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.

 

 

4 Midterm Lessons about the Politics of Climate Change

The Republican Party has taken control of the Senate after winning a handful of red states. This makes Senator Mitch McConnell the new Majority Leader, yet voters have not endorsed McConnell’s pro-polluter agenda of dirty air and unlimited climate change pollution.

All year long, poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans want to protect clean air, promote clean energy, and shield future generations from unchecked climate change.

People went into the voting booth with many issues on their minds, from the tepid economy to health care to international turmoil. They rewarded those who have led on climate issues in Congress or on the campaign trail, including Rep. Gary Peter in Michigan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and Senator Susan Collins.

Yet even in races where people did not vote on climate change alone, one thing is clear: Americans have not given the GOP a mandate to let polluters foul our air and destabilize our climate.

It’s time for incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to get the message. Thus far, they have ignored science and voters’ concerns. They’ve promised to attack safeguards for our children’s health and blocking any attempt to reign in climate change pollution.

Most voters will not welcome this overreach. Just ask Former Speaker Newt Gingrich; he learned the hard way when he tried to gut environmental protections after the 1994 midterm elections.

Here are some of the lessons we can take away from this year’s elections.

Most Voters Support Limits on Climate Change Pollution

Prolonged drought, destructive storms, toxic algae blooms, and other extreme events brought climate change home this year, and most Americans want leaders to tackle the climate threat.

An ABC/Washington Post survey found that 7 in 10 Americans view climate change as a serious problem and support federal action to reduce greenhouse gases. A poll for NBC News/The Wall Street Journal reported that two-thirds of Americans support the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. And a Bloomberg News poll found that 62 percent of Americans were even willing to pay more for energy if it meant reducing carbon pollution. Most people want to protect the country from dirty air and extreme weather. They aren’t asking for Senator McConnell’s plan to make life easier for polluters.

Climate Change Gained New Prominence in This Cycle

During the 2012 election, climate change received little national attention. This time around, more Americans have felt the brunt of climate change in their own lives, and voters, debate moderators, and journalists wanted to know where candidates stood on the issue.  Nearly 40 percent of voters in battleground states heard candidates’ positions on climate change, and majorities heard their views on energy, according to a poll conducted for the NRDC Action Fund. Many candidates made climate change and clean energy a central part of their platform. Even Tea Party favorite Cory Gardner felt compelled to travel to a Colorado wind farm for one of his TV ads.

It Was a Tough Map for Climate Champions

Polluters eager to gut environmental standards and allow unlimited carbon pollution always had the upper hand this cycle. Most of their preferred candidates were trying to recapture Republican strongholds—indeed pundits started forecasting how tough this race would be back in 2008 when several Democrats won traditionally red states. Climate champions also faced an added challenge of history: as Politico’s Charlie Cook points out, the president’s party has suffered in five out of six midterm elections since the end of World War II, averaging just six Senate and 29 House seats.

A Climate Denier Can Not Win the White House in 2016

GOP strategists read the same polls environmentalists do, and they are starting to realize most voters care about climate change and want leaders to do something about it. Voters are tired of candidates who deny or ignore global warming and they view this ignorance as a sign of being out of touch. This includes members of important voting blocs: 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. Many GOP candidates have walked back from extreme denial by embracing the new “I am not a scientist” rhetoric. Even they recognize that voters will no longer elect a president who ignores the biggest economic, public health, and environmental threat of our time.

There is much to fight for in the next two years. No matter who holds the gavel in Congress, climate change is accelerating and Americans are growing alarmed. It’s time for lawmakers of both parties to act.

 

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

 

Let the Light Shine In

When it comes to the potential of solar energy, the Obama administration continues to see the light and follow it with conviction. This stands in stark contrast to the Koch brothers’ use of the American Legislative Exchange Council as a front to push for removal of critical renewable energy standards on the state level, despite the enormous public popularity of and business support for renewable energy.

This month, the White House hosted a Solar Summit—a special event focused on highlighting the continued development of solar energy in the U.S. Along with honoring individuals across the country who are helping to drive domestic solar deployment, The Obama administration took the event as an opportunity to announce new steps to expand the use of solar energy in American homes, businesses, and schools, and to call for new commitments from the private sector and non-profit organizations to support solar deployment and jobs.

Since President Obama took office in 2008, unprecedented investments in research, development, and deployment of solar technologies have seen solar prices markedly decrease and the solar market rapidly grow. These developments have driven enormous growth in the solar industry, with more than 140,000 American jobs up and down the solar supply chain, 50,000 of which have come into existence since 2010. This Solar Summit and the announcements made in connection with it demonstrate the continuation of this Administration’s historic commitment to developing clean sources of energy.

