GOP Has No Mandate for Attack on Clean Air and Climate Solutions

Most voters didn’t go the ballot box to demand dirtier air and contaminated water. And yet Republican leaders have proudly proclaimed that gutting environmental safeguards is one of their top priorities for the new Congress. They have vowed to roll back national limits on climate change pollution, strip protections from waterways that feed drinking supplies, and launch a host of other attacks.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his top priority for the next session is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

That’s a bold statement to make when the vast majority of Americans value the EPA’s role in protecting their families from pollution. Seven out of 10 Americans, for instance, support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants, according to an ABC/Washington Post survey.

The GOP pro-polluter agenda is out of step with what Americans want. Republicans may have gained control of the Senate, but they did not receive a mandate to dismantle environmental safeguards.

Given the dismal voter turnout in the midterms, it’s hard to declare a mandate for anything.

  • 36.2 percent of eligible voters participated in the midterm elections, the lowest turnout since World War II. Even if every single one of them favored the GOP, the party still wouldn’t have the majority of Americans behind them.
  • Several races were settled by small margins. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Republican Thom Tillis won the North Carolina Senate race by a margin of 1.7 percent—about 48,000 votes.
  • Republicans lost among people under 40 years old and among all minority voters, according to the National Journal.
  • The voting center grew this year: 40 percent of voters identified as moderates, while 36 percent called themselves conservative, down from 42 percent in the 2010 midterms. Fewer voters are calling for the radical changes espoused by the Tea Party.
  • Since the last midterm election, 21 states have enacted more restrictive voting laws, which means fewer people are able to vote and fewer voices are being heard.
  • 69 percent of all dark money—campaign funding from undisclosed donors—went to Republican candidates. The vast majority of it came from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads/GPS—polluter friendly groups known for attacking environmental safeguards.  That money means Mitch McConnell may be able to claim the Koch Brothers’ mandate, but certainly not a mandate from the voters.

These numbers paint a picture of a discouraged electorate. Many are tired of the gridlock in Washington; many are overwhelmed by the money in politics. But nowhere in the polling does it say Americans want to breathe dirtier air or get hit by more extreme weather brought on by climate change.

Indeed, exit polling showed that six out of 10 voters leaving the voting booth support the EPA’s effort to limit climate change pollution from power plants.

Republicans won several hard fought races this year, but they would be wise not to let it go to their heads. When candidates won roughly 52 percent of about 36.2 percent of eligible voters, making a declaration of war against the environment sounds like the beginnings of overreach.

Compare those small portions to the 98 percent of scientists who say climate change is a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. Now that’s what I call a mandate for action.

Why A Climate Denier Can’t Win the White House in 2016

In a year dominated by economic woes and international strife, voters considered many issues when they cast their ballots. Yet more than ever before, climate change emerged as a central concern. Exit polls show that 6 out of every 10 voters view climate change as a serious problem.

The incoming GOP leadership should mark these numbers. The majority of voters have said in poll after poll they want leaders to tackle climate change. They have not given Republicans a mandate to block climate action at every turn—as new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to try to do. Dismissing the need to curb climate change pollution will alienate many voters and put the GOP’s 2016 candidates outside the national conversation.

Because times have changed. An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 70 percent of Americans see climate change as a major challenge and support federal action to reduce climate change pollution. Many campaign strategists and pundits took note and addressed the issue head on.

This focus has created an irreversible shift: climate change is now a significant part of the political conversation. Climate denial or evasion may still be viable in some regions of the country and with an off-year electorate. But it won’t work with the national electorate.

Candidates can no longer dodge the issue of climate change. And a climate denier can no longer hope to win the White House.

In the 2012 election cycle, climate change barely registered on the national stage. This year, it appeared across the campaign trail. Moderators asked questions about it in nearly every debate. Candidates wrote it into stump speeches (and even victory speeches, in the case of Senator-elect Peters). And journalists covered their positions in detail.

As the season unfolded, more polls confirmed that voters cared about the climate threat and wanted leaders to do something about it.

A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. This support reached into purple and red states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas: 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.

Republican candidates read these polls too, and some started moderating their positions. In August, former Senator Scott Brown was asked if manmade climate change had been scientifically proven, and he replied, “Uh, no.” But by the time the debates rolled around in October, he said climate change “is a combination of manmade and natural” causes.

