Red, Blue, and Purple States Agree: Limit Carbon Pollution

Conventional wisdom can be a funny thing, especially in politics. It’s often based on anecdote rather than fact. Take the politics of climate, for instance.  The fossil fuel industry, backed by the Koch brothers, have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into defeating environmental champions.  That kind of cash can be scary to an incumbent and can make an issue, like addressing climate change, seem like the third rail of politics.  Never mind that they had a similar win rate in the last election to the 1990 Patriots football team (1-15-0). Never mind that we can now see how climate change is affecting the world around us each day.  Now, with critical mid-terms approaching, some GOP strategists are trying to say that Republicans will benefit in midterm elections if they go on record opposing efforts to clean up our air and protect future generations from climate change.

They are wrong.

Here’s what’s at the center of this scare tactic: The Environmental Protection Agency is gearing up to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants in June. These plants kick out 40 percent of carbon emissions in our country, and yet Republicans leaders are already trying to block the agency from finally cleaning them up. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is actually attempting to force the Senate to vote on (using a maneuver that has no legal basis) to block the carbon limits before they are even proposed.

The fact is, voters want these plants to clean up their carbon pollution. Senators should take notice. More than two-thirds of voters in several battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants, according to a new poll conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. for the NRDC Action Fund. This includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.

When we commissioned this poll a few weeks ago, some thought we were taking a chance – putting it mildly – by hiring a well-known candidate pollster and encouraging him to ask the hard questions.  We didn’t see it as a risky move because we know that voters have consistently supported clean energy and climate action in countless surveys, and in the 2012 election.

Some thought we were a little crazy when we asked them to focus on the toughest Senate battleground states, places where environmental issues don’t usually take a front seat in politics like, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire. Most of them run purple if not red. Yet even within more conservative communities, people support reducing dangerous carbon pollution by wide margins.

Harstad 1

Earlier this week I briefed several Senators on the results, and some were especially struck by what the numbers say about women voters. Pundits are already calling 2014 the “Year of the Woman”. Women are running in several high-profile races and issues associated with the women electorate are in the headlines every day. Republicans are trying to lure women back after alienating them so thoroughly in 2012 and so the female vote could decide several elections.

Now all candidates have yet another thing to add to their list of issues women care about: supporting limits on dangerous carbon pollution. Women understand (by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent) that we have a moral obligation to future generations to make the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable. That begins with holding power plants accountable for the carbon they pump into our skies.

Yet this new poll confirms that climate change isn’t just important to women. Male voters (by a margin of 61 percent to 35 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. Republicans (by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent) and Democrats (by a margin of 87 percent to 8 percent) want to reduce carbon pollution. And Northerners (by a margin of 69 percent to 25 percent) and Southerners (by a margin of 64 percent to 28 percent) want to do reduce carbon pollution.

Bottom line: climate is shaping up to be one of those issues that defies conventional wisdom. Voters support doing the right thing on climate. Candidates would do well to pay attention.

View Additional Harstad Polling Results: Harstad NRDC AF 2014

New Latino Polling Provides Roadmap to Victory for 2014 Candidates

As we kick off a midterm-election year, candidates around the country are trying to figure out how to attract coveted Latino voters. A new survey released today offers a crystal clear answer. The issue that matters most to these voters after immigration reform is climate change.

Nine in ten Latinos want the nation to take action to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change, according to the survey done by Latino Decisions for NRDC and Voces Verdes. When it comes to government action specifically, eight in ten want President Obama to reduce the carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

This is a landslide of support for climate action, and smart candidates will take note. Latinos represent the largest segment of new voters outside of young people. Twelve million Latinos voted in 2012—10 percent of the electorate—and that is expected to double by 2030.

Most voters in the electorate have already picked a side. There are very few opportunities for political parties to find new members.  But a large portion of the Latino community is still up for grabs, and candidates are eager to recruit them.

Sure, conventional political wisdom tells us Cuban-Americans living in Florida are likely to identify with the GOP, and families newly settled from Mexico tend to vote Democratic. But more Latino voters are registering to vote every year, and they come from a broad array of backgrounds, community ties, and political views. And where climate is concerned, this poll found that a majority of Latino Republicans support fighting climate change and the president’s climate action plan.

Every political consultant worth their smart phone is trying to guess how Latino voting trends will play out. Will Latinos create a solid voting bloc similar to African Americans and Native Americans who typically back Democrats? Or will Latinos behave like White voters and split and segment?

