Heather TaylorMiesle NRDC Action Fund
The role of federal climate legislation in the mid-term Congressional elections, to paraphrase Mark Twain, is being greatly exaggerated. For instance, Politico was quick to blame last year's vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) for the defeat of House Democrats.
In reality, 160 Democratic representatives who voted for the House climate bill won their elections yesterday. (This does not include four races that are still too close to call as of this writing.) On the other hand, 19 of 34 representatives who voted against the bill went down in defeat. (This excludes two races that were not decided as of this writing.)
[UPDATE, 11/04: E&E Daily has a story today that echoes my analysis, with a headline that is on point: "Being a Democrat, rather than voting for cap and trade, was the true political killer." (Sorry, no link provided because subscription is required.) As the article explains: "According to conventional wisdom, House Democrats who voted for a sweeping climate change bill last year paid a steep price for it on Election Day. But the theory of greenhouse gas emissions limits as ballot-box poison only goes so far, according to an E&E Daily analysis of competitive races. Among the Democratic-held House seats rated most endangered on election eve by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, 61 percent of incumbents who voted for the 2009 cap-and-trade bill lost their races. But the most threatened incumbents who opposed the legislation fared even worse, with 79 percent falling despite their resistance to a measure the GOP savaged as "cap and tax." The better overall performance by vulnerable House Democrats who survived after backing the climate plan - a camp that ranges from the Mountain West to the South and includes three Iowans - is hardly a vindication of a legislative process that left even some environmentalists soured on the final cap-and-trade bill. It does suggest, however, that many Democrats in swing districts were brought low by voter discontent with a bad economy and an ambitious federal agenda, not the 1,200-page climate plan specifically."]
It seems that disgruntled independent voters tipped the election away from the party in power toward Republicans. So, whether this election is viewed as a sign of antipathy toward or flat-out repudiation of the Democrats over the lackluster economy or any other policy frustrations, one thing is clear: concern about the ill-fated cap-and-trade climate legislation barely registered with voters.
Indeed, according to a survey released today by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, when voters who chose the Republican candidate were asked in an open ended question to name their biggest concern about the Democrat, only 1 percent cited something related to energy or cap and trade. And when offered a list of six arguments Republicans made against Democrats, only 7 percent of voters selected the so-called "cap and trade energy tax."
There you have it: the mid-term election was about the economy, stupid - not clean energy and climate legislation.
But make no mistake, voters of all political stripes still care about those issues. Indeed, polling from across the country shows that Americans overwhelmingly support clean energy policies and comprehensive efforts to protect our air and water.
And in California, voters resoundingly rejected Proposition 23, a move by Texas oil companies to roll back the state's landmark clean energy and climate law.
So the takeaway from the contentious mid-term elections is this: voters may disagree on a number of political issues but there is common ground to be found on the issue of clean energy - and elected leaders should take notice.
In California, voters overwhelmingly rejected Big Oil's attempt to circumvent the most important climate law in the nation. This is an incredibly significant development. For the first time, VOTERS got to have direct input into whether or not they want to move forward with climate solutions. They gave a full-throated call for building the clean energy future in California.
Still, you probably won't hear much about this resounding victory because some pundits will view it as a wacky, West Coast aberration. But think about it: if the fossil fuel guys had won, the media would have been trumpeting the death of environmentalism, and industry allies in Congress would have been citing the vote as reason to abandon climate legislation. And you can call California "liberal," but it is also the state with the third largest unemployment rate in the nation. If voters thought clean energy hurt the economy, we wouldn't have won.
But voters know that clean energy means good things for our economy, and the California vote proves it. Unfortunately, the federal races were less clear.
We saw the House flip last night and several of our climate champs were defeated - but so were many lawmakers who had voted AGAINST climate change.
In Virginia, we saw Congressmen Tom Perriello (VA-5) and Rick Boucher (VA-9) go down. Both supported the climate bill. But, it's not easy to figure out how much of a factor climate was in those races. We also saw Rep. Glenn Nye (VA-2) bite the dust and he was a vocal opponent of the clean energy legislation.
Same thing in Ohio. We lost Rep. John Boccieri (OH-16) who voted for the House bill, but Rep. Charlie Wilson (OH-6), an outspoken critic, also went down. Meanwhile Rep. Betty Sutton (OH-13) actively defended her vote for clean energy and cruised to reelection. Other Ohio Reps like Zack Space (OH-18) lost their jobs, but they had tried to play both sides of the fence. Space voted for the climate bill, but then tried to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from actually addressing global warming. You can't have it both ways in an election year when people are looking for leadership.
Yet another example is found in Pennsylvania where we saw clean energy advocate Patrick Murphy (PA-8) defeated and Chris Carney (PA-10), an opponent of our issues, also handed his walking papers.
In race after race, we found voters kicking out the incumbents regardless of their stance on energy. Yet leaders on the issue in the Senate like Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid won.
So, clean energy and climate change probably wasn't a factor in most races. In the end, this election came down to one thing: the economy.
