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.

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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.

Bush’s newly released energy policy looks backwards

Standing at a Pennsylvania oil and gas company with a history of more than one hundred environmental violations, presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced an energy plan just as fraught with failures. With today’s release of the plan, Bush has cemented his place among the many contenders for the White House who are keeping their heads firmly in the sand about climate change.

Bush’s proposed energy policies ignore the realities of climate change, as well as the will of his own voter base. A late August 2015 poll showed that a majority of Republicans believe climate change is real and that humans may be contributing to it. And 72 percent of GOP voters support developing and using clean energy.

Bush barely mentions clean energy technologies in his plan. Instead, he wants to cut regulations, build the Keystone XL pipeline, encourage drilling, and generally follow the agenda of big polluters that have given so generously to his campaign.

He says he wants to create jobs, but Bush’s plan will worsen climate change – costing jobs – and will undercut the booming clean energy economy in an ill-fated attempt to prop up big polluter industries. In contrast, clean energy industries have been adding hundreds of thousands of jobs each year. One NRDC study found that the Clean Power Plan could create more than 274,000 jobs and save consumers billions on their electricity bills, yet Bush’s plan seeks to scrap the plan altogether.

Fittingly, Bush chose Rice Energy as the setting for his energy plan announcement. While Rice Energy was racking up environmental violations, Pennsylvania’s clean energy economy has been growing and providing jobs for nearly 60,000 workers at more than 4,000 businesses with a strong employment growth rate of 8.5 percent.

Gov. Bush’s policy is so completely backwards facing that it’s hard to believe Gov. Bush is serious with this proposal. America needs a leader with a vision for a clean energy future, not a throwback to the big polluter agenda that got us into this mess.

American voters overwhelmingly favor serious action to protect the planet for their kids and grandkids, so Jeb Bush and the rest of the presidential candidates will have to do a lot better than this if they’re going to convince Americans they’re focused on the future rather than stuck in the past.

Republican Electorate Wants Climate Action, But Presidential Nominees Are Not Getting the Message

Last night in New Hampshire all candidates for the GOP presidential nomination (minus Trump, who had a stylist appointment that just couldn’t be moved) participated in the first candidate forum.

Given yesterday’s release of the historic Clean Power Plan, the forum’s participants took questions about their views on climate change and environmental safeguards. For the most part, the health of our planet was met with a mix of disdain and skepticism.

While Donald wasn’t on stage to release any additional verbal pollution into the atmosphere, new polling indicates that he and much of the GOP field have stepped out of line with their own primary electorate.

In late July, the NRDC Action Fund and League of Conservation Voters commissioned a survey conducted by American Viewpoint. This poll of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina revealed some interesting stances that provide newfound insight into the party’s nominators.

  • Strong majorities say, “it’s important to them that GOP candidates have a clean energy plan.” (72% in NH, 68% in SC).
  • Nearly three quarters of GOP primary voters want increased use of renewable energies like wind and solar, while primary voters in both states want decreased use of coal.
  • Majorities in both states believe in climate change.
  • Three quarters of GOP primary voters in both NH and SC support their state submitting a plan to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

In the crowded field for the GOP presidential nomination, many candidates have attempted to break through the clutter by espousing extreme right positions in headline-grabbing soundbites. However, this polling demonstrates that candidates willing to take a moderate, proactive stance on climate change will actually gain new supporters in early primary states.

As these numbers show, the key to gaining traction in the GOP primary isn’t to take increasingly conservative stances; the key is taking our country on a path to a clean environment and a new green economy. The GOP’s nominators are already there. Now they just need a candidate brave enough to step out of the crowd.