Congressional Candidates' Views on Clean Energy, Climate Change: IA-03

Originally posted on The MarkUp. This is the eleventh article in a continuing series by the NRDC Action Fund on the environmental stances of candidates in key races around the country.

 

Today, we examine Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, stretching from Des Moines to the Cedar Falls-Waterloo area.  The district’s economy is heavily agricultural, but also has a large financial and insurance sector component, with Des Moines referred to as “the Hartford of the West” for that reason.  Since 1997, Democrat Leonard Boswell has represented the 3rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This year, Boswell is being challenged by Republican State Senator Brad Zaun.

 

So far in this campaign, Boswell has strongly defended his record and has attacked Zaun for “his opposition to Iowa's biofuels industry, which employs thousands of farmers and factory workers in the state.” For his part, Zaun has attempted to tie Boswell to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama, while running a series entitled, “Fourteen Reasons Why We Need a New Congressman.”

 

On clean energy and environmental issues, Rep. Boswell has an excellent record.  In 2009, for instance, Boswell received a near-perfect 93% rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), as well as a 100% rating from Environment America. Boswell voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), an extraordinarily important piece of environmental legislation which the New York Times described as “the first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change.” At the time of his vote for ACES, Boswell said that the legislation  “would harness the most innovative workforce in the world to create a clean energy future, creating millions of jobs in the process.”  Boswell added that “[e]nergy independence is vital to our national security and economic future, and this legislation advances this goal while confronting the serious challenge of climate change.”

 

For his part, Brad Zaun received a mediocre rating of 42% on the environment from the Iowa Sierra Club in 2009-2010.  In this video, Zaun declares, “I question global warming” and claims – incorrectly – that ACES will “cost businesses and all of us that have homes millions of dollars.”  In addition, Zaun claims that coal-fired power is far more economical than wind power (certainly not true if you count environmental and other “externalities”), brags that he’s being “compared to this one lady that says ‘drill, baby, drill,’” and argues that “we need to take advantage of our resources.”  On his website under “Energy and Natural Resources,” Zaun argues that America “must increase domestic oil and gas supply by exploring and utilizing more of the energy resources we have at home.” Message to Brad Zaun: we saw the results of that approach in the Gulf of Mexico this past summer!

 

On the other hand, Zaun has not joined most of his fellow Republican candidates this year and signed the Americans for Prosperity “No Climate Tax Pledge.”  Zaun also advocates “exploring alternative sources of energy…including nuclear, wind, solar and other alternative energies.” And, Zaun says, “We must be careful stewards of all of our precious natural resources by always avoiding strategies which unnecessarily damage our landscape or environment or pose health risks to our citizens.” That’s all well and good. But advocating for coal-fired power, “drill, baby, drill,” and global warming skepticism is a very funny way to accomplish those goals.

 

The NRDC Action Fund believes that it is important for the public in general, and the voters of specific Congressional districts, be aware of this information as they weigh their choices for November.

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Five Reasons Clean Energy Trumps Tea Party Slogans

Sometimes I think America is the proverbial child-star-gone-bad of nations: we have a crippling addiction, but we still won't go to rehab.

We are hooked on burning dirty fossil fuels like cavemen, and no matter how many times we hit rock bottom — deadly coal mining accidents, the uncontrolled oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and American soldiers risking their lives overseas — we won't embrace the safer, smarter, cleaner path of renewable energy.

Change shouldn't be this hard.

That is the message behind a new ad campaign launched by NRDC's Action Fund this week. The ad urges senators from both sides of the aisle to put America back in control of our energy future.

Americans want change: a recent poll found that seven in ten Americans think clean energy legislation must be fast-tracked in the wake of the catastrophic Gulf oil spill.

Yet our elected officials haven't delivered the clean energy that voters want. Too many lawmakers fear that if they vote for a clean energy future, they will fall prey to populist mood swings come November. But they are mistaken and here is why:

1. Support for clean energy and climate action is not a flash in the pan. President Obama made clean energy one of the three planks of his platform. His energy policies have been vetted, reviewed and fleshed out through the longest presidential campaign in history and into his administration.

And all the while, clean energy has remained popular with American voters. So much so that Tea Party candidates now talk about it themselves. Most of their claims are bogus, but it is revealing that they haven't left clean energy on the cutting room floor.

2. Tea Party candidates are like the streaker at a football game. They get a lot of attention for their bold, rebellious positions, but after you get a closer look, you want to turn your head away. Their catchphrases simply don't hold up to scrutiny, never mind a 24-hour news cycle.

Rand Paul sounded good in his 30-second campaign spots, for instance, but just days after he won the primary, he started saying business owners should be allowed to kick people of color out of their establishments. After seeing Paul on The Rachel Maddow Show or Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric, viewers start to realize that Tea Party slogans don't always make for sound governing policy.

