republicans would be well-advised to listen to their more measured leaders.  If they did, they should note the popularity of protecting the environment generally and acting on climate change in particular.  For instance, 65 percent of Americans polled consider climate change to be a serious or very serious problem, and 60 percent support the President using his authority to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. These numbers demonstrate a clear call by the American people for swift and meaningful action.

Let’s hope this new budget deal signals a new time of bipartisan cooperation in Congress on issues that matter to the American people.  Let’s also wish for a clean environment to be added to that legislative shopping list.

This is When America Got Serious About Confronting Climate Change


President Obama laid out a climate action plan on Tuesday that will dramatically reduce global warming pollution and expand the clean energy economy. The plan is strong and concrete and will deliver lasting benefits to the American people. It is the kind of breakthrough that presidential legacies are built upon. In years to come, people will point to Obama’s plan and say: this is when America got serious about confronting climate change.

The American people will welcome this display of leadership. Voters support the climate solutions President Obama has proposed in his plan—from expanding wind and solar energy to calling on power plants to clean up their pollution. They know these measures are good for our health, our communities, and our economy.

We see it in last year’s election results, when voters overwhelmingly favored candidates who support clean energy, clean air, and public health safeguards. And we see it in poll after poll.

A Stanford University poll, for instance, found that 82 percent of Americans think the country should prepare for climate change. A Georgetown survey released yesterday reported that 87 percent of Americans–including 78 percent of Republicans–support the Environmental Protection Agency taking action to reduce carbon pollution.  And a Gallup poll said that 76 percent of Americans think the U.S. should generate more solar power and 71 percent called for more wind.

These voters know that clean energy is creating new jobs and helping make the air safer to breathe. And they also know climate change is becoming a bigger threat to our families and communities. It’s already making its presence known in the form of extreme drought, storms, and fires into our communities. More than 500 homes were burned to the ground in the fires around Colorado Springs this month. More than 305,000 homes in New York were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Nobody wants this kind of expense and heartbreak to descend on their town.

And that’s why more Americans have been calling for climate action. When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new power plants, the agency received more than 3 million comments in favor of the standards—more than the EPA had received on any other issue in its history.

And yet in the coming weeks, carbon polluters and their allies in Congress will try to discount this groundswell of support. Oil and gas companies want to keep their stranglehold on America’s energy system, and they donate heavily to political campaigns and like to throw their weight around. They are going to try scare folks into thinking that stabilizing our climate and growing the renewable energy sector is somehow bad for America. We have to stand strong and spread the truth.

If the polluters say cutting carbon pollution from power plants will raise the cost of electricity, tell them NRDC concluded that people could actually save hundreds of dollars on their utility bills. If they say confronting climate change will hurt the economy, point out that more than 120,000 Americans work in the solar industry, and more than 150,000 people work building parts for and assembling clean cars. And if they say climate change isn’t a real threat, remind them of the 123 people who died from last July’s record-breaking heat or the farmers who got $12 billion in insurance payments for crop damage after last year’s record-breaking drought.

Telling these truths and telling our lawmakers we support action will help ensure our nation follows through on President’ Obama’s climate plan. But we can’t do it alone. The president must build on the leadership he demonstrated on Tuesday and repeat over and over again why climate action is good for our nation.

The NRDC Action Fund has looked at the results of several recent elections, and we found that candidates who frame the clean energy and climate debate first—before their opponents—and don’t back away from their position not only become trusted leaders on energy issues but they also win over voters.

The lesson is clear: President Obama can dominate the debate about his climate plan and lead America into a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

 Let’s keep the fight going, ask your senators to join in:



Mitt Romney Wants to Force EPA to Lie to Americans About Whether the Air is Safe to Breathe

What is it with Mitt Romney and his penchant for lying to Americans about air pollution?

NRDC Action Fund director, Heather Taylor wrote about him lying to an Iowa audience this week with the falsehood that the Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate farm dust. It’s a lie that he has repeated before in an effort to frighten farmers and deceive voters.

It turns out Romney has also vowed to change the Clean Air Act to require EPA to lie to Americans about whether the air is clean and healthy to breathe. Romney wants to eliminate the exclusive health basis that has been the foundation for our landmark clean air law for over 40 years. Romney’s approach would force EPA to depart from scientifically-grounded, health-protective standards and respond instead to cost complaints by industry lobbyists and political interference by White House economists.

In the process, he would overturn a unanimous Supreme Court decision authored by Justice Antonin Scalia that ruled clean air standards must be based on what is necessary to protect Americans’ health, based on medical science rather than industry cost complaints.

As I have noted previously:

For over 40 years the Clean Air Act has required the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set honest air quality standards that are “requisite to protect the public health” with an “adequate margin of safety.”  Clean Air standards must be honestly based on the best health science and medical understanding concerning how much pollution is harmful to humans. Standards may not be weakened or distorted by political or other non-medical factors.

