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For years, Big Oil – Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP, Texaco, and ConocoPhillips – has raked in record profits. But their dividend to consumers is usually the same: higher gas prices that make it more difficult to get to work, shop for groceries or drop the kids off at school.
Americans may be used to getting gouged at the pump – but we don’t deserve to get gouged in Congress too. Yet that’s exactly what happens when those big oil companies collect billions in tax breaks on our dime.
Over the next ten years, Big Oil will swindle American taxpayers to the tune of nearly $43 billion in unnecessary tax subsidies – claiming the breaks are needed to increase domestic oil production. Despite these outrageous tax loopholes, domestic oil production has decreased steadily since 1970. Meanwhile, our continued dependence on foreign oil puts the country at a national security risk.
I’m pleased to hear the recent drumbeat in Washington to eliminate oil subsidies, and I support these efforts. But closing these tax loopholes alone won’t end America’s need for affordable energy any time soon. That’s why I’ve put forward a commonsense plan to not only end the shameless handouts to Big Oil CEOs and Wall Street speculators, but also to address America’s ever-growing need for energy – all while creating good-paying jobs right here in Iowa.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act, which I introduced earlier this week, will end the unnecessary giveaways to Big Oil and provide incentives for renewable fuel producers to expand business and develop new technologies. Just as important, it will reduce our national deficit by billions.
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.
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.
Congress is heading back home for the August recess this week. Apparently our Senators need to rest after they failed to take up both a clean energy and climate bill and an oil spill bill.
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.
Use this August to make your voices heard. You can find your Senators' schedules by checking their Senate websites, as well as their candidate websites - Republican or Democratic.
Just when you thought the U.S. Senate couldn't do any less for clean energy and the environment than it's (not) done so far, we now face the real possibility of what would amount to a "stop-work order" on the 40-year-old, wildly successful (e.g., studies finding benefits outweighing costs at a 40:1 ratio), Clean Air Act.
That's right: believe it or not, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is moving ahead with a sequel to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's nefarious attempt, earlier this summer, to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s power to protect the public health from dangerous pollutants, including harmful greenhouse gases. Just as bad, Rockefeller's proposal would keep America addicted to oil and other old, polluting energy technologies, while delaying or derailing our switch to a clean, prosperous energy economy.
Essentially, what Rockefeller is proposing would tell the EPA – at least for two years, although we know that justice delayed is often justice denied! - that it has to be asleep at the switch, that it must not hold polluters accountable, that it must look the other way whole Big Oil and Big Coal trash the environment. Is that the lesson the Senate learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster? Really?
Fortunately, not everyone is so clueless as the U.S. Senate appears to be right now. For instance, in yesterday's Politico, two energy investors – one Democrat, one Republican – explained what's at stake in clear, compelling language.
We are not experts in vote counting or horse trading. But we do know how investors and markets will respond if Congress ultimately fails to put a market-based price on carbon. The response from capital will be brutal: Money will flow to places like China, Europe and India — and U.S. jobs will go with it.
The path to creating more U.S. jobs is simple: Pass legislation that eliminates uncertainty and levels the playing field, and investors will fund projects that create good jobs here at home. Rules bring certainty, certainty spurs investment, and investment creates jobs.
Take it from investors: Removing the uncertainty, and taking a more thoughtful approach to energy policy by putting a market price on carbon, can bring home new investments and jobs — and ensure that America leads the clean energy economy.
Instead, it now looks like the Senate not only won't be moving us forwards, but instead will be trying to move us significantly – and disastrously - backwards. What's truly stunning about this possibility is that, right now, the science of climate change is clearer and more disturbing than ever. Heat waves are getting worse, the ice caps are shrinking faster than ever, and scientists are telling us that the world is setting new temperature records almost every month, every year, and every decade. In addition, the results of our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels were demonstrated starkly and tragically, both in a West Virginia coal mine as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, on TV screens all across America in recent months. As if all this isn't bad enough, we also could run out of water.
The American people know this situation can't go on. In fact, recent polls show large majorities supporting an energy bill that would "[l]imit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy...by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas." In other words, this is a case where good policy – limiting greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing our national security, safeguarding public health, jumpstarting a clean energy revolution – and good politics – strong poll results for doing just that - appear to align. Yet, the U.S. Senate appears ready to ignore both good policy and good politics, and actually move to make matters worse by gutting the EPA and letting polluters like BP off the hook.
Don’t let them do it. Call your Senators right now and tell them "hell no" to the "Let Polluters Pollute with Impunity Act." Also, while you’re at it, call the White House and tell President Obama that, if such a measure reaches his desk, he will veto it – no ifs, ands, or buts.
Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.
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?"
