Obama’s Got a Climate Plan, Where’s the GOP’s?

President Obama has developed a concrete and achievable plan for confronting the threat of climate change. In a powerful speech on Monday, he announced the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants and laid out how it will shield future generations from climate chaos, make the air safer to breathe and save Americans money on energy bills.

What plan have Republican leaders offered? Nothing. All we’ve heard are the same tired criticisms while Republican leaders in Congress work to block any and all action to attack climate change.

Their opposition to carbon pollution limits is to be expected: they’ve vowed to block them for months now. Several GOP presidential candidates used Monday’s announcement to pile on, with Senator Ted Cruz calling the Clean Power Plan “lawless and radical,” and Former Governor Jeb Bush implying that carbon pollution will take care of itself—no government action necessary.

Hearing GOP candidates attack a Democratic president’s policies is not surprising. What should be surprising—and alarming—is that not a single Republican leader has provided an alternative solution to the biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time.

Some of these leaders, like Ted Cruz, are sticking with outright denial of the science. And they don’t seem to have noticed how far public opinion has moved.

I just got back from a family road trip through 15 states and a dozen national parks. Along the way, we met people from across the country. None of them talked about global climate change explicitly, but many spoke about personal concerns that explain where the support for climate action is coming from.

One family we ate with in Yellowstone was glued to their phones for updates about a wildfire approaching their home. A mom we met was in a panic because her son forgot his inhaler at the Bright Angel trail. Another family we spoke to in Minnesota feared they would lose their crops due to flooding. Others were worried about drought in their hometowns.

President Obama spoke about similar concerns in his speech on Monday. He focused on how climate change and air pollution can hit home—how people struggle to breathe during asthma attacks triggered by dirty air, how they worry about their cities flooding at high tide or during storms, and how they want to leave something better for their kids.

This is how most people talk about climate change. They express concern about what climate change means for their daily lives.

Candidates who want to win in 2016 must embrace climate action and explain how it will help real people in their daily lives.

Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans want leaders to do something about those impacts. That includes a sizeable chunk of Republicans. A Yale University poll found that 56 percent of all GOP voters support limiting carbon pollution, with 54 percent of conservative Republicans and 74 percent of moderate Republicans especially likely to favor them. A late July poll commissioned by the NRDC Action Fund and League of Conservation Voters of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina showed that strong majorities say it is important that GOP candidates have a clean energy plan, and three quarters support their state submitting a plan to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

In the midst of flooded streets and scorched homes, people look to leaders who envision a brighter future and offer a roadmap get there. President Obama has put forward a plan for addressing climate change, bringing good paying jobs to states across the nation and improving our families’ health.

The Republican Party has shown up empty-handed to the climate fight. That’s bad for our communities—and it’s bad for candidates who want to win in 2016.

Chris Christie Not “Telling It Like It Is” On Climate Change



“Real. Honest. Direct. Tell It Like It Is.” Those were the words on a banner at a recent campaign event by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie is one of the latest entrants in the crowded 2016 presidential field, and political observers say that he’s trying to distinguish himself by telling voters the truth, even when it’s tough to hear. The trouble is, Christie doesn’t seem willing to tell the truth when it comes to climate action, clean energy, and the environment.

Denying Need to Act

Where does Christie stand on climate change? He’s not denying the science of climate change, but he does deny the need to act.

Back in 2011, Christie said:

There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate.[…] But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.

More recently, in May 2015, Christie said: “I think global warming is real. I don’t think that’s deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it. […] There’s no use in denying global warming exists. The question is what we do to deal with it.”

That’s a good start, and it is certainly a big improvement over competitors who claim that evidence of climate change is “not conclusive” (Rand Paul) or that snow and ice in New Hampshire prove that climate change is fake (Ted Cruz). However, accepting the science of climate change means accepting scientists’ pleas to act urgently to avoid the worst consequences of a warming world. And, on that count, Christie has failed miserably.

Christie closed his state’s Office of Climate Change and Energy and withdrew New Jersey from the regional carbon reduction program, known as RGGI, calling it a “gimmicky [program] that hasn’t worked.” In fact, RGGI has returned “more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households and 17,800 businesses” while avoiding the release of 1.3 million tons of carbon to date. More than $1 billion has been invested in programs including energy efficiency, clean and renewable energy, greenhouse gas abatement, and direct bill assistance. If that’s a gimmick, sign me up!

