Climate Change is Not a Joke

“And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet, because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future.”

-President Barack Obama on September 6, 2012

Last week, President Obama made crystal clear his commitment to combat climate change when he characterized rising temperatures as “as a threat to our children’s future” during his speech accepting the nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

President Obama takes climate change seriously, while Mitt Romney makes jokes:

Obama moved forward with clean car standards that will cut carbon pollution by in half by 2025 and save consumers like you and me at least $2,000-3000 at the pump over the life of our car.

Romney promised to repeal those standards.

Under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency moved forward with setting landmark carbon limits for power plants, so that for the first time ever builders of new power plants can’t dump unlimited amounts of carbon into our air.

Romney would let polluters dump many millions of tons of carbon pollution into the air for free, by reversing these new standards and stopping the EPA from setting any limits at all.

In fact Romney recently said he agrees that we are helping to warm the planet, but that he doesn’t think he should do anything about it.

Obama gets it. And we think he gets it in part because Americans, many of you among them, sent over three million comments in support of the steps he’s taken to reduce air pollution,. That record-setting public support for climate action has clearly gotten through, thanks to your help.

So help us make this November’s choice clear…Share this video with friends, family and community to let them know that we’re fighting for our future, and for our children’s future.

President Obama wants to make our air safer to breath, hold polluters accountable and make them pay for their waste just as the rest of us do.  President Obama wants to unleash clean energy innovation, restore our natural resources, build American prosperity, and confront climate change.  He is getting my vote and I hope yours too.



Mitt Romney: Lost in the 1950’s

Last night Mitt Romney attempted to motivate us into voting for his vision of America.

Light on substance and heavy on 1950’s imagery, his speech did little to inspire. Don’t get me wrong, I too like the concept of everyone feeling the warmth of that Norman Rockwell vision of America that was Mitt Romney’s life and seems to be his vision, but the reality behind the picture is what we as voters really need to hear.

The speech, however, didn’t give us that. What it did reveal is that the Romney campaign wants us to feel the love. In his appeal to women, he presented repeated images of a happy, healthy family all of which are very touching. Clearly Mr. Romney loves his family. Still, that imagery occults the fact that if Romney takes charge of this great country, many kids won’t wake up in that carefully painted picture that was the Romney family’s reality but will instead have to wake to even more pollution thanks in no small part to Mr. Romney’s heavyweight political contributors in the fossil-fuel industry.

If you have any doubt how badly Big Oil and dirty coal want to win, just count the number of negative ads paid for by his friends in coal and his promise to drill baby drill anywhere and everywhere. As my colleague Heather Taylor-Miesele pointed out, “the energy plan Romney drafted with Big Oil donors after they gave him $10 million in donations calls for more drilling, more mining and more fracking with fewer environmental standards, and more fossil fuel subsidies.

For poor and minority communities that already feel the brunt of pollution and face lower rates of insurance or may lose coverage altogether, the impacts will be even greater.

I have to ask if the campaign realizes that the Leave it to Beaver picture painted here only accentuates the fact that Mr. Romney is out of touch. A democracy is supposed to be rule by the people for the people and our country no longer looks like it did in 1960–and that’s a good thing. Our diversity has made us stronger.  And even the GOP “tried” to show diversity by prominently placing Latinos, African-Americans and, umm, well, that’s about it I guess—in their convention line up.

So while that cannot serve as an indictment of Mr. Romney’s character, it does give an indication of how “in touch” a Romney presidency would be with problems that tend to affect minorities like air and water pollution.

The bottom line is sprinkles of Spanish and mentions of his father being born in Mexico don’t go far enough to show that the GOP will act in the best interests of the Americans that didn’t frequently appear in Mitt Romney’s 1950’s America (for that matter neither do poor non-Hispanic whites, gays or non-Christians), and polls are reflecting this disconnect showing Romney trailing President Barack Obama by a large margin among Latino an black voters.