At the end of the day, it is my kids - and your kids - who lose when we implode. If you think kids have a lot to say about their parents now on Dr. Phil, can you imagine what our children will say in 50 years should we fail to get our act together?
The country should be ready for this. The facts are on our side. As we witness the worst industry-caused environmental catastrophe in our history, the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, and sweat through the hottest first 6 months of any year on record, it is clear that there's never been a more urgent time to move forward with a smart clean energy and climate plan.
Unfortunately, the politicians just aren't there. At every juncture during this debate, a minority, led by the Republican leadership and supported by a few impressionable (I might say pathetic) Democrats, has obstructed the opportunity to solve America's energy problems, preferring to leave the worst polluters and the big petro-dictators in control of our energy policy, while tax-payers are forced to pay for their messes.
Oopsy... there goes that blame again. Let's focus on what we can do next.
Hope is not lost. Of course, the closer we get to the midterm elections, the more challenging passing a bill becomes. Still, it's not impossible. In fact, the Senate has passed almost every single bedrock environmental law in the fall of an election year or in the "lame duck" session following an election. Here are just a few examples:
o Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) - 1996 Amendments: 8/6/96
o Food Quality Protection Act: 8/3/96
o Energy Policy Act of 1992: 10/24/92
o Clean Air Act of 1990: 11/15/90
o SDWA - 1986 Amendments: 6/19/86
o CERCLA (Superfund): House 9/23/80, Senate 11/24/80, POTUS 12/11/80
o Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA): 10/21/76
o Toxic Substances & Control Act (TSCA): 10/11/76
o SDWA: 12/16/74
o Clean Water Act: 10/18/72
o Establishment of the EPA: first proposed 7/9/70, established 12/2/70
o National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): 1/1/70
o The Wilderness Act: 9/3/64
As this list demonstrates, the Senate and the environmental movement are no strangers to passing major legislation right before - or just after - an election.
I don't want to overpromise success. This is an uphill battle. But if you and I show up to every town hall, rally, spaghetti dinner, and other rituals of election year and fight for our kids... fight for our country... fight for our America... we can turn the tide. Without that kind of passion, we will all lose. That's an outcome we must try hard to avoid, on behalf of people, communities, large and small businesses - oh, and our kids, sleeping peacefully or playing happily around the country.
In the meantime, we must also protect what we already have, like a plethora of state laws and the federal Clean Air Act. I recommend reading David Doniger's blog on Switchboard today that really outlines how we can make progress with the tools we have right now.
In coming weeks and months, we must continue to push forward for a strong, clean energy and climate bill, just like we have done countless times in the past. I am done with blame. History is on our side. Are you?
Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.
According to The Hill newspaper, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) "is introducing legislation to expand use of renewable electricity and transportation fuels that she says is a way to increase political support for broad energy legislation among farm-state lawmakers." Reuters adds that Klobuchar's legislation would promote "a long-term extension of biofuel tax breaks." Klobuchar says, "it is time to look at home-grown energy and that includes biofuels and they should be part of this."
At first glance, that all sounds innocuous enough, but there's a major problem: Sen. Klobuchar is (cleverly) baiting the hook with a strong Renewable Energy Standard, which most environmentalists support, but at the same time she's also including the worst of the worst biofuels proposals – corn ethanol. For instance, as Nathanael Greene of NRDC points out, Klobuchar's proposal includes a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $30 billion. Klobuchar's legislation also appears to redefine old-growth forests as "biomass," potentially promoting deforestation. And Klobuchar's legislation would harm the development of truly advanced biofuels, in favor of corn ethanol. There's more, but that's sufficient to give you a good idea of how misguided and potentially harmful this bill happens to be.
More broadly, the problem is that promoting corn ethanol actually would set us backwards on our climate and clean energy goals. NRDC has written a great deal about corn-based ethanol, most of which is not flattering.
*From an NRDC article published in March 2010, we learn that "the current corn ethanol tax credit is effectively costing tax payers $4.18 per gallon and is driving up grain prices." The author, Nathanael Greene, concludes that "[w]e don't need an additional 1.4 billion gallons of corn ethanol, or the higher prices for grains and more deforestation that come with it...It's time to transition from corn ethanol's pollution and pork to a new generation of more sustainable biofuels that brings us closer to real energy independence."
*As Nathanael Greene points out here, "the nitrogen runoff from corn grown all along the Mississippi causes a huge dead zone in the Gulf every summer." And, "[w]ith about a third of the corn crop going to make corn ethanol, it should be clear that more corn ethanol is not a real solution."
In addition to NRDC, Barack Obama also weighed in during the 2008 presidential campaign, declaring that "we're going to have a transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol, not using food crops as the source of energy."
