Six Lessons Learned about the Politics of Climate Change

Over the past few weeks, every Democratic candidate running for president has discussed climate change in a major speech and made climate solutions a central part of their platform. Republican candidates continue to use stock phrases like “I’m not a scientist,” but at least they are talking about climate change.

We’ve come a long way.

When I started working at the NRDC Action Fund in 2004, climate change barely registered on the political landscape. I was coming off of Capitol Hill and most of my time was spent on parks and water issues, which we were just starting to think of in terms of climate change.  Most voters were concerned about the war in Iraq, No Child Left Behind, and the latest episode of Desperate Housewives—it was before streaming, after all. Global warming, as we called it then, was the focus of policy wonks and researchers and few others.

Then something shifted: climate change started hitting home in painful and costly ways. Nine out of the 10 hottest years ever occurred since 2002. We witnessed the destructive power of storms like Katrina and Sandy and became accustomed to using the words “record-breaking” when we talk about everything from snowfalls to wildfires. People’s lives were turned upside down by climate impacts, and Americans began calling on leaders to do something about it.

Now that I have decided to leave the NRDC Action Fund to return to my roots to head up the Ohio Environmental Council and its Action Fund, I can’t help but reflect on the progress made by my amazing NRDC colleagues and the larger environmental movement.

Not only have we helped secure policies to limit carbon pollution from power plants and cut climate change pollution from new cars in half by 2025—saving drivers $80 billion a year at the pump, but we have also helped put climate change on the campaign map. Candidates hoping to win the White House, the governor’s mansion, or a Congressional seat in 2016 must discuss the climate threat.

It’s been an honor to be a small part of this transformation. It’s also been an incredible learning experience. It turns out, for instance, that PowerPoint Presentations can win Oscars, but voters still don’t want to hear about carbon wedges. And Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) can throw all the snowballs he wants on the Senate floor, but he can’t fool the majority of Americans into denying climate change.

Local Climate Stories Move Voters: When Gary Peters ran for Senate from Michigan, he didn’t talk about worldwide CO2 emissions or sea-level rise. He described how climate change was hurting the Great Lakes and other beloved people and places in Michigan. And he celebrated the 80,000 green goods and services jobs in the state. He also took on the Koch brothers, who were responsible for polluting waterways in the state and funding the opposition.  He won, and he confirmed the power of connecting the dots between global climate change, the fossil fuel cronies, and voters’ daily lives.

Running Clean Works: NRDC Action Fund research has confirmed that candidates who campaign on clean energy and climate action from the beginning win—including Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in 2012 to Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) in 2014. Clean energy provides a positive, solutions-based narrative to talk about issues that matter most to Americans: jobs, the economy, and the health of their families.

Big Money Is Here to Stay: Political time can be measured in two epochs: before the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling spilled millions of unregulated dollars into political campaigns, and after. It’s a fact of life now that spending has reached staggering heights. Fossil fuel industry spent more than $721 million in the 2014 election cycle alone. But the last presidential election proved that even that much money can’t buy you love. Despite the Koch brothers’ best efforts, clean energy and climate champions won up and down the ticket.

The Fight Is Spreading to the States in an even Bigger Way: Now that the Clean Power Plan has established limits on carbon pollution from power plants, each state can figure out how it will achieve its reductions. This is a huge opportunity to create new jobs and save people money on energy bills. But it is also a chance for naysayers to try to delay and interfere at the state level. That’s one reason I am joining the Ohio Environmental Council: I want to help set the bar high for climate action and clean energy growth in the Midwest.

Time to Paint Climate Stonewalling as Extremism: Republicans in Congress are trying to block the Clean Power Plan, and every GOP presidential candidate has decried it. Yet not a single one has offered a plan for tackling what is the biggest environmental and public health threat of our time. Poll after poll after poll confirms the vast majority of Americans want leaders to address climate change. It’s time to point out the GOP’s failure for what it is: out-of-step extremism.

It Will be Tough for a Climate Denier to Win the White House: Extensive polling from red and blue and purple states reveals that climate change matters to the majority of voters. And it really matters to three voting blocs that will be key to winning in 2016: women, Latinos, and young people. Voters want a leader in the White House who will confront the big challenges, not ignore their existence.

This Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Creating major political change requires stamina. The average bill becoming a law takes eight years to get passed, and most bills die well before that. A complex challenge like climate change will demand many bills, policies and technological innovations, but we will keep running until we cross the finish line. I do it because of my faith and because I want to leave the planet in better shape for my children. They deserve it. Our communities and beautiful wild places deserve it. And even our opponents deserve it.

See you in Ohio.

Running Clean: Good Policy, Good Politics

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Melissa Harrison, NRDC Action Fund, 202-513-6278, mharrison@nrdc.org

NRDC Action Fund Video & Infographic Shows Roadmap to Success for 2016 Candidates

WASHINGTON (March 17, 2015) – With a look toward the 2016 elections, the NRDC Action Fund is releasing Running Clean: Good Policy, Good Politics, which shows that candidates who run clean are more likely to win because they are supported by voters who want a cleaner environment. Running Clean features three environmental champions outlining in their own words their roadmap to success in 2014 by supporting action on climate change and investments in clean energy. Their path to victory on Election Day, is one all 2016 candidates should embrace.

Our 2014 video series contains video interviews with: Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Gary Peters (D-Michigan).  Their hard-fought campaigns demonstrated that America’s leaders will be supported by voters if they embrace a clean agenda that fosters good jobs, healthy families, conservation and a more sustainable future.

“The last election cycle demonstrated again that running clean is not just good policy, but is also a winning political strategy,” said Peter Lehner, NRDC Action Fund Executive Director. “The NRDC Action Fund produced Running Clean as a roadmap for future candidates who want solid evidence that supporting clean energy and protecting the environment will help provide them a path to electoral victory.  Of course, other factors also play a role, but we now have many races over several election cycles which show that all around the country running clean helps candidates win.”

“It’s simple, Running Clean works,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, NRDC Action Fund Director. “Supporting candidates who run on platforms which endorse clean energy investments, protecting the environment and conserving our natural resources will help us grow the environmental majority across America. Candidates from both sides of the aisle should be looking for opportunities to embrace these issues. Ultimately, candidates want to be on the right side of the values represented by their voters and this is a prime example of what’s best for our future.”

In addition to the video series, the NRDC Action Fund also produced its first Running Clean infographic featuring Senator Peters as a roadmap for future candidates who want solid evidence that supporting clean energy and protecting the environment will help provide them a path to electoral victory.

The Running Clean infographic and videos can be found online at: www.nrdcactionfund.org/runningclean

To view the video interviews:

Senator Shaheen

In her video interview Senator Shaheen says, “New Hampshire has for a very long time recognized that we can balance a strong economy and protecting the environment.”

Senator Schatz

In his video interview Senator Schatz says, “We need more leadership in the area of climate. It is the greatest challenge of our generation.”

Senator Peters

In his video interview Senator Peters says, “Clean energy and climate was something that was relevant to everybody, no matter where I was in the state.”

To view the infographic: Winning Strategy

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The goal of the NRDC Action Fund is to grow the environmental majority across America. The Action Fund is growing power in the places that always matter around the country, so that together we can protect public health and the environment. www.nrdcactionfund.org

Note to reporters/editors: The NRDC Action Fund is an affiliated but separate organization from the Natural Resources Defense Council. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, the NRDC Action Fund engages in various advocacy and political activities for which the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 501(c)(3) organization, faces certain legal limitations or restrictions. News and information released by the NRDC Action Fund needs to be identified as from the “NRDC Action Fund.” The “Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund” is incorrect. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the NRDC Action Fund cannot be used interchangeably.  Also please note that the word “National” does not appear in Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

Cory Gardner’s Wind Hypocrisy

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Do you remember the worst words your mom could say to you when you were a kid? I do. She’d look down at you and her eyes would be devoid of anger. In its place would be a kind of sad pity as she said, “I’m disappointed in you.” Well, Sen. Cory Gardner, I’m disappointed in you.

I keep looking at this image from Sen. Cory Gardner’s campaign ad of him in the middle of a wind farm claiming that he supports the next generation and suggesting that he’ll support clean energy. And then I think about how he voted this week. This week the Senate is considering its very first order of business – S.1. And the first chance Sen. Gardner had to do the right thing, he failed.

