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.

 

5 Ways the Midterms Will Shape the Clean Energy and Climate Future

Now that Labor Day is behind us, the campaign season is about to heat up in earnest. Candidates, strategists, and pundits will vie for the spotlight from now until November 4. Yet try as they might, midterms never garner as much attention as presidential cycles.

This year’s election, though, matters more than most.

The outcome of the 2014 races could have a major impact on the air we breathe, the health of our families, and the intensity of the climate change outside our doors.

Victory could come for candidates who take millions of dollars for fossil fuel companies and ignore the climate threat—I call these folks the Dirty Denier$. Or environmental champions will triumph and expand clean energy and climate action to protect our health and create jobs.

The choices we make in the voting booth always carry weight, but they have even greater heft in a year when control of the Senate is up for grabs, when GOP leaders have promised to roll back decades-worth of public health and environmental safeguards, and when the threat of climate change grows more severe.

Here are five forces that could shape the outcome of the 2014 midterm.

Climate Denial Is Alive and Well in the GOP

Two weeks ago, Scott Brown was asked if “the theory of man-made climate change has been scientifically proven.” His reply: “Uh, no.” Yet when Brown was campaigning for Senator from Massachusetts in 2012, he said, “I absolutely believe that climate change is real and I believe there’s a combination between man-made and natural.” Now that he is running in New Hampshire, he backpedalled. Brown isn’t alone. Across the nation, Republicans either deny the existence of human-caused climate change or feign ignorance because they aren’t trained scientists. If these lawmakers gain a majority, they will try at every turn to stop the Obama Administration from fulfilling the President’s Climate Action Plan.

McConnell Would Use a Majority to Dismantle Safeguards

Since 2010, GOP lawmakers in the House have voted several hundred times to undermine public health and environmental protections. They haven’t just gone after measures associated with President Obama. They’ve dug deep and torn into the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other bedrock laws that have held firm for four decades. The only thing stopping these radical bills from becoming law? A lack of support in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell says if he wins a majority, he will launch his own attack, using bills and policy riders to strip away protections that keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe. He will also wage an assault on every effort to shield our communities from climate change. And he’s willing to even shut down the government to implement his radical agenda.

Fossil Fuel Companies Are Looking for Better Results

Oil and gas companies and their allies have spent more than $31 million on this election already. They favor lawmakers who put industry concerns before the public interest. Senator Marco Rubio, Representative Fred Upton, Senator Mitch McConnell and other Dirty Denier$ have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the fossil fuel industry. They have also voted for oil and gas subsidies and tried to prevent the EPA from finalizing limits on climate change pollution from power plants—the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions. But industry investments don’t always pay off. The US Chamber of Commerce, known for its climate denial and fossil-fuel friendly policies, spent more than $32 million in the 2012 election but achieved less than 7 percent of desired outcomes.

Smart Candidates Are Running Clean

It turns out voters prefer leaders who stand up to polluters. In the 2012 cycle, candidates who supported clean energy and climate action won up and down the ticket, even in contested purple states. Recent polling shows that sentiment is growing.  More than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a March poll done by Harstad Strategic Research for the NRDC Action Fund. The poll was conducted in red and purple states, and still 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats supported carbon limits. Many 2014 candidates—including Michigan’s Gary Peters, Colorado’s Mark Udall, and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen—have recognized that running for office on a platform of protecting the environment, promoting clean sources of energy, and curbing climate change is a proven winner.

Environmental Champions Could Make Climate History

President Obama has called on the EPA to do the single most important thing the US can to fight climate change right now: limit carbon pollution from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon emissions in the country, and cleaning them up will help us defuse the climate threat. An environmental majority in Congress will help the EPA realize this goal. It would also help expand renewable power and strengthen environmental safeguards.  Lawmakers could point to these accomplishments and say: this is when America began combating climate change and building the clean energy future.

 

 

#DirtyDenier$ Day 12: Rob Portman

Rob Portman

Despite his easy smile, when it comes to energy and climate, Sen. Rob Portman is a conflicted man.

On the one hand, he’s a cosponsor of a bipartisan Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill. It would help people waste less energy by promoting energy efficiency measures for homes and businesses. It would move us toward cleaner sources of energy, clean energy technologies and help promote clean energy jobs.

On the other hand, Portman is a climate change denier who has fought efforts to address this growing environmental challenge. On climate change, Portman has said:  “When you analyze all the data, there is a warming trend according to science. But the jury is out on the degree of how much is manmade.” That’s not what scientists say; it’s Portman who’s trying to create a hung jury.

Portman’s record shows a pattern of anti-environment stances promoted by GOP leadership. He backed a measure to permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing any standards to limit greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  He also voted to strip $60 million worth of funding for advanced biofuels in the Department of Defense budget, even with military installations in Ohio tasked with developing alternative fuels.

Furthermore, Portman’s a sponsor of the egregious Regulatory Accountability Act, which would make it next to impossible for the federal government to issue any new protections for the public, including those for health, safety and the environment.  Practically speaking, Portman’s support of this bill tells Ohioans to trust Congress with protecting vital necessities like their drinking water, rather than experts at the Environmental Protection Agency. I don’t know about you, but I know who I would trust before handing my child a glass of tap water.

During his Senate career, Portman has received $385,000 from oil and gas interests and $346,000 from political action committees known as leadership PACs set up by colleagues in Congress who support Republican candidates.

Our advice: Senator Portman should show some independence from the GOP leadership’s agenda to derail any federal action to reduce climate change. Ohioans deserve Portman to protect their health and represent their best interests, not dirty polluters.