Last but not least, Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown and Clean Air Task Force Jonathan Lewis, writing in April 2008, explained in devastating terms why corn ethanol is so problematic:
It is now abundantly clear that food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy -- most of which comes from coal.
Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts, and some production facilities are reportedly dumping these in local water sources.
Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm.
Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world's largest "carbon sink..."
Meanwhile, the mandates are not reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Last year, the United States burned about a quarter of its national corn supply as fuel -- and this led to only a 1 percent reduction in the country's oil consumption.
In short, the problem is that while "biofuels" sounds as benign as apple pie, corn ethanol – the main biofuel available today – is actually bad for the environment both in the U.S. and abroad, bad for the poor, and bad for the American taxpayer.
Just to be clear, ethanol from cellulosic material is a completely different – and far superior – story from other, advanced biofuels (e.g., cellulosic), but advanced biofuels are not what Senator Klobuchar's talking about here. To the contrary, Senator Klobuchar is using this once-in-a-generation chance for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation, to push through a big agribusiness, corn ethanol boondoggle that will harm the environment, do nothing to reduce U.S. dependence on oil or to help strengthen U.S. national security.
Yes, we want increased production of renewable energy like wind and solar. Yes, biofuels done the right way could be an important part of the U.S. energy mix. But no, Sen. Klobuchar's approach – promoting dirty, old corn ethanol - is simply not the correct approach to the energy and environmental challenges we are facing.
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.
Meanwhile, 100 miles or so south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rep. LoBiondo faced two "Tea Party" candidates - Donna Ward and Linda Biamonte - who also attacked on the cap-and-trade issue. According to Biamonte, cap and trade "is insidious and another tax policy... a funneling of money to Goldman Sachs and Al Gore through derivatives creating a carbon bubble like the housing bubble." You'd think that Republican primary voters in the year of the Tea Party would agree with this line of attack. Yet LoBiondo won with 75% of the vote.
Last but not least in New Jersey, Christopher Smith easily turned back a Tea Party challenger - Alan Bateman - by a more than 2:1 margin. Bateman had argued that "Obama knows he can count on Smith to support the United Nations' agenda to redistribute American wealth to foreign countries through international Cap & Trade agreements and other programs that threaten our sovereignty." Apparently, Republican voters in NJ-4 didn't buy that argument.
Across the country in California's 45th District, Mary Bono-Mack won 71% of the vote over Tea Party candidate Clayton Thibodeau on June 8. This, despite Thibodeau attacking Bono-Mack as "the only Republican west of the Mississippi to vote for Cap and Trade." Thibodeau also called cap and trade "frightening," claiming that government could force you to renovate your home or meet requirements before you purchase a home. Thibodeau's scare tactics on cap-and-trade clearly didn't play in CA-45.
Finally, in Washington's 8th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert has drawn a Tea Party challenger named Ernest Huber, who writes that Cap and Trade "is widely viewed as an attempt at Soviet-style dictatorship using the environmental scam of global warming/climate change... written by the communist Apollo Alliance, which was led by the communist Van Jones, Obama's green jobs czar." We'll see how this argument plays with voters in Washington's 8th Congressional District, but something tells us it's not going to go over any better than in the New Jersey or California primaries.
In sum, it appears that it's quite possible for Republicans to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation and live (politically) to tell about it. The proof is in the primaries.
On June 10th, we all celebrated the defeat of the Murkowski resolution, which would have gutted the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide pollution. Why we needed to defeat Murkowski was explained well by NRDC Action Fund Executive Director, Peter Lehner, who wrote the following prior to the vote:
EPA's proactive lead in greenhouse gas regulation is a critical aspect of the effort to reduce our rampant, destabilizing, and destructive dependence on foreign and offshore oil. While the endangerment finding does not, in itself, prescribe regulations, it provides the legal basis for critical standards: EPA's proposed CAFE efficiency standard for light-duty vehicles is projected to save over 455 million barrels per year, and an anticipated standard for heavy-duty vehicles will save billions more. Stripping EPA of its authority to implement these protections would increase our nation's dependence on oil and send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas. We cannot afford this big step backward, especially as we watch more oil gush into the Gulf each day.
In the end, the Senate didn't take that "big step backward" on June 10th, as the Murkowski resolution failed by a 47-53 vote. Many of us probably figured that was the end of this issue, and that the Senate would now move on to passing comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Washington, DC, it isn't that simple (let alone logical).
Today, clean air and public health are once again under an assault that constitutes, essentially, "Murkowski Part II." The Wall Street Journal reported on June 22:
As U.S. Senate lawmakers attempt to determine the fate of energy legislation, an influential Democrat is boosting efforts to suspend a controversial greenhouse-gas rule passed earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
After introducing a bill to impose a two-year halt on the new EPA rule, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, is now working to round up supporters for his legislation.