Like His Friend Bobby Jindal

Like Bobby Jindal, you’d think Christie might know better when it comes to climate action. After witnessing Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, you’d think Christie would be eager to act. You’d be wrong. Christie has denied a link between climate change and the hurricane, and New Jersey is the only state on the eastern seaboard without a statewide climate plan.

One might think that, as a Catholic, Christie would respond to Pope Francis’s recent encyclical calling for action on climate change as a moral imperative. So far, Christie is still denying the need to act. I’m hoping that he’ll change his tune and tell the “truth” about the need for urgent action as the campaign (and the globe) heats up.

Koch Brothers Influence

For those wondering why Christie is so opposed to climate action, and the RGGI program in particular, some people have an answer: the Koch Brothers despise climate action.

In a New York Times profile of Christie’s refusal to participate in RGGI, a representative from the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity said, “We were exceedingly pleased that the governor got New Jersey out of the R.G.G.I. boondoggle. […] It’s something that A.F.P. in New Jersey worked hard on.” According to the Times, the AFP representative “said the move would be sure to help Mr. Christie’s efforts in the Republican primaries, should he run.”

In March this year, Christie reportedly visited David Koch’s Palm Beach mansion.

Time to Tell The Truth

It’s time for Christie to live up to his self-proclaimed mantra of truth-telling.

Sometimes he says things that are like a breath of fresh air. In 2012, he said, “Having renewable energy in our state, having it be a larger part of our portfolio, creating jobs, is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It’s an issue that the people of our state demand we work on together.” I read that and I think, “So true.” But then I read that Christie has cut more than $1 billion from the state’s Clean Energy Fund in order to balance budgets in recent years and I’m reminded that telling the truth isn’t enough. Telling the truth is essential, but acting on that truth is what really matters.

“Here’s the one thing you’ll get with me: You never have to wonder where I stand,” said Christie. Actually, Chris, until your action matches your rhetoric, I have no clue where you stand.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to check out other recent profiles of 2016 contenders Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Hillary Clinton.

The Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change and What It Means for U.S. Politics

Pope Francis has released a profound and inspiring encyclical on the moral obligation to confront climate change. It urges us to heed nature’s warnings. And it calls on us to tackle the climate threat in the name of justice, human dignity and service to the poor and most vulnerable among us.

As a devoted Christian, I am deeply moved by the pope’s wisdom. As a political junkie, I am intrigued by what it means for the American conversation on climate change.

To be clear, Pope Francis is not wading into partisan debates. His gaze is rightly focused on more transcendent vistas and eternal values. But given his stature and moral authority, this encyclical is bound to shape the U.S. political landscape.

After all, it arrives just as the presidential race is kicking into gear. Seven of the declared or likely candidates are Catholic, and nearly all refer to their Christian faith regularly. Yet only two of the GOP candidates acknowledge the science of climate change: Senator Lindsay Graham and Former New York Governor George Pataki. The Republican leadership in Congress, meanwhile, remains bent on denying climate change and blocking every effort to reduce carbon pollution.

Pope Francis stands above this scrum of climate denial and obstruction. He embodies a spirit of hope, humility and service that many are hungry for.  A full 70 percent of all Americans—including 68 percent of the nonreligious—view the pope favorably, and 90 percent of American Catholics do, according to the Pew Research Center.

A person who is this admired, who is calling on our better angels and emphasizing our duty to protect creation and the poor who will be most adversely affected by climate change impacts, has the power to shake things up. Here are three key elements in the next election that could feel the effects.

  1. The Koch Brothers

The Koch brothers aren’t just funding the fossil fuel opposition, they are funding a lot of churches and universities.  Earlier this year, the Charles Koch foundation gave $1.75 million to Catholic University of America, part of a $3 million pledge to the university.  The money is to be used to create a school of business and economics.  One must wonder what the curriculum will be since the Koch Brothers promote the same unregulated capitalism Pope Francis has railed against in the past.