Some GOP hopefuls tried to appear open to climate solutions like clean energy. In an Iowa debate, Jodi Ernst exclaimed she drove a hybrid car when challenged about her ant-environmental rhetoric. And Colorado’s Cory Gardner ran a campaign ad featuring him standing in front of wind turbines.

Yet many Republican candidates tried to hedge by embracing the “I’m not a scientist” claim. This way a cynical demurral—lawmakers must have views on a wide range of issues—but it revealed the party’s recognition that straight-up climate denial is no longer a viable position. It took them too long to get here. While they spent years discounting science, the climate clock kept ticking and extreme weather intensified.

But now the political landscape has shifted and the days of denial are over. The vast majority of Americans want lawmakers to confront the climate threat. This is especially true among voting blocs critical to winning national office: women, Latinos, and young people.

Climate solutions create benefits so many Americans value, including clean air, safe drinking water, good-paying jobs, and secure energy that never runs out. The next crop of candidates—and the incoming GOP leadership—turn their back on these solutions at their own peril, because path to the White House now leads through climate action.

 

 

The Power of Your Vote

The other day I brought my son to a lesson with his 28-year-old, very hip guitar teacher. The teacher knows that my job is related to advocacy and politics so after the lesson, he asked in all earnestness, “Is voting really worth it?”  He said he wasn’t if sure his vote would count or if the money poured into elections already determined the outcome.  “Congress is so screwed up right now”, he noted and “those with money are the only ones with power.”

Too many eligible voters are disenfranchised.  What they don’t realize is that the only way to even the playing field with Koch Brothers type of money is voters.  If everyone voted – or even a super majority voted – the power of corporate money would be reduced, as those elected would be held more directly accountable by a wide swath of their constituents.

So I told him that every vote matters, especially this year when many races will be nail-bitingly close. I said even though polluters and their allies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to win the White House in 2012, they lost because voters didn’t agree with them. And I urged him to seize this opportunity to make his voice heard.

I think I persuaded him, but judging by the numbers, my son’s guitar teacher is not alone in his ambivalence. America ranks 120th among nations for voter turnout. About 66.5 percent of eligible US voters cast their ballots, compared to 88.5 percent in Guyana, 80.4 percent in Belize, and 70.8 percent in Uganda.

Midterm elections are notorious for attracting even fewer voters. Less than half of North Carolina’s registered voters, for instance, are expected to participate in next week’s election. People of color and young voters aren’t likely to turn out in full force. Though nonwhite North Carolinians make up 26 percent of eligible voters, they accounted for only 22 percent of those who voted in 2010.

Researchers have also noticed a class divide in voting patterns. Roughly 98 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent of voters cast ballots in 2008. Yet among people with household incomes between $30,000 and $39,000, only about 62 percent did.

I find these numbers deeply troubling, because they reveal how many people are renouncing one of the most effective ways to shape the direction of our nation.

Every vote counts. And every vote is a potent way to tell lawmakers what you want. Politics may be messy, Washington may seem distance, and change may take a long time, but voting really can improve daily life. Researchers who studied election results for more than 30 years found that “where the poor exercise their voice more in the voting booth relative to higher income groups, inequality is lower.”

We can help decide the kind of country we live in. But we have to raise our voices to do it.

The Koch brothers have aired more than 43,900 TV ads from January 1-August 31st this year.  The Koch network will reportedly spend at least $290 million in this midterm election backing candidates who deny climate change and make life easier for polluters. This isn’t what the majority of voters want. A survey conducted for ABC/Washington Post found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce the pollution that causes it. The polluter friendly candidates ignore what the majority wants.

The Koch’s tidal wave of money can corrupt our democracy, but we must not abet it with our silence. We must go the polls and elect leaders who will protect the air we breathe and build a more sustainable future for our children.

Don’t miss this opportunity to be heard. Cast your vote and tell your friends and family to do the same. Because the most effective weapon against big money in politics is the ballot.

 

Running Clean Draws Support from Swing Voters

With 48 hours to go before the midterm elections, you’re probably a bit tired of seeing competing poll results. Head-to-head matchups between candidates have varied this entire election cycle, but one item we’ve been tracking has remained consistent—voters want action on climate change.

In February, the NRDC Action Fund released our first polling of the 2014 cycle. It was conducted in 11 battleground states and showed that voters across the political spectrum were ready for the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. Now, eight months later, we released another poll, this time in five swing states that produced nearly the exact same results.