It should go without saying that this is completely unacceptable. As we all know, the public was outraged at Senator Murkowski's Big Oil Bailout bill. They understood that this moved the country backward, not forward, and that it was exactly the wrong way to go given the energy and environmental challenges we face. Through all our efforts, our phone calls and emails (and blog posts and tweets, etc.), we helped to kill Murkowski Part I. Now, unfortunately, Sen. Jay Rockefeller is pushing Murkowski Part II, yet there's far less attention being paid to this effort than to the Murkowski's EPA Castration Resolution Part I. People have a lot of other things on their minds, and they thought this fight was over back in June. But, once they find out that this effort is baaaaack, like a monster in a cheesy horror movie, they are not going to respond positively.
Of course, why would the public - which overwhelmingly supports taking action to promote clean energy and deal with climate change - ever respond positively to a proposal aimed at throwing away one of our key tools to cut pollution and protect public health? And why would they respond positively now of all times, as oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, as record heat waves scorch the United States, and as climate science is strengthened every day that goes by? Last but not least, why would they support an effort to protect the corporate polluters and not all of us who are being hurt by that pollution?
The bottom line is simple: instead of wasting its time on legislation that will only move the country backwards - towards dirty energy forever - the Senate should be busy passing a bill that moves the country forward towards a bright future of green energy, clean tech jobs, energy security and climate protection. Once our Senators hear that message loud and clear from all of us, Rockefeller's Murkowski Part II will be rejected by the Senate, just as Murkowski Part I was before it.
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.
Once upon a time, "cap-and-trade" wasn't an object of conservative Republican opprobrium (e.g., as a "big government cap-and-tax scheme that will destroy our economy and end our way of life as we know it"). Actually, once up on a time, "cap-and-trade" was...wait for it...a conservative Republican idea! That's right, let's head to the "way back machine" and briefly review the Political History of Cap and Trade.
John B. Henry was hiking in Maine's Acadia National Park one August in the 1980s when he first heard his friend C. Boyden Gray talk about cleaning up the environment by letting people buy and sell the right to pollute. Gray, a tall, lanky heir to a tobacco fortune, was then working as a lawyer in the Reagan White House, where environmental ideas were only slightly more popular than godless Communism. "I thought he was smoking dope," recalls Henry, a Washington, D.C. entrepreneur. But if the system Gray had in mind now looks like a politically acceptable way to slow climate change-an approach being hotly debated in Congress-you could say that it got its start on the global stage on that hike up Acadia's Cadillac Mountain.
People now call that system "cap-and-trade." But back then the term of art was "emissions trading," though some people called it "morally bankrupt" or even "a license to kill." For a strange alliance of free-market Republicans and renegade environmentalists, it represented a novel approach to cleaning up the world-by working with human nature instead of against it.
Despite powerful resistance, these allies got the system adopted as national law in 1990, to control the power-plant pollutants that cause acid rain. With the help of federal bureaucrats willing to violate the cardinal rule of bureaucracy-by surrendering regulatory power to the marketplace-emissions trading would become one of the most spectacular success stories in the history of the green movement...
In the end, the conservative Republican-inspired "cap-and-trade" system for acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide was put into place by Republican President George HW Bush, who "not only accepted the cap, he overruled his advisers' recommendation of an eight million-ton cut in annual acid rain emissions in favor of the ten million-ton cut advocated by environmentalists." And it worked incredibly well, "cost[ing] utilities just $3 billion annually, not $25 billion... [and] by cutting acid rain in half, it also generates an estimated $122 billion a year in benefits from avoided death and illness, healthier lakes and forests, and improved visibility on the Eastern Seaboard."
In short, good things happened when we harnessed the tremendous power of the market to solve environmental problems. Today, the biggest and most pressing of those problems - identified, once again, by a massive amount of scientific research and evidence over several decades - is not acid rain, but global warming. And the proposed solution, once again, is the conservative, market-based "cap-and-trade" system. Strangely, however, it's conservative, market-based Republicans who have morphed into the loudest and most vociferous opponents of "cap-and-trade," while Democrats have become its biggest proponents.
Even stranger, as Climate Progress points out, many Republicans are now opposing - even "demagoguing" - against an idea they once supported! A short list includes: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who once said she supported cap-and-trade because she believed "it offers the opportunity to reduce carbon, at the least cost to society;" Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who once bragged that voting for "cap-and-trade" in Massachusetts was an "important step ... towards improving our environment;" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who once asserted that cap-and-trade "will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy;" and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who used to believe that we should "set emission standards and let the best technology win." Actually, as Steve Benen at Washington Monthly points out, the McCain-Palin official website in 2008 promised that a McCain administration would "establish...a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
My, how times have changed in less than 2 years.
