A Reasonable Model for Clean Energy Leadership

In a week full of crazy Republican extremism, a common-sense moderate feels like a breath of fresh air. One of those welcome breezes is blowing out of Michigan, where Governor Snyder has made it clear that threats of a Tea Party primary challenge won’t distract him from doing what is best for his state.

That includes expanding renewable energy. Snyder has long been a supporter of clean energy investment, and said on his campaign website, “Michigan needs to be a leader in the innovative movement towards alternative and cleaner energy.” He has repeatedly called for raising the standard that requires Michigan utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2015.

A new study has confirmed that Michigan can easily hit that mark and go far beyond it.  State regulators released a report last week concluding that Michigan can meet a renewable energy standard of 30 percent by 2035.

Snyder could call for raising the standards once again. After all, clean energy solutions have been good for his state. More than 38,000 Michiganders worked assembling or building parts for fuel efficient cars in 2011 and 2,500 new jobs have been added to the list since then. About 1,000 new jobs have been announced in the Michigan wind industry since late 2011, and more will follow if the state increases the renewable energy standards.

Talk of wind power and clean energy standards doesn’t sit well with most climate-denying Tea Partiers. But it makes sense to a growing number of Republican officials. Roughly 75 percent of installed wind power comes from Republican districts. Red-state stalwart South Dakota produced nearly 25 percent of its electricity from wind power last year. North Dakota got nearly 15 percent of its energy from wind.

Kansas built more wind generation than all states except for California and Texas—a push that helped generate 12,000 jobs and brought in $3 billion in investment to the state. When ALEC and other conservative leaders tried to repeal Kansas’ clean energy standard, lawmakers beat them back because they know renewable energy projects are good for the state’s economy and communities. The Republican governor of Kansas, meanwhile, joined Republican governors from Iowa and Oklahoma to call for extending a production tax credit for wind power last year.

Across the country, Republican officials are standing up for clean energy because they know it delivers real benefits. Some leaders will invite Tea Party primary challenges as a result, but hopefully they will take the path of Snyder and say: bring it on.

Snyder seems to want to take back the Republican Party from the radical fringe. Some of his positions have alienated extremists and inspired some to recruit challengers, but their influence appears limited and Snyder remains unfazed. Instead, he is betting that his brand of moderate Republican leadership will take hold. “Hopefully, I’m a reasonable model for people to look at across the country,” he said in a recent interview.

Even with his support of renewable energy, it is critical that Governor Snyder also acknowledges the huge potential for increasing Michigan’s investment in cost-effective energy efficiency. It is the cheapest, cleanest, fastest way to meet future energy needs, and in Synder’s words, a “no regrets” investment.

Clean energy and energy efficiency offer Snyder a way to show how reasonable he is by championing a stronger clean energy standard for his state and smart clean energy policies for the nation. After all, investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency isn’t a red or blue state issue; it’s an American opportunity.

 

Can the Environment Save the Republican Party?

The Republican Party is primed for success in 2014. In addition to benefitting from redistricting wizardry, the party has history on its side: off-year elections give opposition parties the clear lead, especially in the second term of a lame duck president.

Yet the GOP has failed to turn these advantages into real gains. It may be winning battles, but it is losing the war because it keeps eroding its voter appeal.

It has turned off young voters with leaders who routinely belittle the severity of climate change, like when Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told a town hall meeting that “global warming is a total fraud.”

It has alienated women with candidates like Colorado’s Ken Buck who said people should vote for him “because I do not wear high heels.” It has angered Latino voters with lawmakers like Representative Steve King (R-IA) who said that for every Latino valedictorian, there are 100 more hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

And it has even turned off one of the most reliable voting blocs in the country: senior citizens. In 2011, 43 percent of seniors said they viewed Republicans in a favorable light, but now only 28 percent do, according to a poll by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. Maybe voting 40 times to undue Obamacare had something to do with the decline.

Being the Party of No may get the extremist blood pumping and help win individual primaries, but it doesn’t offer much in the form of leadership or vision for the future.

As an environmental advocate fighting for climate action, I suppose I should welcome the listlessness of a group that promotes climate paralysis. But as an American citizen, I know our democracy functions best when it has two vibrant parties jostling with one another and staking out common ground.

To become vibrant once again, the GOP has to stop featuring the craziest voices in its choir and start singing a tune that appeals to more voters. The environment is a good place to start.

This might sound shocking in the age of climate denial, but the truth is that clean air and clean water don’t observe party lines. They benefit all Americans, and poll after poll shows American voters value them. A Pew poll released earlier this year showed 79% of people surveyed were worried about the pollution in their drinking water.  The same poll found 70% of people worried about air pollution.

Wise Republicans have recognized this through the years, from President Teddy Roosevelt preserving our shared natural heritage to President George H.W. Bush helping to strengthen the Clean Air Act in 1990 and launch the cap and trade program to reduce acid rain.

Since the rise of the Tea Party, however, environmental protections are often cast as government overreach instead of what they really are: the safeguards that stand between your family and the polluter down the street. No matter what your ideological persuasion is, chances are you don’t want your children or parents breathing more smog or swimming in sewage.

