With This Congress, a GOP President Could Damage Environment

trump bushThroughout four Republican debates and plenty of campaign coverage, GOP presidential candidates have said little about how they would tackle climate change or protect the environment. Yet voters concerned about clean air, clean water and climate stability need only look to Congress to see what a Republican presidency could mean for public health and environmental protection.

Since gaining a majority, GOP lawmakers have tried to eviscerate the bedrock environmental laws that have protected America’s air, water and health for decades. The public doesn’t support these efforts. And the veto pen has killed any serious threats that have made it through the entire Congress. But proposing and passing dirty bills sends a powerful message (including to super PACs—many funded by polluting industries) that if a Republican is in the White House environmental laws will be gutted.

The Republican-led attacks in Congress have intensified as primary season nears. The Senate just passed a resolution that would kill the new Clean Water Rule, which restores protections for America’s streams, lakes and wetlands. That was followed by a vote this week on a resolution to wipe out the Clean Power Plan. And tensions are mounting over policy riders to funding bills that limit the federal government’s ability to safeguard against reckless fracking and conservation measures for endangered species.

Republicans will lose all of these battles. President Obama has promised to veto their anti-environmental bills and Republicans don’t have the votes to override those vetoes. Though they may slip a few riders through, their assault appears destined to fail this year—as it has in the past.

Yet many bills undercutting public health and environmental protections have garnered nearly 100 percent support from Republican lawmakers and less than 5 percent from Democrats. While some were blocked in the Senate, many of those bills would have become law if Obama had lost.

None of the leading Republican presidential candidates have offered a positive agenda for preserving the environment. Instead, they have embraced the party’s conservative hostility to any form of regulation—including those that keep pollution out of the air we breathe and the water we drink. When asked about the EPA, Donald Trump said simply, “What they do is a disgrace.” Even supposed “moderates” such as Jeb Bush and Chris Christie oppose the Clean Power Plan.

And yet, this return to darker, dirtier days is not what the vast majority of Americans want.

Voters of both parties want to provide their families with clean air and water, public lands to explore and home towns safe from extreme floods, drought and other hallmarks of climate change.

A full 94 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans favor the Clean Water Rule protections for headwater streams and wetlands, according to a survey from Hart Research Associates. And 90 percent of Americans back the Endangered Species Act, according to a recent poll, and support stretches across the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, poll after poll after poll shows the vast majority of Americans want leaders to tackle climate change. And most Republican voters support clean energy. Seven in 10 conservative voters in early primary states want the next president to have a clean energy plan, and three-quarters of those voters want their state to submit a plan to comply with the Clean Power Plan, according to a survey by American Viewpoint.

The current GOP initiatives in Congress would block the very protections most voters support. But they would make life easier for polluting industries. Oil, gas and coal interests have spent billions of dollars in the past few years to elect and influence ideological lawmakers who will eviscerate our nation’s safeguards and halt climate action.

Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail are letting polluting companies know what they can expect from future GOP leadership. Americans should take note and vote for their own public interest—not dirty polluters.

Bush’s newly released energy policy looks backwards

Standing at a Pennsylvania oil and gas company with a history of more than one hundred environmental violations, presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced an energy plan just as fraught with failures. With today’s release of the plan, Bush has cemented his place among the many contenders for the White House who are keeping their heads firmly in the sand about climate change.

Bush’s proposed energy policies ignore the realities of climate change, as well as the will of his own voter base. A late August 2015 poll showed that a majority of Republicans believe climate change is real and that humans may be contributing to it. And 72 percent of GOP voters support developing and using clean energy.

Bush barely mentions clean energy technologies in his plan. Instead, he wants to cut regulations, build the Keystone XL pipeline, encourage drilling, and generally follow the agenda of big polluters that have given so generously to his campaign.

He says he wants to create jobs, but Bush’s plan will worsen climate change – costing jobs – and will undercut the booming clean energy economy in an ill-fated attempt to prop up big polluter industries. In contrast, clean energy industries have been adding hundreds of thousands of jobs each year. One NRDC study found that the Clean Power Plan could create more than 274,000 jobs and save consumers billions on their electricity bills, yet Bush’s plan seeks to scrap the plan altogether.

Fittingly, Bush chose Rice Energy as the setting for his energy plan announcement. While Rice Energy was racking up environmental violations, Pennsylvania’s clean energy economy has been growing and providing jobs for nearly 60,000 workers at more than 4,000 businesses with a strong employment growth rate of 8.5 percent.

Gov. Bush’s policy is so completely backwards facing that it’s hard to believe Gov. Bush is serious with this proposal. America needs a leader with a vision for a clean energy future, not a throwback to the big polluter agenda that got us into this mess.