The point of all this is simple. Cap-and-trade is not some dastardly scheme to destroy the U.S. economy. Cap-and-trade is not radical, either. In fact, cap-and-trade is a tried, true, tested and proven, market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost. It worked with acid rain, far faster and cheaper than anyone predicted. Why would it be any different with carbon dioxide than sulfur dioxide? And why would Republicans oppose their own idea, after watching it produce one of the biggest environmental victories in U.S. history, on the gravest environmental threat facing our country and our planet? Even more, why would Republicans oppose an idea that -- even if you put aside the issue of global warming -- is still imperative - for urgent economic (e.g., sending $400 billion overseas every year to pay for imported oil) and national security (sending that $400 billion to a lot of countries that aren't our friends, are building nuclear weapons programs, etc.) reasons?
It's hard to think of any good reasons, how about some bad ones? Because, in the end, that's about all the cap-and-trade naysayers have left.
Yesterday, President Obama met with Senators at the White House and pushed them to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Still, the skeptics are spinning a monotonous web of negativity regarding what is achievable on this front. And, not surprisingly, the "mainstream media" once again has been asleep at the wheel in setting the record straight. Fortunately, we know that when this President rolls up his sleeves, he gets stuff done and delivers on his promises. One thing’s for sure; President Obama is anything but an underachiever!
Along these lines, President Obama held a press conference following the G-20 summit in Toronto. In response to a reporter’s question regarding how he would achieve his deficit reduction goals, the president responded:
For some reason people keep being surprised when I do what I said I was going to do. So, I say I’m going to reform our [health care system], and people say well gosh that’s not smart politics maybe we should hold off. Or I say we’re going to move forward on [Don’t Ask Don’t Tell] and somehow people say well why are you doing that, I’m not sure that’s good politics. I’m doing it because I said I was going to do it, and I think it’s the right thing to do. And people should learn that lesson about me, because next year when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficit and debt step up cause I’m calling their bluff.
To that list of accomplishments, we could also add:
Creating or saving 2.2-2.8 million jobs, well on the way to Obama’s February 2009 pledge that he would "create or save 3-and-a-half million jobs over the next two years."
Reforming Wall Street (likely to pass Congress any day now)
Overhauling the student loan market
Reaching a nuclear arms treaty with Russia
We could go on and on, but you get the point: anyone who continues, at this point, to be "surprised" when President Obama gets things done when he puts his mind to it is deep in denial. Or, as a previous president might have put it, they are wildly "misunderestimating" our 44th president.
Clearly, as we’ve seen over the past two years, underachieving is not a problem Barack Obama suffers from. Of course, even a superachiever like Barack Obama has an awful lot on his plate to deal with. And right now, one of the most important things on Obama’s plate is figuring out how to push comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation through the U.S. Senate. Along those lines, yesterday, Obama met with a group of Senators on this issue, reportedly holding firm in his call for putting a price on carbon emissions.
The question at this point is, will President Obama roll up his sleeves and deliver on another of his major campaign promise (as well as a major challenge facing our nation)? Given the long list of accomplishments mentioned above, it certainly wouldn’t be smart to bet against him. The fact is, Barack Obama usually succeeds in whatever he puts his mind to.
Given the nation’s increased focus on energy and climate issues – and the increased support by the American people for taking strong action as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster – now is clearly the time for boldness and for bluff calling by our nation’s leaders. Today, President Obama has the opportunity to demonstrate once more that, when he rolls up his sleeves, he accomplishes what he says he’s going to do. In sum, today is clearly the moment for President Obama to prove the doubters and naysayers wrong – to call their bluff - yet again!
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.
Amazingly, despite reports like this one, BP "continues to pretend that - just like an oil spill of this magnitude could never happen - there also could not possibly be a worker health concern." While the potential health hazards posed by chemical dispersants and oil itself are debatable, it is clear that significant risks existed.
Already, we've seen evidence of the impact that spilled oil can have on human health. For starters, an increasing number of workers and residents in Gulf Coast areas have reported "suffering from nausea, vomiting, headaches and difficulty breathing." Considering that oil contains "petroleum hydrocarbons, which are toxic and irritating to the skin and airways", as well as volatile chemicals "which can cause acute health effects such as headaches, dizziness and nausea" it's no surprise that these symptoms are appearing.
So now, with the "60 exposure-related complaints filed with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals", not to mention the "overwhelming evidence that many of the compounds found in crude oil are dangerous," shouldn't BP be protecting the people who are cleaning up this mess? If they aren't doing so, why aren't they?
The bottom line is this: people along the Gulf Coast deserve to know the facts regarding the dangers they are facing and how to protect themselves. It's bad enough that their economic livelihoods are in danger of destruction in part due to BP's greed and recklessness. But if their lungs and other organs are damaged by oil and dispersant particles in the air, more than their economic livelihoods could be damaged.