3. The Tea Party is today's rebranding of conservative Republican voters. It baffles me that people talk about the Tea Party as if it were something new, when in fact it is just the latest packaging of the radical right.
We have seen this before and we know how it ends: people who identify with the radical group of the day are people who already vote and who will continue to vote for the most conservative candidate. This is not a new batch of voters up for grabs, and therefore, there is no point in pandering to them.

4. Angry voters may scream the loudest, but that doesn't make them powerful. It is human nature to pay attention to the loudest person in the room, but that doesn't mean you have to like them. The official Tea Party page on Facebook has only 200,000 fans. The “Can this poodle wearing a tinfoil hat get more fans than Glenn Beck” Facebook page has 280,453 fans.

Right now, every politico is trying to figure out how to win in November, and some are getting distracted by the noise of the radical right. The truth is that these people have been angry for a long time and they will be angry long after lawmakers leave Congress. It is how they live their lives. And while they have extra visibility right now, it looks like most elections will be decided on issues particular to each state, not Tea Party anger.

5. People will vote for lawmakers who create jobs, growth and security. In the end, winning elections and governing the nation is about making people's lives better. Passing clean energy and climate legislation will do that. It could generate nearly 2 million jobs, put America at the forefront of the global clean energy marketplace, strengthen national security and reduce dangerous pollution.

Now is not the time to be bullied. It is the time for lawmakers to stand up and put America on a path to a cleaner, better future. This kind of change isn't hard at all.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Legislator scorecards don't tell the whole story

One of my pet peeves is when interest groups release rank legislators according to how they have voted on a few key bills. These scorecards can be helpful as a general guideline, but some lawmakers game the system by voting the “right” way on a scorecard issue but voting with the other side on procedural measures. A classic example was when some pro-choice and environmental groups gave Senator Joe Lieberman credit for voting against confirming Justice Samuel Alito, even though Lieberman had voted against the filibuster that was the only realistic way to keep Alito off the Supreme Court.

Progressive Punch has a search engine that lets you view how individual members of Congress have voted in certain issue categories. Even more useful, Progressive Punch has incorporated a “crucial vote” score that includes bills and procedural measures that passed or failed by narrow margins. You’d be surprised by how many Democrats have high Progressive Punch ratings overall but much lower crucial vote scores, indicating that “when the chips were down,” these people were not reliable allies.

But even the Progressive Punch rating system doesn’t tell the whole story, because committee and floor votes aren’t the only way for legislators to exercise their power.

Yesterday Environment Iowa reminded me of the problems with scorecards when the group announced its rating of Iowa’s members of Congress. The scores were based on “seven votes in the Senate ranging from an economic recovery bill with investments in public transit and energy efficiency to legislation saving the nation’s coasts from offshore drilling,” and 15 votes in the House “including funding to make schools more energy efficient and legislation protecting the Great Lakes.” Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) received 100 percent scores, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) scored 93 percent and Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) scored 80 percent. Environment Iowa commented, “These numbers include a few absences from key votes that occurred during the floods of 2008.”

A few things are very wrong with this picture.  

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Pull the plug on the climate change bill

Few problems require federal action more urgently than global warming. I admire the members of Congress who have been trying to address this issue. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman tried to get the best deal he could. Senator John Kerry has tried to keep things moving in the upper chamber. Senator Lindsey Graham is getting tons of grief from fellow Republicans because he admits that climate change is a problem.

I want to support these people and their efforts to get a bill on the president’s desk. Unfortunately, the time has come to accept that Congress is too influenced by corporate interests to deal with climate change in any serious way. Pretending to fight global warming won’t solve the problem and may even be counter-productive.

This depressing post continues after the jump.

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Young, Green, and Out of Work

(Thanks for the cross-post. The unemployment numbers are disturbing. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

by Rinku Sen & Billy Parish

Last week, the Labor Department reported that youth unemployment stands at 18.2%, nearly twice the national average of 9.8%. The percentage of young people without a job is a staggering 53.4 percent, the highest figure since World War II. Looking deeper, the statistics for youth of color are terrible and telling.

According to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40.7% of black youth between 16-19 are unemployed, almost double the amount of whites teenagers (23%). For Latinos the same age, the rate is nearly 30%. Get a little older and the gap grows wider. Unemployment for black Americans aged 20-24 is 27.1%, over twice that faced by white youth (13.1%) in the same age range.

The glaring differences indicate that unemployment is not only decidedly raced, but also that the current economic condition is wholly unforgiving for young people of color. Only a massive, well-funded set of green jobs programs explicitly designed to close those racial gaps can create a truly vital, full-employment economy.

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