We don’t know where the patterns will take us, and so there is a mad dash to court everyone at once. The new survey results confirm that candidates who champion climate action and environmental protection will definitely turn heads.

In some races, these climate-focused voters could help carry the elections. North Carolina, for instance, is home to one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country. Senator Kay Hagen is running for reelection is very close race, but her track record of support for wind and solar power and her consistent backing of carbon reductions could appeal to the huge majority of Latino voters who care more about climate action than any other issue after immigration.

Latinos feel strongly that taking action against climate change is part of creating a brighter, more hopeful future for their children. It’s part of their pursuit of the American dream. A candidate who grounds that dream in clean energy jobs, strong carbon limits, and healthier air will attract a majority of voters—and not just Latinos.


New Year’s Resolution

Intro look at why 2014 is so important and how the enemies of climate science are real and not giving up. We can’t fight them dollar for dollar, but we have voters on our side.

Resolving to Combat $1 Billion Per Year

The December 20 headline screamed, “Conservative groups spend up to $1bn a year to fight action on climate change.” It’s not exactly the “happy new year” message that a clean energy professional likes to hear as she looks ahead to the dawn of an election year. I always like to think that the environmental community is sort of small and mighty, but one billion dollars sure is daunting. Luckily, it’s the season of hope, of possibility and of resolutions — and I know that our clean energy activists are resolved in their commitment to address climate change.

The headline referred to a new study, published in the journal Climatic Change, which looked at the funding of “91 think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations which have worked to block action on climate change.” Over the course of the 8 years studied, the groups received about $900 million per year. While some of that funding may have been directed to other non-climate projects, many of those dollars went directly to fund activities like skeptics conferences and witch hunts and insults against climate scientists and to pay the salaries of climate deniers who could spout anti-climate change talking points to cable news pundits.

It would be easy to feel discouraged by seeing the numbers laid out in black and white. And I won’t pretend that these billions haven’t had an impact – inaction in Congress is evidence that they’ve had some success. There’s no question that we can’t compete dollar for dollar with these denying billionaires. But, they can’t seem to penetrate the place that really matters: the brains of American voters. Despite their billions, Americans persist in accepting the science and favoring action. For example, one recent poll found that three of five Americans say global warming is a very serious global problem, and two of three say it will hurt future generations either a lot or a great deal if nothing is done to reduce it. Even in deep red states, Americans support action to address climate change.

It’s a new year and it’s an election year. The deniers have failed to turn the public against climate science. But we have yet to fully succeed at mobilizing the public that so strongly supports climate action. I know many people would say that New Year’s resolutions are meant to be broken. But, we just can’t afford to let this one go. My resolution for 2014 is to make sure that every politician in America understands what their voters believe and to make sure they vote and campaign accordingly. Will you help us?

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The Time Has Come

This week another round of polls confirmed once again that Americans support climate action. NRDC Action Fund and NRDC commissioned a survey from Public Policy Polling that found most voters in four key states want the Environmental Protection Agency to limit dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

Yet in a handful of interviews I did this week, some reporters suggested we generated the polls so we could tell voters what’s in their best interests.

The truth is: it’s not us, it’s them. Voters are saying they want carbon limits, and we are listening. We will relay their message to Members of Congress, because lawmakers need to know where the public stands on climate change: they want to confront it.

This should come as no surprise. People across the country are already seeing firsthand what climate change can do to their communities. A few months ago, several ordinary Americans spoke at a Congressional forum on climate change. Matt Russell, a fifth-generation farmer from Iowa, described the record-breaking floods that had swept away thousands of acres of farmland in the past few years. Stefanie Kravitz from Long Beach, New York said Superstorm Sandy sent waves of water rushing through her home and left nearly her entire town in ruins.

Countless other Americans have a similar front-row seat on the drama of climate change, and even if we can’t see it from our own homes, we are all paying the price of admission. The government spent nearly $100 billion to respond to extreme weather events in 2012. That’s more than $1,100 per average US taxpayer.

Americans are starting to take this new climate reality into the voting booth with them.

The NRDC Action Fund poll asked whether voters would be more or less likely to support senators in the midterm election if they try to prevent the EPA from setting limits on carbon pollution. In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor (D) would have a 14 point disadvantage, and in Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu (D) would have a 14 point disadvantage.

Similar numbers came up for Republicans as well. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) would face an 18 percent disadvantage if she tried to block the EPA, and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (R) would have a 20 point disadvantage.