None of us should ever forget that this disaster was brought on, at least in part, by BP cutting corners to save a few (million) bucks, and by the government's failure to prevent the company from doing so. As a result, the unthinkable has happened. We must learn from those grave mistakes, not repeat them. That means, in the long term, ridding ourselves of our dangerous, destructive addition to oil. But what must happen now - right now - is for BP to stop cutting corners with the health of the people cleaning up the Gulf.
At the minimum, BP must switch its philosophy from "hope for the best" to "do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to make sure people are safe." If BP won't "make it right," as the company's ads like to say, then the government should force BP to do so. In the words of one Venice, LA mother: "I've got the two most beautiful children in the world. If something were to happen to them, how could I look in those baby blues and say, Mommy didn't know?" It's a great question. What's the answer, BP?
As President Obama prepares for his meeting tomorrow with Senators at the White House to discuss clean energy and climate change legislation, he might want to check with the White House staff on an important matter first. No, not the details of the legislation, although that’s important of course. Instead, what President Obama might want to make absolutely sure about is the non-trivial matter of whether the White House air conditioning is in tip-top shape. I say "non-trivial," but these days it’s more like "life or death." How hot is it in the Washington, DC area? As NBC Washington puts it, "We're Talking Spontaneous Combustion." (UPDATE: it's more likely this is apocryphal than literally true, but it sure feels like plants could catch on fire these days in Washington, DC!)
How hot is it? It's so hot that dead plants are spontaneously combusting in Frederick, Md.
Don't believe it? Just ask Frederick County Fire Marshal Marc McNeal, who told the Frederick News-Post that excessive heat caused a dead plant to catch fire Sunday afternoon in a hanging planter on the rear deck of a townhouse.
The hanging basket fell to the deck and burned some vinyl siding, causing about $3,000 in damages.
It has definitely been hot in the Washington region. Monday will be the 10th day in a row that we've reached 90 degrees or higher, and this will be the 17th day of the month that the thermometer has reached 90.
NBC4 meteorologist Tom Kierein said that when it's all said and done, June 2010 likely will be the hottest June on record in the District.
Dead plants catching on fire in the hottest June on record in the Washington, DC area? Sadly, this may not be an aberration, but a frightening sign of things to come in a global warming world. True, we shouldn’t draw broad conclusions about the earth’s climate from one heat wave in one specific geographic area, as certain climate change deniers dishonestly did during last winter’s "snowpocalypse" blizzards. However, when we see month after month, decade after decade of record-setting heat globally, it starts to get a bit hard to ignore.
In fact, climate scientists are not ignoring these heat waves and other phenomena. Earlier today, for instance, The Project on Climate Science reported that the "record-breaking heat wave" we are currently experiencing in the eastern United States "is consistent with climate change." According to Tom Peterson, Chief Scientist for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, "We’re getting a dramatic taste of the kind of weather we are on course to bequeath to our grandchildren." Of course, as The Project on Climate Science points out, "individual heat waves can be driven by a number of factors." However, they conclude, "more frequent heat waves are one of the more visible impacts of climate change already underway in the United States" and "will occur more frequently in the future."
In sum, if you enjoy record-setting warmth – not to mention the stronger storms, mass extinctions and "record sea ice shrinkage" in the Arctic that go along with that warmth – you have a lot to look forward to! If not, then you should contact your Senator and let him or her know you want climate action now.
Come to think of it, perhaps we should all hope for the White House air conditioning to be broken tomorrow – or turned off on purpose - so that the Senators meeting there get a taste of what the planet will feel like everywhere if they don’t do something about it now. When you think about it, a bit of Senatorial sweat and a few stained shirts is not too high a price to pay if it results in long-overdue, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation on the President’s desk sometime this sweltering summer. Is it?
Yesterday’s Democratic Senate caucus meeting – combined with Majority Leader Reid’s push on this issue, combined with President Obama’s leadership, combined with a clear demand by the public for action – has given comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation a major boost as we head towards the 4th of July recess. Clearly, at this point, there’s a better path to 60 votes in the U.S. Senate for comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation than ever before. We are that close to making history, let’s make sure we seize this moment!
Small businesses “are among America’s most popular entities,” with an eye-popping 44:1 favorable to unfavorable ratio (“the highest we have ever seen in our polling on any topic”)
Generating support from small business owners, for either political party, is a key to success in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Small business owners strongly agree “that a move to clean energy will help restart the economy and lead to job creation by small businesses.” In fact, according to Greenburg Quinlan, “One of the most surprising findings of the survey is that despite the fact that nearly two thirds of business owners believe it would increase costs for their businesses, a majority still want to move forward on clean energy and climate policy.”