American voters overwhelmingly favor serious action to protect the planet for their kids and grandkids, so Jeb Bush and the rest of the presidential candidates will have to do a lot better than this if they’re going to convince Americans they’re focused on the future rather than stuck in the past.

Climate Valentines: Time to Define the Relationship

February 14th is the day when Americans celebrate love with cards, flowers and chocolate. At my house, the kids are busy making paper hearts and cranking out scores of cards for their friends. Their handiwork inspired me to create a Valentine for members of Congress who need to have “the talk.”

Until just a few weeks ago, Republicans in Congress had largely denied or ignored the urgent need to act on climate change. Things have started to shift ever so slightly in the past few weeks: suddenly #DirtyDenier$ are getting real.

Maybe a climate cupid shot his arrows through the halls of the Senate, but at the end of last month, 53 GOP senators passed an amendment acknowledging the climate is changing, 15 approved an amendment saying humans have something to do with those changes, and 5 endorsed one saying human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change.

What do these votes mean? Is the GOP reconsidering its monogamous relationship with fossil fuel companies? Are they asking for an “open relationship” with the Koch Brothers? Is the GOP interested in seeing other voters?

It’s time for the talk: the “DTR” conversation that defines the relationship. That’s how we’ll know if the GOP is ready for that ultimate public declaration of love: the relationship status change on Facebook.

Voters are ready for a commitment. Two thirds of Americans favor the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants, according to a November survey by Harstad Strategic Research.

A New York Times/Stanford poll released last week found that a full 54 percent of Hispanics—that increasingly popular voting bloc—say climate change is extremely or very important to them personally, and 63 favor the federal government taking broad steps to address this crisis.

As Republican leaders try to define their relationship with climate change in advance of the 2016 election, the “it’s complicated” status will no longer suffice with the majority of voters.

GOP candidates who want to win in the next cycle have to get serious. It’s not enough to recognize that the climate is changing. They need to do something about it. They need to offer an action plan for confronting the biggest public health and environmental threat of our time. They need to put a ring on it.

My wish for this Valentine’s Day is for #DirtyDenier$ to truly define their relationship with climate change. And that they begin by ending their love affair with dirty polluters. Here’s what I would put on my Valentine:

Roses are red, the climate is hot. #RunningClean is cool, but #DirtyDenier$ are not.

Ok, so the makers of Sweethearts candies might not be hiring me anytime soon and the puns in the blog post may be a bit much. But my heart is in the right place: I truly hope the Republican Party will decide to act on our generations’ biggest challenge.


Lawmakers who Back Big Polluters Risk Losing GOP Voters

Energy prices may be plummeting, but oil, gas, and coal companies are seeing a dramatic return on investment in one sector: the US Congress. The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections. And now the GOP majority has vowed to make life easier for polluters by gutting long-standing protections for clean air and water and blocking measures the fight climate change.

Last week, for instance, House Republicans voted to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Representatives who supported the Keystone XL bill received over 8.5 times more oil and gas money in 2014 than those who voted against it. Now the action moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from oil, gas, and coal companies in 2014.

These fossil-fuel favors may please donors, but new research shows that lawmakers risk painting themselves into a corner with Republican voters.

Because in order for GOP leadership to carry out the Big Polluter Agenda, they have to ignore the giant elephant in the room: climate change.

To push for Keystone XL, they have to discount the fact that tar sands oil generates 17 percent more climate change pollution than conventional crude. To block the Environmental Protection Agency’s from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, they have to pretend that unchecked emissions won’t make America’s families, farms, coastal cities and local communities more vulnerable to extreme weather.

In other words, they have to reject the facts.

Many Republican lawmakers are comfortable with this arrangement. The Senate alone is now home to 38 climate deniers who received $28,152,466 from fossil fuel companies over the course of their careers, according to Climate Progress.

But Republican voters who notice the costly increase in drought, floods, and fires are starting to question the wisdom of denial.

New comprehensive analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reveals a growing divide within the Republican Party over climate change.

Overall, 56 percent of GOP voters say they favor government action to reduce climate change pollution. A full 62 percent of moderate Republicans said climate change is a real and present threat, while 38 percent of conservative Republicans and only 29 percent of Tea Party Republicans recognize the reality of climate change.

GOP candidates would be wise to ponder these numbers. They may be able to win primaries by appealing to the most conservative base. They may even carry a few Congressional races by playing to the skeptics. But they cannot win the White House in 2016 by denying climate change.

Climate change has become an inescapable issue on the campaign trail. It emerged in every 2014 Senate race, with journalists, debate moderators, and voters demanding to know where candidates stood. The same will happen in the presidential election. And in a year where the geopolitical map favors Democrats, a GOP candidate can’t afford to alienate Republican moderates who understand the steep cost of extreme weather and unchecked pollution.

By pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, GOP lawmakers risk collecting the cash but losing the people—including a chunk of their own voters.


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.