Undo New Carbon Rules? No Way.

Now that the government shutdown is over (for now) and debt default avoided (for now), the Tea Party extremists in Congress will likely get back to their more typical day jobs of denying climate change and trying to undermine environmental protection. In the midst of the shutdown we told you on our Facebook page  about legislation introduced by Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia that would, if enacted, undo recently proposed rules to limit carbon pollution at new coal-fired power plants.

CRA blog fb pic 10.22.13

The resolution, H.J. 64, was introduced pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA allows for Congress to formally “disapprove” of major rules issued by executive agencies. Passage of a CRA resolution results in the rule not going into effect and prevents the agency from ever promulgating a substantially similar rule again. Keep in mind, agencies issue rules pursuant to the laws previously passed by Congress. And realize that McKinley’s legislative weapon of choice may only disapprove final rules, not mere proposed rules like the one released by EPA for public input.  But setting aside this obvious defect, if the McKinley resolution were to succeed, EPA’s hands would be tied in implementing a key part of the Clean Air Act’s direction to limit the harm of a dangerous air pollutant (carbon) because EPA would be prohibited from issuing a similar rule to limit carbon coming from new power plants.

While McKinley may be getting support from his coal industry supporters, it’s important for fans of a stable climate to keep in mind that this bill has little support outside of the extreme Tea Party wing of Congress and those with vested interests in building new, dirty coal plants. Here are a few reminders for representatives who might be considering sponsoring the McKinley resolution:

Americans of all political stripes want to ACT on climate. The most recent polling finds that 87 percent of Americans support some EPA action on climate change, including 78 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats.

  1. Doomed to fail. Congress has considered CRA resolutions that attempted to undermine climate action and the Clean Air Act recently. Each time a majority of senators has rejected these dangerous attempts to harm public health.
  2. President Obama cares about climate change. “Today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.” President Obama uttered these words in his June speech on climate change. The President has the authority to veto a CRA resolution. There is no way President Obama would participate in undermining something he explicitly directed EPA to do.

It’s time for Congress to get to work, solving the real problems that face this country. They should stop wasting time on efforts that are both unpopular and unlikely to succeed. The question for you, dear readers, is whether your representatives know how you feel on this issue.



Ready to Join the Fight

In the bustle of journeying to Georgetown University with a dozen NRDC staff and interns on Tuesday, June 25, I wanted to imprint on my mind each moment leading up to President Obama’s climate change policy address.  It was a historic day for environmentalists, children, quiet moments, and hand towels.  That sweltering afternoon, the United States president acknowledged his authority and seized the opportunity to make lasting and long-awaited progress on energy and environmental policy.  With other members of the Climate Action Coalition (CAC), we lined the streets to affirm the president’s position and drum up noise from passersby and attendees.

Having carefully followed the announcement’s news coverage over the preceding days, I expected throngs of raucous representatives from environmental organizations, brandishing supportive placards and rallying enthusiasm for action on climate change.  I also anticipated a strong showing against the coming announcement.  But if there were any “climate change deniers” or others fearing the economic ramifications of the plan, they didn’t make themselves known.

Instead, upon entering the Georgetown campus we were met by demonstrators demanding the Obama administration reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.  Dissatisfied with compromising when it comes to environmental health, the demonstrators were appreciative of Obama’s anticipated investment in cleaner energy and direction of the EPA to restrict carbon pollution.  But they wanted him to go further.

These demonstrators later joined the NRDC, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and other environmental groups as we cheered Obama’s leadership.  We united at the dignitaries’ entrance, chanting our message – “Hey, Barack! Let me hear that climate talk!” – and even got a smile and wave from Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Obama’s speech reflected bold leadership and common sense strategies to both slow the threats of climate change and prepare for its impacts.  It also showed the pragmatism required to enable future progress on limiting carbon emissions and cleaning up our air and waters, ensuring above all that we protect Americans’ health.

Obama utilized his executive powers to make a monumental shift in United States’ economic and environmental values, expanding the clean energy economy and ending the era of power plants’ free reign when it comes to carbon pollution.  The administration increased by 60% the “Social Cost of Carbon” (SCC) used to perform cost/benefit analyses of proposed EPA and other federal agency policies, and increased the energy efficiency standards of appliances.  In his speech, Obama acknowledged the fossil fuel divestment movement and encouraged citizens to push for progress at the local level.  “Speak up for the facts,” he said.  Obama is forging ahead on climate action, understanding that voters value the environment and the wellbeing of their children, as do a growing number of U.S. Congressmen and women.  The president wants policy decisions made based on sound science, just like the majority of Americans.

Fractures in the support of Obama’s plan were tangible at the rally.  Some environmentalists were cautious in their reaction to the president’s ambiguity on the Keystone XL decision (which has both environmentalists and oil companies claiming victory), and are eager for more aggressive carbon reduction goals. The President’s emphasis on natural gas production raises questions about how fracking regulation will be affected.

