NRDC Action Fund’s Weekly News Summary

This is what the NRDC Action Fund has been reading this week:

Photo by: Day Donaldson, Flickr

Photo by: Day Donaldson, Flickr

Trump and Cruz would undo climate efforts – Responding to a survey from the conservative American Energy Alliance, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz both said they would undo pretty much all of President Obama’s climate policies. (Wall Street Journal, The Hill)

Ted Cruz fact-checked – On the campaign trail Ted Cruz likes to say the EPA is trying to regulate “puddles” with its Waters of the United States rule clarification. PolitiFact this week rated his claim “mostly false.” (PolitiFact Florida)

Leo calls out GOP presidential candidates – Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio took advantage of a press conference for his film The Revenant to attack the GOP presidential candidates for their backward positions on climate science, saying “We should not have a candidate who doesn’t believe in modern science to be leading our country…. Climate change is one of the most concerning issues facing all humanity and the United States needs to do its part.” (The Guardian)

Rising urgency to rising seas – With current carbon dioxide emissions levels, sea level rise will be much worse than we thought — nearly double initial projections — by 2100 because of melting ice on Antarctica. Coastal communities are at an even greater risk in a shorter timeframe as a result. (Washington Post, New York Times)

Why don’t we ask presidential candidates more about climate change? – Even though climate change is the most urgent issue of our time, less than 2% of presidential primary debate questions have been about climate change. (Media Matters)

The whole planet should fear a Trump win – Although his positions on climate change policies are virtually indistinguishable from the other GOP presidential contenders, his logic takes it to another level. (Washington Post)

Americans are increasingly concerned – Sixty-four percent of Americans – up from 55% – said they are either worried a “great deal” or a “fair amount” about climate change. Have GOP lawmakers gotten the message? (MSNBC)

Breaking rank with GOP on climate – Will Republicans break rank on climate change and stop denying? There’s some reason for hope. (Huffington Post)

Bafflingly, Trump thinks he’s an environmentalist –  Donald Trump said in 2014: “I happen to be, in my own way, an environmentalist.” But it’s easy to consider a problem solved when you don’t think there’s a problem in the first place. (Washington Post)

Obama saves Clean Water protections from GOP attack

box1President Obama today vetoed an attempt by the GOP-led Congress to gut Clean Water Rule protections for water bodies that American families rely on for fishing, swimming, and drinking water. While this bill did not pass with a veto-proof margin, the episode highlights what Americans can expect if the next president is willing to sign the anti-environment legislation that regularly passes in the Republican Congress.

The leading contenders for the GOP nomination have expressed a desire to significantly curb and even end the EPA’s ability to keep our water and air safe and clean. Last October during an appearance on FOX News Sunday, leading presidential candidate Donald Trump told host Chris Wallace that he intended to “cut” the EPA altogether.

“Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations. They’re making it impossible,” Trump said. “Who’s going to protect the environment?” Wallace asked. “We’ll be fine with the environment,” Trump replied. “We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”

But U.S. businesses increasingly back action on climate change and 80 percent of small business owners support the recent Clean Water Rule. In fact, GOP donors who understand the importance of environmental protection to the U.S. economy are growing dismayed as the party’s candidates continue to refuse to engage on the issue, according to the National Journal. “They think if we mention carbon reduction, it’s shutting down American industry. You and I know that’s not true,” said Republican donor Andy Sabin, president of the New York-based refin­ing company Sabin Metal Corporation.

GOP lawmakers have vowed to continue their efforts to undermine EPA regulations such as the Clean Water Rule, which makes it all the more important that the rest of us continue our efforts to elect pro-environment political leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The “Bipartisan Bust” – Attack on EPA is Losing Ground in the Senate

McConnellThe headline in yesterday’s Washington Examiner reads:  “Greens: GOP support for climate rules rising.”  If you are asking yourself right now what that means, here’s the story.…

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attack on the Clean Power Plan this week was supposed to demonstrate to the world the strong bipartisan opposition to the United States’ first ever limits on dangerous carbon pollution from power plans. His party has a majority in the Senate, but the measure passed by a not very strong majority of 52 votes—nowhere near the 67 votes needed to make it veto proof.

Even more problematic for McConnell and his polluter allies, though, is that the vote ended up showing that the Clean Power Plan actually has bipartisan support, and enough of it to ensure that it will keep moving forward.

What happened when the time came to vote?  As the New York Times reported:

“Three moderate Republicans, two up for re-election next year, Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, as well as Senator Susan Collins of Maine, broke from their party to vote against the resolutions and back the environmental regulations.”

What explains the loss of Republican momentum in the attacks on the EPA? E&E News explained the actions of Senators Ayotte and Collins this way:

“Of the three Republicans who voted to keep the plan in place, Ayotte and Kirk are part of a recently formed Republican working group on environment and energy issues.