As the pope establishes climate action as a moral imperative among Christians, the Kochs’ climate obstruction may lose its appeal among the faithful. It will matter how Catholics react and whether this will drive a wedge between the Tea Party movement and the religious community.  A major wedge could hurt voter enthusiasm in the Republican Party.

  1. Religious Youth

Pope Francis will travel to the United States in September, and his public events will likely be packed with young people. My husband still remembers attending Pope John Paul II’s American events with thousands of other youth groups. In the age of social media, the current (and tweeting) Pontifex has already connected with young people. These kids have grown up learning about climate science, and now the Pope is placing climate action within the realm of religious duty.  The Pope will address Congress during his trip.  These kinds of speeches to Congress often turns into a mock kid’s baseball games where side stands up with thunderous applause and the other pretends to hear crickets as each side “scores”.  When Pope Francis calls for our leaders to act like statesmen by leading on climate – a catastrophe that is hurting our world’s poor disproportionately – who will stand up and applaud and who will look to the ground?  What will that image mean to our nation’s youth?

This could make the GOP’s youth problem even worse. Former Governor Mitt Romney lost young voters by 26 percentage points in the last race, and in the 2014 midterms, voters under 30 favored Democrats by a 13-point margin. Young Catholics who have rallied around conservative social issues may now be throwing their energy behind climate justice and carbon limits. GOP candidates who refute the very existence of global warming will look like dinosaurs to them.

  1. GOP Candidates

Many GOP candidates make faith a central part of their campaign narrative. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. Chris Christie are all claiming faith as central to why they want to  run (or gear up to run).  What will these men say now that the Successor of Peter has made the moral case for climate action? How will they respond when the Pope addresses Congress in September and likely underscores the need to reduce climate change pollution? Some Republicans may try a variation on their “I’m not a scientist” refrain and claim the Vatican shouldn’t weigh in on scientific matters. That’s like saying the Pope shouldn’t minister to the poor because he isn’t an economist (the Pope does in fact have a masters in chemistry, much to Rick Santorum’s chagrin).

This encyclical is not about science. It’s about our moral duty to shield people from harm and preserve creation for future generations. Now that a globally admired religious leader is shining a spotlight on this duty, it will become harder for GOP candidates to ignore the climate crisis. They may still fail to offer any solutions, but this encyclical provides one more reason why a climate denier can’t win the White House in 2016.

Mitt Romney Likes to Fire People

Mitt Romney has once again reminded voters that he likes to fire people. On Sunday, he told Fox News he would fire three top Obama administration leaders because he says “they are on a mission to drive up the price of gasoline.”

Romney called the leaders — Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson — “the gas-hike trio” and said they should be summarily dismissed.

Yet for all his executive bravado, Romney’s claim that three Obama officials have caused gas prices to soar is as off base as Newt Gingrich’s promise to deliver $2-a-gallon gasoline.

I expected more market savvy from the candidate who claims to be the self-proclaimed business authority.

Does Romney really not understand the basic dynamics at work in the global oil market? Tensions in Iran and unrest in Syria is prompting Wall Street speculators to bet on higher prices. Meanwhile, demand in China India, and Brazil continues to grow, which is not surprising considering the number of cars in China alone has tripled in the last five years.

These are the primary forces that shape oil prices. Neither Secretary Chu’s efforts to promote American clean energy innovation nor Administrator Jackson’s work to make our air safer to breathe has the ability to inform those prices. Not even Secretary Salazar’s drive to open more lands for drilling and sell more offshore leases can do it.

We know because the number of oi rigs operating in the United States has risen more than 80 percent in the past 3 years and nearly 150 percent from 10 years ago. Last year alone, the United States produced more oil than any time since 2003. Yet all this activity couldn’t protect Americans from having to pay $4 a gallon at the pump last spring.

Canada already lives with this painful truth. It is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, yet its gas prices rise and fall just like ours do.

The only way to insulate ourselves from price spikes is to use less oil. The new fuel economy standards President Obama proposed, for instance, will help reduce our oil dependence. Within 20 years, better-performing cars will save drivers more than $80 billion a year at the pump while cutting our oil use by more than we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010.

Bus rapid transit lines, light rail, and other transit options already save America 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline every year. If we extended mass transit options to more communities, we will generate greater savings — in oil and money.