As if that’s not evidence enough that there’s broad support out there for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation, how about this Benenson Survey Group survey, conducted in late May/early June 2010? The key findings of this poll are:
65% of “likely 2010 voters” believe that “the federal government should invest much more than it currently invests [or] somewhat more than it currently invests .”
63% of “likely 2010 voters” support an energy bill that would “limit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy…in part by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas.”
Among “undecided voters,” “62% support the bill and just 21% oppose.”
There is also strong evidence from this polling that voters – including independent voters by a 2.5:1 margin – are strongly inclined, by around a 2:1 margin, to be “more likely to re-elect” their Senator if he or she voted for a strong, comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill.
In sum, solid majorities of small businesspeople and the public at large both support comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Which is why, once again – as we pointed out yesterday – the “mainstream media” narrative, that voting for limits on carbon pollution is bad politics, is just dead wrong. To the contrary, victory this November could go to the candidates – and the party – that seizes this issue and makes it their own. Ideally, it would be great to see both Republicans and Democrats fighting to be the “greenest” candidate, and not just in terms of how much money they raise.
UPDATE: Add another poll to the list, this one by WSJ-NBC indicating that “Respondents favored comprehensive energy and carbon pollution reduction legislation by 63 percent to 31 percent – a two to one margin.”
As if the oil companies from Texas – and their allies in the corridors of power - hadn’t done enough harm to our country already (for more, see the late, great Gulf of Mexico), now they are at it once again. This time, it’s Valero and Tesoro, pouring money into a campaign this election season to undo California’s landmark, clean energy and climate law, AB 32. On Tuesday, the oil companies’ proposition was certified for the November ballot. The fight, as they say, is on!
Why should you care? Let us count the ways.
First and foremost, whether you’re a Californian or not, this campaign should concern you because if the oil companies succeed here, they will try this everywhere – in other states and at the federal level. Mark our words, that’s exactly what they’re up to here.
Second, let’s be absolutely clear about what this proposition says. As the Stop Dirty Energy website explains, "The Texas oil companies want you to believe it’s simply a "temporary" suspension. However, their deceptive proposition would repeal AB 32 until unemployment reached 5.5% for a full year – a market condition that has only occurred three times in the last 30 years." Which means that this proposition is nothing less than "an effective repeal of [California’s] clean energy and clean air laws." In sum, they want to kill this landmark law. Period. Don’t let their propaganda fool you into believing anything else.
Third, let’s also be clear who these people are and how utterly deceptive they’re willing to be. According to the Stop Dirty Energy Facebook page, oil companies including Valero and Tesoro recently "released yet another study bought, sold, and paid for by polluters on the impacts of AB 32." The study, for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA) by the California Lutheran University's right-wing economics chief," is nothing more than "junk economics paid for by polluters that defies the reality that clean tech is the fastest-growing segment of the California economy." It gets even worse, with the author of a previous, fallacious study by CMTA attacking AB 32 affiliated with the global-warming-denying Heartland Institute, which receives heavy funding from our friends at Exxon Mobil. This institute also enjoys holding conferences to downplay and deny climate science. That’s who we’re dealing with here. That’s who we’re fighting.
Fourth, it’s important to emphasize what’s at stake here. Other than minor matters (ha) like the environment, public health and national security, this is about J-O-B-S. Specifically, the only sector of job growth in California has been in the clean energy technology development sector. For more, watch this video and hear how AB 32=Jobs (and, on the flip side, how killing AB 32 will kill those jobs).
Fifth, this proposition will not just hurt California jobs, it will also hurt Californians’ health and ability to breathe clean air. As the Stop Dirty Energy website points out, this proposition "would create more air pollution in California and threaten public health." Currently, "California’s air pollution crisis contributes to 19,000 premature deaths, 9,400 hospitalizations, and more than 300,000 respiratory illnesses for California families." Just imagine how much worse it will be if the Texas oil companies get their way and gut California’s clean air laws!
Finally, as NRDC wrote in a blog post entitled, "California Crossroads, "The oil companies have chosen California as their battleground to crush the progress the State’s made in moving away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy." NRDC reported from a media event (see photo above) at "Pier 7 on the city’s embarcadero, overlooking the bay that is the largest and most biologically productive estuary on the West Coast" (and also where "the tanker Cosco Buscan ran aground in 2007, spilling more than 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker oil, killing wildlife and providing a harbinger of the great environmental tragedy now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico"). As the NRDC blog post puts it, "We can’t let Texas oil destroy California’s future simply for the purpose of stuffing more cash into their already bulging coffers."