If during this convention–the ultimate infomercial for the Republican party–the party cannot muster up more representation or at the very least imagery to paint a picture more reflective of our country, how can we expect them care about us once they get the power they want? Bottom line is they don’t. A look at their platform shows we’re the least of their concerns.

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.

In Defense of Public Lands

By Matt Skoglund of NRDC’s Bozeman, MT office. This blog was first published in the Bozeman Magpie on February 23, 2012.

In the past few months, several of the remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have made shocking comments about the value of public lands in America.

Mitt Romney said, “I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land…. Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land. So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land.”

At a campaign stop in Idaho, Rick Santorum said, “There’s a lot of land out there that is land that can and should be managed by stewards who care about that land…. The federal government doesn’t care about it, they don’t care about this land…. We need to get it back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector. And we can make money doing it, we can make money doing it by selling it.”

And Ron Paul noted that he wants “as much federal land to be turned over to the state as possible” and “for the best parts sold off to private owners.”

Mustering a Seth Meyers impersonation from Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, I ask, “Really?

As recreationists on public lands (a huge collective that includes, among others, skiers, anglers, hunters, trail-runners, wildlife-watchers, mountain-bikers, climbers, backpackers, and hikers—or, in other words, pretty much all of Bozeman), you should be outraged. The public lands that surround Bozeman are the lifeblood of our town. The Gallatins, Bridgers, Madisons, Absarokas, a little park called Yellowstone; imagine if they were privately owned by a few oil barons? This is not hyperbole; privatization and profit are the underlying themes of their comments.

Through decades of public service devotion and good fortune, those millions of acres belong to all of us, and we benefit greatly from them. After living here for a couple of years, a friend of mine noted, “I make a lot less money in Bozeman, but I feel so much wealthier here.” I could not agree more, as, regardless of your income status, our spectacular public lands make all of us filthy rich. (I’m referring only to the aesthetic value of our public lands, which doesn’t even begin to quantify the massive economic impact of such lands in our region.)

I own a small patch of dirt a few blocks north of Main Street, but pretty much every weekend I’m out doing something on public land or a public river. I cannot fathom the loss of such access; it’s why I live here. And I’m not alone.

Today, our public lands are more important than ever. With smartphones, Facebook, iPads, and Twitter, our minds are so over-stimulated we can barely hear ourselves think. Yet, whenever we need to “get out,” our public lands are there, waiting for us. With more people vying for space and a variety of uses on our public lands, can you imagine selling off even a few trailheads? Imagine if, this summer, Sourdough Canyon, the upper Madison or the Bangtails were suddenly off-limits?

The irony is that as much as Santorum, Romney, and Paul want to portray themselves as apple-pie-eating American patriots, by questioning the value of our public lands or promoting their privatization, they sound like proud European aristocrats. Against the gold standard of America, our European counterparts have far less public land to enjoy. Opportunities to fish and hunt –beloved Montana pastimes — are seriously limited. In Montana, you can buy a fishing license and then wade or float any river in the state. Just as easily, you can buy an elk-hunting license and chase wapiti in any mountain range.

Not so in Europe.

I have been fortunate enough to fly-fish in Ireland and Scotland. Both countries are spectacular, but it’s a pain in the arse to fish over there. You have to first find out who owns a particular river or section of river, and then you have to pay to rent that section for the day (or sometimes for the week, if that’s the minimum). Depending on the river or time of year, it can get bloody expensive.

While I have loved my trips across the pond (I’m a sucker for wild Atlantic salmon and dimly lit pubs), each trip has made me more grateful for America’s public lands and rivers. Simply put, we’re really lucky, but we need to protect what we have.

Santorum’s comment about a federal government that doesn’t care for public land is an ill-considered insult to the many thousands of federal employees working hard to maintain our public lands. In the greater Bozeman area, we have plenty of neighbors that work for the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — people who have devoted their careers to our public lands. Santorum’s comment was an undeserved slap in the face, and this from a guy aspiring to be their ultimate boss.

