Is the Big Polluter agenda the environmental platform of the Republican Party?

Lindsey Graham asked a good question last month. The South Carolina Senator wants to know, “What is the environmental platform of the Republican Party?” Graham says he doesn’t know. He suggests it’s time for his party to do some “soul searching.”

Current Platform

Graham is right to suggest some soul searching. But, I’m surprised he doesn’t know the party’s platform. The Republican leaders in Congress, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, have consistently said “no” or fought against anything that qualifies as an environmental policy. During the first two terms of his speakership, John Boehner led House Republicans in more than 500 anti-environment floor votes. Mitch McConnell’s first 100 days as Senate Majority Leader have been marked by a strict adherence to the Big Polluter Agenda, which has included saying “no” to Environmental Protection Agency reducing carbon pollution and “no” to keeping dirty tar sands oil in the ground.

“No” is a pretty flimsy platform and Graham is right to think his party needs something stronger.

The Republican Soul

If Graham and his colleagues do embark on some true soul searching, what are they likely to find? To get some ideas, I went straight to the source: the website of the Republican Party itself.

The Republican Party describes itself in six bullet points on the history section of its website, www.GOP.com. Here’s how I believe these core facets of the GOP identity fit with political efforts to address climate change.

  1. Grand New Party. The Republican Party was founded by abolitionists. The party didn’t shy away from a tough fight then, and there’s no reason the party can’t take on one of today’s most critical problems: climate change.
  2. Party of Freedom. “Freedom” continues to be a favorite buzzword of climate deniers, who argue that dirty energy companies apparently deserve the “freedom” to pollute. Historically, Republicans have rejected this foolish argument, understanding the need to consider the population’s freedom to breathe. That’s why the Clean Air Act in 1970, and amendments in 1990, were passed with bipartisan majorities and why Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and President George H. W. Bush signed the bills.
  3. Party of Prosperity. Action to address climate change is essential to ensuring continued American prosperity. As detailed in the Risky Business report, unchecked climate change could result in the loss of up to $507 billion in coastal property by 2100, labor productivity losses of up to three percent, and increased energy costs of $12 billion per year. In contrast, a recent report found that international action to address climate change could create more than one million jobs in the clean energy sector. These wouldn’t be government jobs—they’d be private sector jobs in innovative fields. America should be leading the way on clean energy innovation.
  4. Party of Vision. Republicans have a long history of leadership on the environment, going back before Teddy Roosevelt to the creation of Yellowstone National Park by Ulysses S. Grant. This legacy was carried on as President Richard Nixon established the EPA and President George H.W. Bush enacted the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and as even a Republican congress, led by Newt Gingrich, managed to pass two massive environmental bills in the mid-nineties. For a party that praises this legacy so strongly, they sure aren’t living up to it today.
  5. Party of Strength. Our military believes climate change is a threat multiplier and that failure to act threatens our national security. The United States must maintain its international leadership as a world leader in climate action.
  6. Party of the Future. The Tea Party is the only segment in American society that doesn’t believe climate change is happening—and the Tea Party is a small, small slice of American society. In contrast, only three percent of young voters believe climate change is not happening. To stay relevant, the Republican Party must put forth a plan to act on climate change.

Party of the Future?

Will the Republicans embrace climate action in order to stay relevant? In his final post for Grist, David Roberts argued that the party is already pivoting away from denial, but instead of pivoting to solutions, they are pivoting to chicken-little economic arguments, saying that the cost of addressing climate change is too high. Those hyperbolic, sky-is-falling cost arguments are staples of the dirty energy industry that’s looking to protect its own bottom line, but they have no place in a party platform that proclaims a commitment to vision, strength, and the future.

If the Republicans want to protect their worthy legacy and be the party of the future, it’s time to follow Lindsay Graham’s advice to do some soul searching, and start acting on climate change.

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.”

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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.

 

 

Climate Valentines: Time to Define the Relationship

February 14th is the day when Americans celebrate love with cards, flowers and chocolate. At my house, the kids are busy making paper hearts and cranking out scores of cards for their friends. Their handiwork inspired me to create a Valentine for members of Congress who need to have “the talk.”

Until just a few weeks ago, Republicans in Congress had largely denied or ignored the urgent need to act on climate change. Things have started to shift ever so slightly in the past few weeks: suddenly #DirtyDenier$ are getting real.