The poll found that:

  • Climate and energy are playing a role in the public discourse in these states’ senate races: nearly 40 percent of voters have heard about candidate positions on climate change, and majorities have heard their views on energy.
  • Republican candidates’ extreme positions are costing them support among key blocs of swing voters. By margins of 20 to 22 percentage points, independents, women and younger voters describe themselves as less likely to vote for their Republican candidate after learning of his or her views on energy, the environment and climate change.
  • Pro-climate positions are highly popular with voters. Sixty-eight percent of voters feel more favorably toward candidates who support clean energy and 54 percent have a more favorable impression of candidates who believe the government should take action on climate change.

Consistency is key. It clearly shows that even after polluters have spent millions of dollars to defeat candidates who are running clean, they have been unable to change voter’s attitudes.

No matter who comes out victorious on election night, all the winners would be wise to remember that voters want those heading to Congress to put in place policies that ensure cleaner air and less carbon pollution. It’s also a good reminder for all the would-be presidential candidates, that voters will not elect a climate denier to the White House in 2016.

A presentation of the results is available here: http://bit.ly/100D1ce

 

Five Ways the New Limits on Carbon Pollution Will Influence the Midterms

The Obama Administration just did the most important thing it could to confront climate change right now: it set limits on carbon pollution coming from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon pollution in the US, yet they get a free pass to foul our atmosphere and destabilize the climate. The Environmental Protection Agency is finally holding these plants accountable.

The new carbon limits will help protect our health, generate clean energy jobs, and shield communities from extreme weather and other hazards of climate change.

They will also give a boost to climate champions running for election this fall. Good climate policy means good politics, and candidates who support cleaning up carbon pollution will benefit at the polls. Here is why.

1. Voters Favor Government Action to Cut Carbon Pollution

President Obama was emboldened to take strong climate action because the American people want it. Poll after poll has confirmed their support, even in red and purple states. In March, the NRDC Action Fund asked Harstad Strategic Research to survey voters in the closest Senate races in the country, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The results were resounding: more than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. That includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.

2. Climate Voters Could Make the Difference in Narrow Senate Races iStock_13548366-Vote badge

Concern about climate change is growing among the general public, but it is even stronger among three significant voting blocs: women, Latinos, and young people. Eight in 10 Latinos, for instance, want President Obama to curb carbon pollution, according to a January poll conducted by Latino Decisions for NRDC. People who care about climate change have proven to be dedicated volunteers (in 2008) and able to sweep climate champions into office (2012). Their enthusiasm could be pivotal in 2014, especially when so many Senate incumbents are running in toss-up races.

3. The Carbon Rules Tap into Reality that All Politics Are Local

The EPA has taken a state-by-state approach to reducing carbon pollution. Every state has its own reduction target and a great deal of flexibility in how to reach it. This keeps the focus squarely on the local level. Candidates can engage voters in a conversation about what climate change is doing to towns and cities, and how low-carbon solutions like energy efficiency and renewable power will benefit their state. Representative Gary Peters, for instance, has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land for failing to recognize how climate change is threatening the Great Lakes. He could also point to the fact that Michigan’s energy efficiency measures—the cheapest way for states to meet carbon reduction targets—have saved people a net $800 million on electricity bills in the past few years.

4. Carbon Limits Will Create Jobs and Save People Money

Local carbon reduction translates into local job creation. NRDC asked ICF International, an independent firm that analyzes electricity markets for industry and government, to analyze the economic impact of carbon limits. Their study found that reducing carbon pollution by 25 percent could save Americans $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020. It would also create more than 274,000 jobs. Some candidates may claim carbon limits will spell doom for the economy, but even the Chamber of Commerce failed to produce numbers to back them up—the chamber’s recent attempt didn’t even account for jobs that will be created in wind and solar power and energy efficiency efforts.

5. GOP Is Walking Back It’s Rhetoric of Denial

Republican lawmakers may finally have gotten the memo about voter support for climate action. In the past month, several have passed up the opportunity to reject climate change outright. House Majority Leader John Boehner said last week, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.” And when Governor Rick Scott was asked if human activity is causing climate change he said, “I’m not a scientist.” This may be a dodge, but it is not denial. It is a step toward recognizing that if candidates want to reach beyond the Tea Party base, they can’t bet against the majority of voters who care about climate change. That is why a climate denier won’t be able to win the White House in 2016.