This is the fundamental appeal of environmental issues. They are local, and if all politics are local, then calling on a nearby industrial plant to clean up its waste and making sure the state’s beaches are clean enough to keep the tourist dollars coming will generate political momentum.

It might also bring back some women voters, who care so deeply about the health of our families, and maybe even some Latino voters who routinely rank environmental safeguards as a priority. These are good groups to get on your side, because they will pound the pavement for you: the two largest groups of volunteers in Obama’s 2012 reelection army were women and Latinos.

The environment can be a bridge builder for the GOP, but only if it makes room for moderate leaders who have championed environmental safeguards in the past—leaders like Sherry Boehlert and Mike Castle and even Fred Upton before he began pandering to the Tea Party in 2010. If the GOP wants to shore up its broad-based appeal instead of living off the rage of a dwindling group, it will listen to its own clean water and clean air voices once again.

 

Republicans, Democrats Agree: Romney and Tea Party Were Wrong

This week on our Facebook page, you saw this bit of good news: that new polling finds huge bipartisan support for standards that increase fuel economy and reduce carbon pollution in America’s cars and trucks.

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These standards, which were written jointly by EPA and the Department of Transportation, will increase the fuel economy of new cars to an average 35 miles per gallon by 2017 and to an average of 55 miles per gallon by 2025. While they are hugely popular today, their enactment was not always a foregone conclusion. It’s a reminder that elections matter when it comes to clean energy.

Some Members of Congress Tried to Stop It

Members of Congress tried to repeal EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases like carbon pollution are dangerous. Forty seven senators voted to repeal the endangerment finding in 2010 and a majority of House members tried to repeal it on more than one occasion. If these folks had succeeded, EPA could not have gotten involved in reducing carbon pollution from vehicles. In fact, when the Tea Party took over the House of Representatives in 2011, their very first bill (H.R. 1), specifically tried to stop EPA from working on these standards.

Mitt Romney Wanted to Stop It

During his long campaign to win the Republican nomination for President, Mitt Romney flip flopped and said that he would “get the EPA out of its effort to manage carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles and trucks.” Keeping EPA involved in the process means that we’ll reduce more pollution and save more oil.

These new standards will save consumers up to $5,000 over the lifetime of one of these new vehicles. They will save approximately 4 billion barrels of oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 billion metric tons. The net benefits to society could climb as high as $451 billion. It’s no wonder that these standards are popular. And it’s a good thing Big Oil and its political allies didn’t get their way.

When It Comes to Fighting Climate Change, We Need All the Tools in Our Tool Belt to Win

The passing of another Earth Day seems to have some pundits waxing nostalgic. One such pundit, Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker, wrote a glowing piece about the hundreds of thousands of Americans who turned out for the first Earth Day in 1970. He even went as far to say that the absence of grassroots action in today’s environmental movement allowed Congress to sidestep climate legislation in 2009 and 2010.

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The groundswell of support for the first Earth Day was indeed a potent force. It was the catalyst for change and launched an extraordinary time in environmental history. It inspired me and many of my colleagues at NRDC who were the drivers behind passage of landmark environmental protections like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. But, unlike Nicholas Lemann, I don’t believe our best days are behind us because I know how much we are accomplishing right now.

Political Landscapes Change, Requiring New Navigational Tools

Today the 1970-style teach-ins sound like a distant memory, much like FDR’s fireside chats did back then. When Earth Day first launched, it caught polluters off guard. Today is a different story. Now big oil and the gas industry are in full opposition mode. They spent $168 million on lobbying in the year before the climate bill was introduced, and it poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 campaign to elect climate denying candidates. Tea Party leaders in the House, meanwhile, voted more than 300 times to gut environmental safeguards in the last two years. The good news is the NRDC Action Fund and our allies activated our powerful network of supporters and prevented most of the terrible measures from becoming law. In today’s political environment, sometimes a good defense is our best offense.

While some may believe the tactics of the 1970’s is what we need to be victorious today, I argue that today’s political realities demand not just one, but all the tools at our disposal. Environmental victories will come from grassroots action, media outreach, scientific research and advocating our positions on Capitol Hill. We have to use our power, influence and message to affect change. There is no magic tool in our tool belt that can change the heart of fossil fuel opposition or defuse extreme Tea Party ideology. In today’s dysfunctional Congress, not even broad public support works. With polls showing that 90 percent of Americans support tougher gun control laws one would think Congress would easily pass a bill. Heck, so many voters called Congress to voice their support of stronger measures that they shut down the switchboard. Yet here we are today, still no closer to Congress passing anything. What was once considered the low hanging fruit-extending background checks to online sales and private gun shows-couldn’t even make it out of the Senate.

In his New Yorker article, Lemann bemoans the fact that there has been no major environmental legislation since the 2010 effort to pass a climate bill. But a Congressional strategy won’t work when Congress is this stuck. Even in the best of times, it takes multiple attempts to pass transformative legislation—just ask anyone who works on health care, immigration reform, or gun control.