Maybe a climate cupid shot his arrows through the halls of the Senate, but at the end of last month, 53 GOP senators passed an amendment acknowledging the climate is changing, 15 approved an amendment saying humans have something to do with those changes, and 5 endorsed one saying human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change.

What do these votes mean? Is the GOP reconsidering its monogamous relationship with fossil fuel companies? Are they asking for an “open relationship” with the Koch Brothers? Is the GOP interested in seeing other voters?

It’s time for the talk: the “DTR” conversation that defines the relationship. That’s how we’ll know if the GOP is ready for that ultimate public declaration of love: the relationship status change on Facebook.

Voters are ready for a commitment. Two thirds of Americans favor the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants, according to a November survey by Harstad Strategic Research.

A New York Times/Stanford poll released last week found that a full 54 percent of Hispanics—that increasingly popular voting bloc—say climate change is extremely or very important to them personally, and 63 favor the federal government taking broad steps to address this crisis.

As Republican leaders try to define their relationship with climate change in advance of the 2016 election, the “it’s complicated” status will no longer suffice with the majority of voters.

GOP candidates who want to win in the next cycle have to get serious. It’s not enough to recognize that the climate is changing. They need to do something about it. They need to offer an action plan for confronting the biggest public health and environmental threat of our time. They need to put a ring on it.

My wish for this Valentine’s Day is for #DirtyDenier$ to truly define their relationship with climate change. And that they begin by ending their love affair with dirty polluters. Here’s what I would put on my Valentine:

Roses are red, the climate is hot. #RunningClean is cool, but #DirtyDenier$ are not.

Ok, so the makers of Sweethearts candies might not be hiring me anytime soon and the puns in the blog post may be a bit much. But my heart is in the right place: I truly hope the Republican Party will decide to act on our generations’ biggest challenge.

 

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.

Lawmakers who Back Big Polluters Risk Losing GOP Voters

Energy prices may be plummeting, but oil, gas, and coal companies are seeing a dramatic return on investment in one sector: the US Congress. The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections. And now the GOP majority has vowed to make life easier for polluters by gutting long-standing protections for clean air and water and blocking measures the fight climate change.

Last week, for instance, House Republicans voted to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Representatives who supported the Keystone XL bill received over 8.5 times more oil and gas money in 2014 than those who voted against it. Now the action moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from oil, gas, and coal companies in 2014.

These fossil-fuel favors may please donors, but new research shows that lawmakers risk painting themselves into a corner with Republican voters.

Because in order for GOP leadership to carry out the Big Polluter Agenda, they have to ignore the giant elephant in the room: climate change.

To push for Keystone XL, they have to discount the fact that tar sands oil generates 17 percent more climate change pollution than conventional crude. To block the Environmental Protection Agency’s from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, they have to pretend that unchecked emissions won’t make America’s families, farms, coastal cities and local communities more vulnerable to extreme weather.

In other words, they have to reject the facts.

Many Republican lawmakers are comfortable with this arrangement. The Senate alone is now home to 38 climate deniers who received $28,152,466 from fossil fuel companies over the course of their careers, according to Climate Progress.

But Republican voters who notice the costly increase in drought, floods, and fires are starting to question the wisdom of denial.

New comprehensive analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reveals a growing divide within the Republican Party over climate change.

Overall, 56 percent of GOP voters say they favor government action to reduce climate change pollution. A full 62 percent of moderate Republicans said climate change is a real and present threat, while 38 percent of conservative Republicans and only 29 percent of Tea Party Republicans recognize the reality of climate change.

GOP candidates would be wise to ponder these numbers. They may be able to win primaries by appealing to the most conservative base. They may even carry a few Congressional races by playing to the skeptics. But they cannot win the White House in 2016 by denying climate change.

Climate change has become an inescapable issue on the campaign trail. It emerged in every 2014 Senate race, with journalists, debate moderators, and voters demanding to know where candidates stood. The same will happen in the presidential election. And in a year where the geopolitical map favors Democrats, a GOP candidate can’t afford to alienate Republican moderates who understand the steep cost of extreme weather and unchecked pollution.

By pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, GOP lawmakers risk collecting the cash but losing the people—including a chunk of their own voters.