But even so, the unity of environmentalists was clear and strong in support of the immensely progressive step Obama has taken to face the climate challenge.  We demonstrators came together, wielding signs touting clean air, renewable energy, and action on climate.  Combatting climate change, Obama says, is a moral concern and an economically wise issue.  His announcement is a refreshing reminder of eco-conscious voices’ rising volume.  Now is the time to see Obama’s vision through, and expand it.  I can’t wait to join this fight.

*Kerry Nix is a summer intern with NRDC and the NRDC Action Fund. She is a student at Wesleyan University.

This is When America Got Serious About Confronting Climate Change


President Obama laid out a climate action plan on Tuesday that will dramatically reduce global warming pollution and expand the clean energy economy. The plan is strong and concrete and will deliver lasting benefits to the American people. It is the kind of breakthrough that presidential legacies are built upon. In years to come, people will point to Obama’s plan and say: this is when America got serious about confronting climate change.

The American people will welcome this display of leadership. Voters support the climate solutions President Obama has proposed in his plan—from expanding wind and solar energy to calling on power plants to clean up their pollution. They know these measures are good for our health, our communities, and our economy.

We see it in last year’s election results, when voters overwhelmingly favored candidates who support clean energy, clean air, and public health safeguards. And we see it in poll after poll.

A Stanford University poll, for instance, found that 82 percent of Americans think the country should prepare for climate change. A Georgetown survey released yesterday reported that 87 percent of Americans–including 78 percent of Republicans–support the Environmental Protection Agency taking action to reduce carbon pollution.  And a Gallup poll said that 76 percent of Americans think the U.S. should generate more solar power and 71 percent called for more wind.

These voters know that clean energy is creating new jobs and helping make the air safer to breathe. And they also know climate change is becoming a bigger threat to our families and communities. It’s already making its presence known in the form of extreme drought, storms, and fires into our communities. More than 500 homes were burned to the ground in the fires around Colorado Springs this month. More than 305,000 homes in New York were damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Nobody wants this kind of expense and heartbreak to descend on their town.

And that’s why more Americans have been calling for climate action. When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new power plants, the agency received more than 3 million comments in favor of the standards—more than the EPA had received on any other issue in its history.

And yet in the coming weeks, carbon polluters and their allies in Congress will try to discount this groundswell of support. Oil and gas companies want to keep their stranglehold on America’s energy system, and they donate heavily to political campaigns and like to throw their weight around. They are going to try scare folks into thinking that stabilizing our climate and growing the renewable energy sector is somehow bad for America. We have to stand strong and spread the truth.

If the polluters say cutting carbon pollution from power plants will raise the cost of electricity, tell them NRDC concluded that people could actually save hundreds of dollars on their utility bills. If they say confronting climate change will hurt the economy, point out that more than 120,000 Americans work in the solar industry, and more than 150,000 people work building parts for and assembling clean cars. And if they say climate change isn’t a real threat, remind them of the 123 people who died from last July’s record-breaking heat or the farmers who got $12 billion in insurance payments for crop damage after last year’s record-breaking drought.

Telling these truths and telling our lawmakers we support action will help ensure our nation follows through on President’ Obama’s climate plan. But we can’t do it alone. The president must build on the leadership he demonstrated on Tuesday and repeat over and over again why climate action is good for our nation.

The NRDC Action Fund has looked at the results of several recent elections, and we found that candidates who frame the clean energy and climate debate first—before their opponents—and don’t back away from their position not only become trusted leaders on energy issues but they also win over voters.

The lesson is clear: President Obama can dominate the debate about his climate plan and lead America into a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

 Let’s keep the fight going, ask your senators to join in: http://bit.ly/14qkCBS



We Must Act

“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”  

         President Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union

It is fitting that climate change featured prominently in the biggest political speech of the year. Our country is still absorbing the blow from 11 extreme weather events in 2012, including Super Storm Sandy, which alone cost more than $80 billion. We need presidential leadership to deal with this grave threat to our communities.

But I am just as interested in hearing what people say about climate change around their dinner tables as I am in hearing what President Obama says from the dais. It’s these everyday conversations that matter, because real action will only occur when ordinary people start demanding it.

The president knows this himself.

Earlier this week the Director of the NRDC Action Fund met with President Obama’s former Campaign Manager Jim Messina and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement John Carson. Messina told her that soon after the election he was on vacation in Italy when the president called him back to the White House and said: “We are not done yet.”

The President wants to remain in campaign mode because the best way to achieve his goals is to build public momentum. He needs a surge of support outside of Washington if he wants to prevail in Washington. And so he has asked Messina and Carson to launch Organizing for Action, a group that will draw on the Obama campaign’s ground game and data collection to mobilize people on immigration reform, gun control, climate action and job creation.