While the summit was valuable in promoting recent successes, the announcements made surrounding the event are particularly exciting because they promise continued growth of domestic solar power. Our country has no doubt made great strides in expanding our investment in and use of solar energy under the Obama administration thus far, but there still remains plenty of room for an increased commitment by Congress to renewable energy development through the extension of the Production Tax Credit for example.

Skeptics argue that solar energy still amounts to a relatively minor portion of our national energy needs. However, such a picture is misleading, as it does not reflect the present popularity and enormous future potential of renewable energy. Keep in mind that renewable energy sources accounted for over 50 percent of new domestic electricity generation capacity in 2012 and over 40 percent of the same in 2013, with solar power leading the way for renewable sources that year. Although the rate of adoption of renewable energy is restricted by the lingering of fossil fuel-fired power plants—with their permits stretching decades—far past their heyday, the future is now for renewable energy and energy efficiency when policy makers decide what energy resources they should invest in next.

But not only are the climatic and economic reasons for increased investment in domestic solar energy persuasive—it is by all accounts a shrewd political move as well. Poll after poll demonstrates that Americans of all political stripes and all ages support greater emphasis on producing domestic solar power. With that in mind, it’s quite clear that policymakers across the political spectrum and at all levels of government—from local to federal—would  do well to join the President in his support of solar power.

President Obama’s Decision on Ozone: Bad Policy and Bad Politics

I’ll admit it. I was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008. I liked then-Senator Obama’s passion but I was comforted by Clinton’s experience in what I felt was a tumultuous time. After Obama became the victor from the primaries, I enthusiastically got on board.

Now, I feel like sucker.

Last Friday, President Obama forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set aside a measure to reduce smog. If you breathe, this should be a big deal for you. The new smog rule would have saved up to 43,000 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year while making breathing easier for the 24 million Americans living with asthma.

This is a decision that was solely in the President’s court. He ignored the EPA and the recommendation of the agency’s outside science advisors to side with polluting industries.

Why is the President now siding with polluters? He has taken strong environmental stands in the past. We saw the President push what was effectively the largest clean energy legislation ever passed as part of the initial stimulus bill. We stood with him as he pushed the climate bill in that first year. More recently, we saw the White House put us a road to reducing carbon pollution by making our cars cleaner.

But a number of recent moves are going in the opposite direction. The White House gave tentative approval to offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The Administration continues to move forward on steps to approve the Keystone pipeline. And now it is backing away from smog rules.

Why? The White House claims clean air protections would be too expensive. But this is a farce. Letting the polluters off the hook won’t save lives, won’t create jobs and won’t fuel innovation. It will, however, endanger the health and lives of children and seniors.

In fact, as NRDC’s Frances Beinecke said late last week, “clean air investments yield enormous returns. The smog standards would generate $37 billion in value for a cost of about $20 billion by 2020. Taken together, Clean Air Act standards generated approximately $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits in 2010 alone for a cost of $50 billion. That’s a value worth more than 9 percent of GDP for a cost of only .4 percent of GDP. The ratio of benefits to costs is more than 26 to 1.”

Why the White House is running away from this story is beyond me. This shouldn’t be about the economy because these safeguards will create jobs. And this retreat certainly isn’t going to get him any votes. In a June poll of likely voters commissioned by the American Lung Association found that 75 percent supported the EPA’s effort to set stronger smog standards and 66 percent believed that EPA scientists– not Congress — should establish clean air standards. Is he is hoping to attract a few votes from right? Unlikely if you consider that only 24 percent of moderate Republicans and 7 percent of conservative Republicans think he is doing a good job according to the the most recent Gallup polling.

Color me confused. The only thing that makes sense is that the White House made a political calculation that it couldn’t win the message war against the Tea Party. The Tea Party has made “regulation” a dirty word when in fact regulations help keep us safe.

Environmental and public health regulations are what keep that industrial mill from dumping its toxic chemicals in the lake you fish in each summer. Regulations have been cleaning our air for decades. Regulations on buildings ensure that your home and office be built to withstand foreseeable natural disasters. Long gone are the days when machinery regularly maimed employees thanks to labor regulations. And a lack of regulations can lead to disaster – just look at the Wall Street crash and the part that lax regulations played in that disaster. The word “regulation” is really a synonym for “public safeguard.” When did that become a bad thing?

President Obama should reconsider this misguided move and redouble his efforts to protect clean air. He is going to have many opportunities in the coming days to right this wrong. The House will be voting as early this month to try to overturn the clean air standards the White House has moved forward with. But if we don’t weigh in, the Tea Party will set the agenda of this White House.

Where is the hope and change that we were promised in 2008? I suspect that a lot of people who walked precincts and stood in long lines to cast a vote for the President Obama in the last Presidential election are asking themselves the same question.