Lastly, there’s the unintended irony of their statements as three guys desperately trying to “out-conservative” one another. In fact, their chosen words could not be more un-conservative. A true conservative would speak about the importance of conserving our public lands. Questioning the inherent value of the land or proposing to sell them to the highest-bidding natural gas company runs contrary to the belief system they claim to represent. Conservative. Conservation. Conserve.

America’s public lands are a treasure and the envy of the world. We need leaders that talk about how they are going to defend our public lands, not how they can sell them off to make a quick buck.

Photo Credit: Dan Skoglund

Gingrich and Romney Offer the Same Tired Energy Policies

Newt Gingrich trounced Mitt Romney in South Carolina, ensuring that the race for the GOP nomination will likely continue for weeks to come. The Republican establishment may have settled on Romney, but voters keep throwing their support behind the anti-Romney — whichever candidate of the moment sounds as different from the supposedly “moderate” Massachusetts governor as possible.

Right now, Gingrich is the one generating all the passion. But if one goes by their campaign statements, Gingrich differs from Romney more in style (and personal life) than in substance. Gingrich has more spit and fire in him, but he and Romney share many views, including their similarly outdated approach to energy development.

We’ve heard the same tired ideas during the primaries, and we will hear them again in the Republican response to the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night: candidates offer plenty of attacks on Obama, but no new vision for America’s energy future.

Gingrich may be the man who wrote the book, Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less: A Handbook for Solving Our Energy Crisis, but Romney is just as eager to rely on the same fossil fuels we’ve been using for the past 100 years. Romney’s energy blueprint, included in his “Believe in America” economic plan, calls for flinging open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy companies, sinking wells into the deepwater, and expanding fracking in the Marcellus Shale, despite a long list of environmental and public health concerns (not to mention small earthquakes).

Neither Romney nor Gingrich has a fresh plan for an energy future built on innovation and cutting-edge technology. Neither one talks about how better-performing cars are putting 150,000 Americans to work right now and helping slash our oil addiction at the same time. Neither one trumpets the fact that American engineers are already making breakthroughs in the next generation of solar technology. And neither one of them urges America to lead what has been estimated as the $243 billion global clean energy market.

Instead, both Romney and Gingrich seem to view renewable technologies as a wasteful distraction. This despite the fact that the Department of Defense—the nation’s largest consumer of energy—has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 because of national security concerns.

The candidates like to demagogue about energy independence, but they have no plan to achieve it besides doing more of the same—an approach that hasn’t worked so far. We saw it in Gingrich’s acceptance speech in South Carolina. “I want America to become so energy independent that no American president ever again bows to a Saudi king.” That is a fine aspiration, but instead of encouraging Detroit to build more fuel-efficient engines or farmers to grow sustainable biofuels, he called for expanding offshore drilling and approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

When your home has 1.6 percent of the globe’s proven oil reserves and you consume 26 percent of the world’s supply, there is a limit to how much you can influence supply. That’s not politics; it’s geology.

And building a pipeline from a friendly ally won’t help much when the pipeline operators routinely say in the Canadian press that a primary goal of Keystone XL is to access Asian markets. The same operators have refused in Congressional testimony to commit to selling the majority of their oil to the United States. Instead, they are rerouting it out of the Midwest and into the “Foreign Trade Zone” in Port Arthur, Texas, where companies get incentives to export from of the United States.

Approving a pipeline to help dirty tar sands oil get to Asia is not a long-term plan for America’s energy system. Opening more ocean waters to drilling won’t position us to lead the next generation of energy breakthroughs. But that doesn’t stop Gingrich and Romney from singing the same old song again and again.

President Obama recognizes that America’s energy leadership will be built on clean technologies. Last week he kicked off his presidential campaign advertising with an ad devoted to the economic power of clean energy. I expect he will highlight it again in the State of the Union.

Here is how I expect the GOP candidates to respond: They will criticize Obama’s clean energy programs and sprinkle in fossil fuel buzzwords like Keystone and drilling. But their complaints can’t cover the fact that they have no fresh ideas, no innovation, and no groundbreaking vision for America’s energy future.