“Ayotte, who is in a tough re-election battle with New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, last month publicly announced that she was in favor of the Clean Power Plan. Kirk, though, was the target of an aggressive campaign by environmentalists after reports surfaced that he was planning to vote in favor of the resolutions. He is also vulnerable next year.

“After the vote, Collins touted Maine’s actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. She said she was concerned that global warming was adding to pollution-linked asthma issues and a higher incidence of lime disease as ticks’ habitats shift to the north.”

The backstory on Senator Kirk is even more interesting.  According to the National Journal, “Kirk is one of many moderate Republicans facing a tough reelection (National Journal’s Charlie Cook has rated the race a tossup).”  And as Energy Guardian explained:

“Kirk, who faces a tough re-election challenge from Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, took fire from environmentalists in June for a vote against the power plant carbon limits in an EPA and Interior appropriations bill. Groups had charged Kirk with casting the “deciding vote” for language that would have blocked funding for the rules.”

(NRDC, by the way, was one of those groups that held Senator Kirk accountable last summer.)

An aide for Senator Kirk elaborated to Politico:

“‘Senator Kirk today voted to improve air quality and reduce rising childhood asthma rates,’ a Kirk spokeswoman said in a statement explaining the senator’s vote. ‘With our diverse energy portfolio, Illinois is already leading the way in energy efficiency and is well positioned to balance the needs of the environment and the economy.'”

So, the next time you hear someone saying there is bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Senate to roll back the EPA Clean Power Plan, please set that person straight.  What’s growing is the bipartisan support for the Clean Power Plan. And that’s not speculation or any political tea-leaf reading.

The votes prove it.

Read More »

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.

Protecting Atlantic and Arctic from Drilling Makes Political Sense

DrillingThe national conversation about offshore drilling has shifted in the past few weeks. Shell pulled out of the Arctic Ocean after months of public outcry and unforgiving conditions. Then the Obama administration called off Arctic leasing sales for the next two years and rejected Shell’s application to extend its existing leases in the region. Towns all along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey through Florida have passed resolutions opposing drilling off of their coasts.

All the while, presidential candidates tweeted and commented on the implications of offshore drilling.

Now President Obama is poised to make one of the most important decisions of his presidency about how to manage our publicly owned oceans and protect our children from climate change.

His administration will soon release the next five-year offshore leasing plan. The current draft reopens the door to drilling in the Arctic Ocean and exposes the Atlantic Ocean to drilling for the first time in 30 years.

This version would lock our nation into decades of increased climate change pollution and oil spill risk.  But if the president decides to seize the opportunity provided by Shell’s retreat and community groundswell on the Atlantic coast by putting these waters off-limits to drilling for good, he can solidify his legacy as leader in the climate fight and the effort to protect natural heritage.

If the president favors the sustainable future instead of the dirty past, he will have plenty of support. Poll after poll after poll show that the vast majority of Americans want leaders to tackle climate change. One survey found that 70 percent of Americans support strict limits on carbon pollution from power plants. And 56 percent of Republicans believe in climate change and 72 percent support accelerating clean energy development, according to a recent survey by leading GOP pollsters.

Democratic presidential candidates are starting to echo these views and connect their energy policies to the fight against climate change. In August, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Drilling the Arctic at a time when we face serious climate emergency should be unthinkable.” And Former Secretary Hillary recently stated “we want to keep more fossil fuels under the ocean and under the ground.  That’s why I’m against Arctic drilling.”

Clinton has repeatedly emphasized the need to fight climate change by pivoting to renewable resources like wind and solar power. In July, she announced that if she were elected president, she would ensure the nation gets 33 percent of its energy from renewables by 2027. And at the Democratic debate, she framed the fight against climate change as an opportunity “to grow our economy.”

Republican candidates have taken a different approach.

During an early fall cold snap this month, Donald Trump declared “we could use a big fat dose of global warming.” Senator Marco Rubio just released an energy plan that calls for more offshore drilling and would nullify U.S. participation in an international climate agreement. Rubio represents Florida, where many local governments oppose plans to open offshore drilling in the region.

These positions are out of step with the majority of Americans, but they fit squarely with the fossil fuel industry, which has spent billions of dollars in the past few years to elect and influence lawmakers who will side with polluting companies. They want to open the Arctic and Atlantic for drilling because it will keep the cycle of fossil fuel investment and infrastructure going for years to come.

Oil drilled from these oceans wouldn’t arrive in the market for 10 or 20 years. The industry wants us to believe America can’t make the shift to cleaner solutions by then.  But the evidence is all around us that America is already on a safer, more sustainable path—from fuel efficiency standards that will slash oil use in new cars in half by 2025 to wind and solar projects supplying 57 percent of all new power generation capacity in the first part of 2015.

No elected leader should let the oil industry knock us of that path by opening new areas to drilling—drilling for oil we won’t need and can’t burn if we want to defuse the climate threat. The majority of Americans want to move into a cleaner future, and President Obama can help us get there. He can protect the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from drilling for good.

Franz Matzner is a Senior Advisor to the NRDC Action Fund.