I take this as an inspiring sign. The president recognizes that the power to make change doesn’t reside only in Washington; it sits within all of us. We can raise our voices, influence our friends, get our lawmakers’ attention, and create our own groundswell.

History shows that legislation rarely leads people. Instead, people lead legislation. Cultural shifts take place, and then the government follows. Grassroots movements in the 1960s, for instance, led to the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. The quickest way to spot a corrupt piece of legislation is to read the newspaper and realize there is no public support for it; that means a lobbyist wrote the bill to benefit a client.

But when a member of Congress opens the paper and learns that people in his or her district are writing letters to the editor, attending rallies, and organizing community groups and business sectors in favor of climate action, then they know it’s time to follow the public’s lead.

Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA), for instance, knows the majority of his constituents care about climate change, so when he had the opportunity to vote on a clean energy and climate bill in 2010, he supported it. Some top donors gave him a hard time about that vote, but he told them in no uncertain terms he couldn’t get reelected in his district if opposed climate action.

If we can make more members of Congress feel the same way, we can really get down to work. We can ensure President Obama has the support he needs to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants—our nation’s largest source of global warming pollution. We can create incentives for renewable energy, energy efficient buildings, and clean cars. And we can even pass climate legislation in a few years.

But remember, this will only happen if the words President Obama Tuesday night are matched by public action. Educate your friends. Talk about climate change in our children’s schools, our religious groups, and business associations. Call on these networks to join you at town hall events and rallies. And always keep the pressure on your lawmakers through email, Facebook, Twitter, and local office visits.

It’s time for all of us who care about building a sustainable future to start leading while demanding our leaders do the same.

A Climate Plan is Good Politics

Guessing the contents of the State of the Union is a favorite Washington parlor game this time of year. I am putting my money on the issue of climate change. After President Obama devoted a chunk of his Inaugural Address to laying out the moral and economic imperatives on why we must act to curb climate change, I hope to hear his plans for moving us forward towards that goal during the State of the Union.

Many Americans are eager to hear how we can confront this crisis. Now that intense drought, heat waves, storms and other extreme weather are bearing down on our communities, many voters are calling for action. In September, the majority of voters favored candidates who agree the Environmental Protection Agency should reduce carbon pollution, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling.

The White House and other Democratic leaders are responding to the call and deepening their climate commitment. Many Republicans, however, are heading in the opposite direction.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently announced that one of its central strategies for the 2014 election cycle will be attacking Democrats for their efforts to address climate change.

That’s right. They want to pillory lawmakers for trying to solve the single greatest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. They want to punish them for trying to reduce pollution that is pumping weather systems with steroids and contributing to 14 extreme events costing more $1 billion each in losses in 2011 and 11 $1 billion extreme events in 2012.

This tone deaf response isn’t just bad for our nation. It’s bad for GOP candidates.

In the 2012 election, Americans swept climate champions into office up and down the ticket. In race after race, climate deniers and anti-regulatory candidates got millions of dollars from polluting industries, but they didn’t get the votes.  

George Allen, for instance, tried to win the Virginia Senate race with nearly $12 million from Karl Rove’s Super PACs and $4.5 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Allen worked as a consultant for a climate denial outfit and wanted to open Virginia’s coast to oil and gas drilling. His Democratic opponent Tim Kaine, meanwhile, told voters, “We need a national energy policy that takes immediate advantage of Virginia and America’s own energy resources to end our dependence on foreign oil.” Despite the millions spent on dirty ad blitzes, Virginians chose Kaine’s clean energy vision for their state.

A similar pattern played out in several states across the country, including decidedly red states. The National Republican Senatorial Committee plan for 2014 singled out Montana as a place where it would attack candidates’ climate action. Yet this approach ignores the fact that Senator John Tester just won reelection after running on clean energy and talking about what global warming is doing to his dryland farm in Central Montana. “History will judge us on how we deal with climate,” Tester has said.

Several newly elected Senators agree. Last weekend, I visited with Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. He told me that the people of New Mexico see what is happening to their land and the world around them and they want action.

And yet the GOP is doubling down on a losing climate strategy that will continue to alienate Americans.  Including one of the most coveted demographic groups: young people. Young people know that if America continues its climate paralysis, their generation will pay the price. John Carson, the former director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and the new executive director of Organizing for America, says that if you asked young volunteers on the Obama campaign why they got involved in politics, the largest majority answered the environment. Young voters believe they can make a difference, and so they mobilize. GOP candidates who run on climate denial probably won’t be getting their votes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Some Republican leaders are sensing the changing demographic winds and moderating their positions. Senator Mark Rubio, for instance, supports immigration reform. Senator Mark Kirk—and NRA member—is talking about gun control. There is room for Republicans to lead on climate as well.

In the meantime, we will be looking to President Obama to set our country on a path toward climate stability. He can start by talking about it in the State of the Union Address. We will just have to wait and see if some Republicans respond by dumping the losing strategy of climate denial.