Our stumbling economy continues to be on the minds of every working family in the country. They are worried about losing their jobs, their homes, and any sense of security that they may have created. The promise of clean energy provides a lot of hope for our stumbling economy and the American people believe that, regardless of who is in charge.
So, we will continue to work. Congress is going to have to take up mandatory bills on spending, infrastructure and agriculture. There are opportunities to make great progress on renewables, adaptation, efficiency and a plethora of other clean energy areas in all of those pieces of legislation. It will be a tough road, but a road worth taking.
Legislative inaction must be more tiring than I realized.
Still, I don't view this month as a cooling off period. If anything, it's time to turn up the heat.
Over the next few weeks, Senators will be holding "town hall meetings" in their states. Last year, these meetings came to define the health care debate. This year, they could help us reshape America's energy policy.
If you are like me and you are still stunned that the Senate refused to pass a bill that would have created nearly 2 million new American jobs, put our nation at the forefront of the clean energy market and helped end our addiction to oil, then go to a town hall meeting and tell your lawmakers what you think.
Tell them that it is in America's best interest to embrace clean energy now.
And while you are at it, please tell them to block attempts by some Senators to weaken the Clean Air Act-the 40-year-old law that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives-in an effort to further delay reductions in global warming pollution.
Some naysayers claim that voting on visionary legislation is a risky proposition when we are this close to an election. They are wrong, and history proves it.
As I wrote in a recent blog post, 13 of the most powerful environmental laws were passed during the fall of an election year or in the lame duck sessions following elections.
We can pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall, but only if we demand it of our lawmakers.
This kind of news just makes me sick - especially since these are the guys who have scarred WV's land and abused her people. We don't need to wonder what is driving some Senators to oppose popular legislation that would, in one fell swoop, create millions of jobs, strengthen U.S. national security, defund unsavory regimes and protect our environment from earth-scorching carbon pollution. Follow the money.
Clean energy and climate legislation didn't make it through the U.S. Senate this summer, despite the overwhelming scientific and economic evidence, and despite the fact that there almost certainly were more than 50 (aka, a "majority" of) Senators willing to vote for such legislation. First and foremost among those reasons, of course, was the near-unanimous opposition by Republicans to move ahead in this area. In addition, there were several Democrats, mostly from states with coal interests, who were probable "no" votes - and the money helps paint the picture about why.
As the Natural Resources Defense Council's Pete Altman points out, "Next time someone asks why climate legislation is so difficult to move forward, point them this way. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are prime examples of how narrow special interests can operate in stealth mode to deny climate science and to put the brakes on climate legislation." How do Peabody and Arch buy influence in Washington, DC? Very simple - money. Lots and lots of money funneled into influencing policy and policymakers. For instance:
-- "In 2008 and 2009, Arch Coal ($3.04 million) and Peabody Coal ($14.2 million) spent a combined $17.9 million in direct federal lobbying on energy, environmental and other matters."
-- "The two companies contributed $5 million each to the budget of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity ("ACCCE") in 2008, and presumably have continued to keep their memberships current with contributions in 2009 and 2010."
According to Open Secrets, in 2010 alone Arch Coal has donated $39,500 to Democratic members of Congress and $88,000 to Republican members of Congress. For its part, Peabody Coal has contributed $53,400 to Democrats and $45,400 to Republicans.
I could go on all day about the money flowing to Congress from corporations and PACs with an interest in killing clean energy and climate legislation, but I'm sure you get the picture by now. Despite the overwhelming benefits this legislation would bring to the vast majority of Americans, as well as to the U.S. economy and our national security, a few wealthy companies, driven by nothing more than greed, have spent lavishly to make sure none of this happens. And so far, they've succeeded. The question is: will we let them continue to do so? Personally, my answer is no way!
The climate bill blame game has begun. When I first started writing this post about the so-called death of the climate bill, I literally pointed the finger at just about everyone, including myself. The anger poured out, and I was frank in my assessment as well as unforgiving in the motives behind this latest setback.
After I was done with my self-loathing tantrum, the kids ran in the door from camp and I was swept up in the lovely reality of my family's banter. It is summer, so the pace in our home is a bit more relaxed in the evening. We aren't quite as quick to rush through dinner, toss the kids in a bath, and then march them off to bed. Ice cream and extra cuddles are relished, and I am reminded each year at this time why I do this job.
Later, after progeny were tucked in, I went back to my draft blog post to spruce it up. I reread my rage, disappointment, and irrational ramblings and was embarrassed. And I asked myself "What good is all this blame going to do?"
On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219-212 in favor of HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Only eight Republicans - we'll call them the "Enlightened Eight" - voted "aye." These Republicans were Mary Bono-Mack (CA-45), Mike Castle (DE-AL), John McHugh (NY-23), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Leonard Lance (NJ-7), Mark Kirk (IL-10), Dave Reichert (WA-8), and Christopher Smith (NJ-4).