How to Get Things Done, Without Congress

I get it. Change is hard. But, playing a blame game is easy. Rather than pointing fingers at one another or Congress, let’s keep working. While some have been busy plotting our early demise, America has been implementing standards which will continue to reduce our carbon pollution. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined 12 percent since 2005. We are on track for far deeper reductions, because we’ve been using all the tools at our disposal to work with the White House to use its existing authority to reduce pollution.

Just last August the Obama administration issued fuel economy standards that will cut carbon pollution from new cars in half by 2025. They will also reduce U.S. oil imports by one third and save drivers $1.7 trillion at the gas pump. The administration also proposed the first-ever carbon limits on new power plants. These are not minor efforts. They target America’s two largest sources of carbon: cars and power plants.

But, we’re not done yet. Now it’s time for President Obama to take the next bold steps. We won’t rest until he uses the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants and rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would lock us into decades of carbon pollution from the dirtiest fuel on the planet.

President Obama is clearly committed to confronting climate change, but prompting him to move forward will require all our tools. We aren’t just relying on an inside or outside strategy. In today’s game you need both. Our plan includes a cost-effective plan from NRDC for how the EPA can structure its carbon standards for existing power plants. At the same time, the environmental community is coordinating grassroots efforts in support of the standards—just like when the environmental coalition collectively helped generate a record-breaking 3 million comments in support of carbon standards for new power plants. And NRDC is providing expert scientific, economic, and public safety analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline, while helping to organize protest rallies that brought tens of thousands of people to the White House.

Be Proud, but Never Settle

These efforts in concert with one another are creating the climate solutions we seek. The results are astonishing. This Earth Day is just one administration after the Cheney Energy Task Force practically sanctified oil and gas development. Just one year after a presidential primary in which nearly every Republican presidential candidate denied the existence of climate change. Yet, America has cut our carbon emissions, dramatically expanded our investments in renewable energy, and cleaned up our cars. But, we’re not done yet.  In fact, we are only getting started.  I’m confident we will have even more reasons to celebrate at Earth Day 2014 and beyond.

When Did Compromise Become A Bad Thing?

Chock up another win for the radical. Tea Party darling Ted Cruz trounced conservative David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for the Texas senate seat on Tuesday night. How did a first-time candidate with so little name recognition pull off a 14-point victory over a GOP favorite?

Sheer stubbornness. Cruz and Dewhurst share many conservative beliefs, but Cruz set himself apart by accusing Dewhurst of what the Tea Party has turned into a political sin: compromise.

Cruz loves to criticize others for being too quick to compromise – but isn’t that part of effective governing? This refusal to reach agreement with other members of Congress earned him the support of Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, and other Tea Party kingmakers.

Other candidates have used a similar brand of obstinacy to beat GOP conservatives in Indiana, Nebraska, and Delaware. This rise in extremism may excite far-right voters, but it doesn’t bode well for nation as a whole. We are facing frightening challenges, from financial turmoil to climate change. If elected officials refuse to talk with their colleagues about how to solve these problems, America won’t be able to move forward.

It’s quite simple really. When my son and daughter squabble with each other or run into trouble on the playground, I tell them to try to work it out amongst themselves first. If every parent knows the value of give and take, why don’t more Tea Party politicians?

In the absence of conversation, we end up with a pack of bullies. Just look at Congress’ record on the environment. GOP lawmakers in the House have voted more than 200 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards. They have moved to thwart the clean energy technologies that will make our air safer to breathe and put American companies at the forefront of a massive global market. And they have forced America to face the threat of climate change without a national plan for fighting it or even getting prepared.

Most of these votes have been cast in the name of lofty principle and anti-regulatory purity. But ideology for the sake of ideology is irresponsible when your citizens are facing real and pressing dangers, whether it is cancer-causing pollution from power plants or extreme weather events brought on by climate change.

I live in California where a new report was released this week by the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Committee. It notes that climate change will bring my state hotter summers, shorter rainy seasons, and drier days.  It will also threaten the state’s electricity sector as the state will have a harder time generating and transmitting power – and let’s not even get into the fact that the report notes the expectation that the sea level along our coasts are expected to rise 31-55 inches by the end of the century.  

But at least my state is examining the hazards of climate change. Short-sighted North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation that would prevent predictions about the state’s sea level rise from incorporating climate change trends. How can people protect their families and their property if the state won’t even acknowledge the problem?

The GOP hasn’t always been committed to sticking its head in the sand. It has a long and impressive tradition of supporting environmental protection. President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, President Bush signed the amendments that made the law stronger, and countless Republican lawmakers have supported conserving America’s natural heritage.

You don’t achieve these milestones by drowning out the voices of your colleagues across the aisle; you do it by conversing, negotiating, and yes, even compromising.

I was pleasantly surprised that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to a budget deal that will avoid a government shutdown. But my next thought was: oh no, the Tea Party is coming to get you John Boehner. You will be punished for making a deal with the Democrats.

Yet if the Tea Party continues to support candidates who only say no, it is in danger of branding themselves into a corner. Americans may have hit record levels of frustration with Congress, but in the end, we want our government to function. We want lawmakers who are at least willing to talk about the issues facing our nation—and maybe even lead us into the future.