And yet these solutions never appear in Romney’s gas-price plan. Instead, he belittles renewable energy by turning into a punch line. Last week he started saying that President Obama “keeps talking about alternative energy; the real thing we need is an alternative president.” On Sunday, said Chu, Salazar, and Jackson are driving up gasoline prices “so they finally get their solar and their wind to be more price-competitive.”

It’s interesting that Romney thinks solar and wind energy belongs to the Obama Administration. In fact, wind and solar resources belong to all Americans and developing these infinite stores of energy will benefit our national interest.

American engineers are already at work designing the next generation of solar panels that will dominate the global market. Nearly 200,000 Americans work in the wind and solar industries, helping revive our pride in the “Made in America” label. And all our families benefit from relying on energy that releases zero pollution and causes none of the asthma or heart attacks that fossil fuels do.

Romney would have us turn our backs on these benefits. In my view, a candidate who would sell American innovators short and disparage one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy is the one who might find himself in need of a job instead of handing out pink slips.

GOP Presidential Candidates Fail to Recognize what GE Knows: Climate Solutions Generate Growth

Unfortunately, the energy talk on the GOP campaign trail remains dominated by climate denial.  Rick Santorum, the winner of the latest two GOP primaries, wrote an op-ed over the weekend in which he called climate change “a pseudo-science” and “a liberal orthodoxy.”

Mitt Romney said last week that he had once been a “radical” on energy issues because he supported measures to cut carbon pollution. Now, he assured voters, “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”

Some in the radical wing of the Republican Party lap up comments like these, but luckily, executives in corporate American haven’t been listening. Instead, the smart ones have been making money and creating jobs based on real solutions to climate change.

General Electric (GE), for instance, was in the news this week after it released its 2011 Annual Report.  GE has spent several years positioning itself as an innovator in low-carbon technologies. Now the sustainable arm of the company — called ecoimagination — has generated $100 billion in revenues and is growing at more than twice the rate of the rest of the company, according to Mark Vachon, the vice president of eco-imagination.

Let’s be clear: GE isn’t squeaky clean. It is completely or partially liable for at least 78 federal Superfund sites. NRDC had to sue it for years just to make it start cleaning up PCBs from the Hudson River.

GE didn’t invest in climate solutions because it is home to a bunch of treehuggers. They did it because it is good for business. Vachon said GE’s sustainable strategy means “we’re viewed as relevant in the world.” What does that make the climate denying politicians? Trouble is America and American workers could become irrelevant too if one of these candidates wins the White House and creates a national policy of climate denial and fossil fuel dependence.

Our country could miss the boat. Global investments in clean energy reached a record $243 billion last year. Solar photovoltaic systems alone have a global market worth of more than $80 billion. Clean energy investments are forecast to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades.

“Is the US electorate willing to allow the competitive edge on technology to go to China or to Europe, or would they prefer to be the leaders of technology? That is a question that they need to answer,” Christiana Figueres, the official who leads the UN secretariat in charge of global climate negotiations, said at a news conference last Friday.

Not one of the GOP candidates has been talking about the power of clean energy to create jobs and give American companies a competitive advantage. Yet the Solar Energy Industries Association just reported that U.S. solar panel installation surged 109 percent over the past year and the average cost of the panels has dropped 50 percent. Meanwhile, 35 percent of all new power built in the U.S. in the last four years has come from wind energy. This new wind power will provide as much power as nine nuclear power plants.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the company has made a “boatload of money” in the wind business. He thinks wind and solar power will play a major role in America’s energy future. He also recognizes that oil and gas will be around for awhile too, so he is also expanding GE’s investment in those fuels as well. His approach sounds an awful lot like what some call an “all of the above” approach to energy development. Except Immelt includes clean energy in his plan, while some lawmakers either ignore it or disparage it.

This kind of negative political pandering has serious consequences. “I worry that the mood of the times prevents us from moving forward,” Immelt said recently.

While GOP candidates are boasting about their climate denial, other nations are nurturing their clean energy sectors. In 30 years, will we be selling clean technologies to those countries or will we be buying it from them? I’d put my money on the CEO who can envision a clean energy future instead of the candidates who have their heads stuck in the sand.