Republicans voting for cap and trade in the year of the Tea Party? You'd think that they'd be dumped in the harbor by now. Instead, they're all doing fine. In fact, to date, not a single one of these Republicans has been successfully primaried by the "tea party" (or otherwise). Instead, we have two - Castle and Kirk - running for U.S. Senate, one (McHugh) who was appointed Secretary of the Army by President Obama, and five others - Bono-Mack, LoBiondo, Lance, Reichert, Smith - running for reelection.
Rep. Lance actually was challenged by not one, not two, but three "Tea Party" candidates. One of Lance's opponents, David Larsen, even produced this nifty video, helpfully explaining that "Leonard Lance Loves Cap & Trade Taxes." So, did this work? Did the Tea Partiers overthrow the tyrannical, crypto-liberal Lance? Uh, no. Instead, in the end, Lance received 56% of the vote, easily moving on to November.
Yesterday, the NRDC Action Fund launched a campaign featuring a powerful new ad by renowned environmental activist and celebrated actor, Edward James Olmos. In the video, which you can view here, Olmos explains what makes people - himself included - "locos" when it comes to U.S. energy and environmental policy. Now, as the Senate moves towards a possible debate on energy and climate legislation, we need to let everyone hear Olmos' message.
Hi, I'm Edward James Olmos. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess that's what makes Americans "locos." We keep yelling "drill baby drill" and expecting things to turn out ok. But the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing new. The oil industry has been poisoning our oceans and wilderness for decades. It's time to regain our sanity. America doesn't want more oil disasters. We need safe, clean and renewable energy now. Think about it.
Sadly, Olmos' definition of "insanity" is exactly what we've been doing for decades in this country -- maintaining policies that keep us "addicted" to fossil fuels instead of moving towards a clean, prosperous, and sustainable economy.
As we all know, dirty, outdated energy sources have caused serious harm to our economy, to our national security, and of course - as the horrible Gulf oil disaster illustrates - to our environment. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent nearly $400 billion, about half the entire U.S. trade deficit, importing foreign oil. Even worse, much of that $400 billion went to countries (and non-state actors) that don't have our best interests at heart.
As if all that's not bad enough, our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels also has resulted in tremendous environmental devastation, ranging from melting polar ice caps to record heat waves to oil-covered pelicans and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.
As Edward James Olmos says, it's enough to drive us all "locos."
Fortunately, there's a better way.
If you believe, as we passionately do, that it's time to kick our addiction to the dirty fuels of the past, then please help us get that message out there. Help us air Edward James Olmos' ad on TV in states with U.S. Senators who we believe can be persuaded to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. If we can convince our politicians to do their jobs and to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation this year, we will be on a path to a brighter, healthier future.
Thank you for your support.NRDC Action Fund
In the aftermath of 9/11, we saw thousands of workers develop devastating respiratory conditions and other illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic dust that filled the air in the days and weeks after the twin towers fell. To this day, these peoples' plight continues to add misery to the ongoing tragedy of 9/11. What makes it even worse is that these people were assured the air was safe. As we all know now, it wasn't.
Today, sadly, history may be repeating itself in the Gulf of Mexico.
(Thank you to Ligia Ercius-Dipaola, who posted this video on the NRDC Action Fund Facebook Page)
It is yet another big week for clean energy. The President is having a group of bipartisan senators over to discuss how to get a clean energy bill moving that addresses the source of the gulf spill. One guy who won't be attending is Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) after he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the "tragic" mistreatment his company has suffered. Here are Barton's now infamous words:
"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case, a $20 billion shakedown."
That's right, forcing BP to pay for the damages it has caused is not justice, it's a "shakedown." Incredible.
In response, numerous lawmakers from both parties expressed strong disgust at his comments. Unfortunately, that irritation didn't extend to everyone as a few seemed to share Barton's perverse perspective, in which BP is the victim and the rest of us are the perpetrators. Or something.
For instance, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called the $20 billion escrow account a "redistribution of wealth fund." That's right, according to Bachmann, forcing BP to pay for the damages it caused is some sort of socialist scheme. As for the tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents who depend on fisheries and tourism for their livelihoods? In Bachmann's world, apparently, they deserve nothing. "Let them eat cake," perhaps?
Last Thursday, the Senate voted 53 to 47 to defeat the Murkowski resolution that would have undermined the EPA's ability to reduce global warming pollution. The vote provides a useful guide to how senators might act on a climate vote.
Of course, it is not a clear-cut comparison because some people voted against the flawed resolution to make a point about process or simply to support the science. It is significant to note that we have 10 more votes in favor of reducing carbon emissions than we did the last time climate change was discussed on the Senate floor two years ago.
But here is what I find most interesting about last week's vote: the number of Senators who have all publicly exclaimed that global warming is a pressing problem but who voted to block the EPA from dealing with it. Are they sitting on an "election year fence" or are the deep pockets of Big Oil & Coal companies propping up their campaign contribution fences? The question must be asked - Why do these senators benefit from burning caveman fuels?