Another survey conducted by Stanford University found similar results in more than 40 states. At least 75 percent of Americans say climate change is happening now, and the number rose to 84 percent in states where drought and sea level rise are pressing concerns. At least two-thirds of residents in every state surveyed think the government should limit global warming pollution. This is true even in deep red states like Utah, where 62 percent of voters support government efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

Voters are sending a strong signal. If candidates deny the reality of global warming, voters are going to start thinking: either they are in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry or they aren’t that smart. Neither category makes for great leaders.

Even in the closest of races, voters are likely to prefer candidates who confront climate change over those who remain paralyzed or worse, appear to live in the Dark Ages. This is especially true with coveted young voters. I just spent a weekend with my church’s youth group, and though some are still a few years away from voting, every single one of them knows climate change is a real and present danger. They have grown up in the Climate Age, and they wouldn’t dream of ignoring this hazard any more than they would challenge the fact that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer.

This is an opportunity for candidates. If they want support from the majority of voters, they will listen to what voters are telling them: the time has come for climate action.

Message to the Tea Party: Stop Trying to Drown Our Government

After the debacle of the government shutdown, it’s no surprise GOP lawmakers are pouncing on the botched rollout of the Affordable Health Care Act. Who knew IT troubles could provide such a big political advantage? Republicans have seized this opportunity to distract from their failed negotiations over budget and healthcare issues. And by plowing forward with their recriminations, they have highlighted a significant truth: there is more than one way to skin a cat and there is more than one way kill the government.

Republican strategist Grover Norquist is famous for saying: “My goal is to cut the government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to a size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” Now the Tea Party crowd is doing its best to squeeze what’s left down the drain.

They have tried to cut taxes and gut budgets so the government can’t operate properly. They have tried to handcuff agencies so they can’t do their jobs. And as if that wasn’t extreme enough, they went so far as to shut the whole thing down. But perhaps the most destructive thing they have done is to make Washington appear so dysfunctional that more people lose faith with the whole enterprise.

Yet poll after poll show that voters hate gridlock, but value what government provides—especially public health and environmental safeguards. In other words, there is a baby in that bathtub that is most definitely worth saving.

According to a survey conducted for NRDC by Public Policy Polling, for instance, almost two-thirds of voters opposed the near closure of the Environmental Protection Agency during the government shutdown. Why? Because ordinary citizens can’t force coal-fired power plants and heavy manufacturers to clean up their act. They count on the EPA to do the job—to stand between them and dangerous pollution and to make sure the air is clean enough to breathe and the water is safe enough to drink.

People don’t appreciate Tea Party types messing with these protections. While most Americans opposed the shutdown, even more didn’t like the fact that it furloughed EPA inspectors. This was true nationally among Latinos, in key states, in districts represented by once-moderate House Republicans, and even in House Speaker John Boehner’s home district.

And yet polluter friendly lawmakers—including some Democrats—continue to attack the EPA.  Recently Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) introduced a draft bill that would force the EPA to get approval from Congress in order to set limits on the amount of dangerous carbon pollution coming from power plants. This is a radical rethinking of how safeguards work in our country. It would allow politicians—instead of scientists and medical health professionals—to decide how much pollution is safe for our communities.

Today the NRDC Action Fund with NRDC released polling that solidly shows voters support candidates who will take action to reduce carbon pollution. This is an opportunity for candidates facing tough races ion 2014 to embrace EPA standards to protect the health and well-being of Americans. Doing the right thing by standing up to dirty polluters is not just good policy, it’s good politics.

The bad news? This is only the latest attempt of coal industry allies and Tea Party leaders to weaken government oversight. Over the past few years, House GOP lawmakers have voted more than 300 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards. Most of these efforts have not become law, but they have taken up a lot of time and energy, and they feed into voters’ perceptions that Washington is full of bickering naysayers.

And this is where the Tea Party extremists could gain advantage: voters could start tuning out and distrusting government—including the branches and services and protections they value.

The best antidote to this apathy is to keep voting and keeping following your lawmakers’ records. Did they enter government service only to tear down the government? Do they routinely try to gut the EPA and other agencies that protect us from pollution? Do they talk about making government function better but try to cripple it at every turn? If so, then vote them out of office. A recent CNN/ORC International survey found that three-quarters of voters believe most GOP members of Congress shouldn’t be re-elected.

If voters don’t lose faith in the government between now and the mid-term elections, we could send the Tea Party a powerful message: Americans value government when it keeps our families safe and makes our lives better. And if they keep trying to drown it in the bathtub, we will act as the lifeguard and save it.