The picture above shows a guy who looks like he supports wind energy. And, while he definitely wasn’t the Running Clean candidate in his Senate contest, the picture seems to speak for itself. Why would you trot around a wind farm if you don’t support wind?

Yet, twice in the past 24 hours Cory Gardner has voted against wind energy. Last night he voted against a nonbonding sense of the Senate resolution offered by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a conservative Democrat from the fossil fuel-heavy state of North Dakota. The Heitkamp amendment would have done nothing more than express the viewpoint that wind energy tax incentives should be extended. Today he voted against an amendment from Sen. Tom Udall to create a national clean energy standard, which would have given wind energy a huge boost without requiring taxpayers to pay a dime.

Gardner has tried to justify his anti-wind vote on the Heitkamp amendment. He argues that extending the wind tax incentive should be paid-for, should be part of a larger overhaul of the tax code and should include a plan to phase-out the incentive. While Gardner’s concerns might be valid questions to address in the context of an actual bill that would have the force of law, they are a bit overblown on a simple sense of the Senate resolution. Don’t you think a supporter of wind energy could set aside these details in order to vote on the “sense” that the incentives should be extended? Even Sen. Heitkamp, a supporter of plenty of fossil fuels, managed to do it. Why can’t Gardner?

Even after these anti-wind votes, Gardner still likes to claim he’s pro-wind. He must know that being pro-wind is good politics because the public supports clean energy. But his claims are nothing but wind. He just voted to undermine wind development, and he can’t deny that.

I don’t know how his mom feels, but I, for one, am disappointed.

 

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.

Meet the Two House Members-elect Who Took Down Dirty Deniers

In less than a month, we’ll be swearing in the 114th Congress. In too many ways, it isn’t the Congress I wanted. Too many Dirty Denier$ won their races last month and too many clean energy champions will be home in their districts instead of fighting for action on climate change in Washington. However, a strong group of champions will continue to fight for the policies that Americans support. These champs will also have some enthusiastic and committed new members joining the cause. Today I want to tell you about two of these new members who are especially notable because they defeated true Dirty Denier$ opponents on Election Day.

Gwen Graham

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Gwen Graham will be heading to Washington to represent Florida’s 2nd District. This panhandle district includes miles of Gulf coastline and Graham’s cites a childhood “exploring our beautiful natural treasures” in the region as the root of her commitment to environmental protection.

Graham began her career as a private sector attorney focusing on energy and environmental law. As a candidate, her views on climate change contrasted sharply with her opponent. Incumbent Steve Southerland was a climate denier, while Graham unequivocally embraced the science, saying, “I agree with the overwhelming majority of scientists that say we should be concerned about the possible effects of climate change.”

Graham’s father, Bob Graham, was a strong supporter of environmental protection, kick-staring efforts to protect the Everglades as governor ad earning an 81 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters for his time in the U.S. Senate. I agree with Gwen that “conservation shouldn’t be a partisan issue” and hope she will continue her father’s legacy of advancing common-sense policies that protect the environment.

Brad Ashford

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Brad Ashford will be representing Nebraska’s 2nd District, which encompasses the state’s capital, Omaha. Ashford, an attorney and state legislator, is expected to offer far greater support for environmental protection and clean energy than the member he’s replacing, Lee Terry.

Terry is a climate denier, who doubted “the true impact of man” on the world’s climate. Terry earned an abominable 9 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters for his consistent votes to undermine bedrock environmental laws, continue subsidies for Big Oil, and to stop climate action. Terry has also been one of the leading proponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would travel through Nebraska, threatening the state’s water supply and agricultural industries.

Ashford, though he signed a letter indicating support for Keystone, also voted to authorize a study of the environmental impacts of the pipeline. He has also pledged to support incentives for clean energy sources like wind and solar power. That’s already head and shoulders above the Dirty Denier$ he’s replacing.

Welcome

I’m looking forward to welcoming these new members of congress to Washington in the new year. We’ll be watching and urging them to live up to our high hopes that they will govern as they ran – by Running Clean.