The New York Times recently reported however, that Romney supports eliminating the longstanding health foundation for clean air standards. Instead he wants compliance costs by polluting industries to factor into determining clean air standards. This would pervert the question of how much air pollution is unhealthy for humans to breathe as a matter of the best scientific and medical understanding, letting economic factors force EPA to depart from truly protective air quality standards.

Romney’s approach is the same dirty agenda pushed by Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, which passed a bill this year to dramatically weaken clean air protections following this very playbook.

I have described what the House Republicans’ bill would mean if it became law:

The bill would force the head of EPA to adopt unhealthy clean air standards for smog pollution if someone decides it costs too much to set healthy standards. The legislation then would compel EPA to misrepresent those unhealthy air quality standards to Americans as sufficient to achieve “clean air.”

This is no different from Congress forcing doctors to lie to patients about their correct diagnoses if some government bureaucrat or economist or insurance company says it costs too much to treat the honestly diagnosed illness.

The American Lung Association has rightly dubbed this bill the “Gasp Act,” and ALA opposes it along with many other medical organizations. Fortunately the Senate and President Obama oppose the legislation too, so the Tea Party’s House bill has stalled. That could change if the GOP takes over the Senate and Romney becomes president.

It’s ironic that Romney condemns so-called “death panels” that do not exist under President Obama’s healthcare law, then turns around and pushes a process under the Clean Air Act in which bureaucrats and economists and politicians get to decide that some lives are not worth saving or protecting because it allegedly costs industry polluters too much.

Romney wants to replace a clean air process with dirty air panels that will deny health protections to Americans if the safeguards don’t pass a politicized cost-benefit calculation that the Clean Air Act has abhorred for over 40 years.

Lying during the campaign is a terrible thing. But it’s so much worse that Romney is running on actual policies to weaken clean air protections and require EPA to lie to all Americans about whether our air is safe to breathe.



Mitt Romney Dusts Off a Proven Lie to Try to Deceive Voters

Mitt Romney lied to an audience in Iowa on Tuesday by spouting one of his favorite falsehoods: the Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate farm dust.

Romney has been repeating this particular lie since at least late 2011. He has been corrected again and again, only to reiterate the lie again and again, just as he did on Tuesday.

What does it say about the character of a presidential candidate that he would lie to Americans and try to frighten farmers with proven falsehoods? Even if one were to be more generous and lay the blame with the campaign, is it ineptitude or cynicism that allows that lie to be repeated so persistently? Or is this just evidence of the alternative reality for facts that have become a defining feature of Romney’s campaign?

The paranoid urban myth (perhaps rural myth is more accurate) about farm dust was hatched by industry lobbyists back in 2011, then began to circulate among conservative bloggers, then was repeated by Republicans in Congress.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson immediately set the record straight by making clear the EPA was not going to regulate farm dust. She indicated the agency would not even propose taking the action that critics were claiming – falsely and mendaciously – would result in regulating farm dust. The head of EPA’s air program testified in Congress that it was a myth that the EPA was planning to regulate farm dust.

Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the sponsor of a Senate bill to exempt farm dust from regulation—non-existent regulation, mind you—announced himself satisfied that the EPA had no plan or intention to regulate farm dust: “EPA has finally provided what I’ve been asking for all along: unequivocal assurance that it won’t attempt to regulate farm dust.”

In June, true to Jackson’s word, the EPA proposed not to change the Clean Air Act’s “coarse particle” pollution standard at all, which should have put to rest once and for all any rumor that the EPA planned to regulate farm dust. The agency said that it would continue to maintain the standard set in 1987 by the Reagan administration, a standard that also does not regulate farm dust.

Now that Mr. Romney has been caught in this flagrant lie, it will be interesting to see how his campaign apparatus will respond. Maybe they will stir up fears about the EPA’s wicked heart: 

“How do you really know EPA does not want to regulate farm dust and destroy capitalism?”

Maybe they will pivot with evasions that build on the original lie as fact: “Oh, EPA wanted to regulate farm dust all right until Republicans stopped them, but they still want to and will jump at the chance unless I am in the oval office.”

The frustrating truth is the campaign will probably display a “What, me worry?” attitude about getting caught lying. Again. If he has done it before and he has gotten this far, then it must be working, right?

Knowing the futility of what I’m about to ask, I have to pose this simple question anyway: Mr. Romney, you say that the EPA “wants to regulate dust” from farms. Prove it, please. Where has EPA said that? Document and page number?

In the meantime, please stop lying to us. Please stop throwing dust in our eyes and pretending Americans deserve a president who evidently will say anything to get elected.