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.

 

Keystone Politics

For several years now, the oil industry and its allies in the GOP have tried to turn the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline into a political lightning rod for Democrats. They used it in campaign ads during the 2012 election. They claimed the White House decision to postpone its final decision last month was made to help Democrats running in red states. And now they are trying to force yet another vote on the pipeline in the Senate.

Yet despite all the effort to defeat opponents of the pipeline, they have come up empty handed.

Early in the 2012 election cycle, the American Petroleum Institute warned that opposition to Keystone XL would bear huge political consequences. Pro-Keystone candidates and their supporters spent $11 million on campaign ads in eighteen races. They lost all of them. Eight of these were in tough Senate races in Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and New Mexico. Every Senator who cast a vote against Keystone XL was reelected.

The upcoming Senate vote isn’t likely to provide much help to Republican candidates in 2014 either. Intensity is everything in politics, and all the intensity is on the anti-pipeline side. Many major donors and grassroots activists are adamantly opposed to Keystone XL. They know it will fuel climate change, and many view it as a fundamental reason to reject a candidate running for office.

For other voters, the pipeline is unlikely to play much of a role. For average voters in states like North Carolina, New Hampshire, Alaska, or Arkansas, the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t local and probably won’t be their deciding factor in November.

But the dedicated base can make a difference, especially in midterm elections.

Passionate voters are the ones who volunteer for campaigns and help rally and energize others to cast ballots. And the party faithful are the voters most likely to turn out in midterm elections. They are the ones who take time off work or run across town with the kids in the car in order to vote even when there is no presidential candidate on the ticket.

Recent electoral experience shows that climate voters make especially motivated volunteers. Just ask President Obama. Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 election, often talks about the number one reason people signed on to help the campaign was they believed President Obama would address climate change.

Anti-Keystone voters know the stakes are high, and that’s why they are mobilized and engaged. They have helped create an environment in which the political risk associated with the pipeline comes from supporting it, not opposing it.

The Administration announcement that it put off a decision on Keystone pending the development of a new route through Nebraska hasn’t dampened the energy of anti-Keystone voters. Thousands of ranchers and Native Americans gathered in Washington, DC last month to protest the project. And major donors continue to call on candidates to reject the pipeline. Their enthusiasm should make the difference come November.

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.

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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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