Why does a national organization like NRDC care about a "California issue?" Other than the fact that California is an enormous – and enormously important –state, we care because, clearly, the Texas oil companies are attempting to set a national precedent in California against clean energy and climate action, and we can’t let them do that.
We are convinced that stopping them here, exposing their lies, and deterring others from trying this in the future, is crucial to tackling our largest environmental challenges moving forward. It’s also crucial, we might add, to fight against these well-funded, powerful, corporate polluters attempting to buy our politicians and our Democracy.
As is often the case, the "mainstream" media nowadays is pushing a "conventional wisdom" line that has only one major problem – it’s largely or completely wrong. In this case, the "wisdom" is that voting for limits on carbon pollution is bad politics. The polling indicates it’s far more complicated than that.
For instance, the latest CBS/NY Times poll indicates that nearly 90% of Americans believe U.S. energy policy needs either "fundamental changes’ or "to be completely rebuilt," while 97% of Americans are "angry" or "bothered" by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Those percentages hardly appear to indicate a status quo, "conventional wisdom" electorate on this issue, or an automatic political downside to making fundamental changes in U.S. energy policy.
Perhaps that is why, when you actually look at the 17 Democrats up for reelection this year (Bayh, Bennet, Boxer, Burris, Dodd, Dorgan, Feingold, Gillibrand, Inouye, Leahy, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Reid, Schumer, Specter, Wyden) and subtract out those retiring (Bayh, Burris, Dodd, Dorgan) or defeated in a primary (Specter), you find that the vast majority – all except for Blanche Lincoln - are in favor of climate and energy legislation. Let’s take a look.
Michael Bennet- What could be clearer than this recent quote, "The best way to limit carbon pollution is for Congress to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill." Barbara Boxer- A climate champion by any measure Russ Feingold- Issued a statement declaring, "Climate change is real and we need to address it. By blocking action on climate change, the Murkowski resolution would have stalled our march toward energy independence through more efficient vehicles, alternative fuels and renewable energy, all of which can spur new American jobs." Kirsten Gillibrand - Listed as a definite "yes" on a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill by E&E News Daniel Inouye- Also listed as a definite yes by E&ENews Patrick Leahy- He recently stated, "Let us not be known as the Congress that continued to punt, pass and kick on some of the crucial issues like these, on which the American people are looking for solutions, not procrastination." Barbara Mikulski - Listed as a definite yes on a comprehensive, clean energy and climate bill by E&ENews Patty Murray- Also listed as a definite yes by E&ENews Harry Reid – Has called for "bring[ing] comprehensive clean energy legislation before the full Senate later this summer." Chuck Schumer- Also listed as a definite yes by E&ENews Ron Wyden- Also listed as a definite yes by E&ENews
And let’s not forget these two letters – one on March 19 to Harry Reid and the other on January 26 to President Obama - showing 33 Senators (not even counting John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, who didn’t sign either letter but obviously are champions on this issue, plus most likely others as) clearly calling for climate legislation.
So, why is it that we keep seeing the perception in the "mainstream media" that a vote for comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation is bad politics? Perhaps because of the unfortunate tendency of the "mainstream media" to keep recycling quotes from a few loud Senators -- like Byron Dorgan and Evan Bayh -- who just happen to be exiting the scene altogether for potentially "greener" (and not in the environmental sense!) pastures. For the "mainstream media," recycling their preferred narrative may make a good story (or the story they want to tell, for whatever reason). In politics, however, perception is nine tenths of reality, and in this case the reality is that there is far too much at stake for this country to rely on "conventional" wisdom, especially when the facts – those troublesome things - tell a very different story.
In this context, this past Friday, Greg Sargent of The Plum Line asked an important question regarding clean energy and climate legislation in the U.S. Senate: "Can A bold new crop of Senators save carbon limits?" Sargent’s intriguing thesis was that[,] "[i]f carbon limits have any prayer of surviving in the Senate's energy reform bill, it may turn on the efforts of one group: The energetic freshman and sophomore Senators that are pushing hard to keep carbon limits alive." Sargent pointed to an interview with one of those freshmen, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, in which he argued that "There's a lot of new energy in those two classes, and they recognize that this is the moment."
In short, what Merkley’s saying is that it’s time for Democrats to stop listening so much to the "old guard" of Senators who are retiring. Instead, Merkley makes the case for paying more attention to the Senate freshman (and sophomores), who by definition were elected relatively recently and, therefore – at least theoretically - might have their fingers closer to the pulse of the public than the old timers. In part, the question is whether there could be a "generational" difference going on here. Not "generational" in the chronological sense, in which "younger" Senators are more pro-environment than "older" Senators. But, perhaps, "generational" in the sense of "political age," as in "how long have they been in Washington, DC?"
Given the analysis above, we might want to add "members in cycle" to Merkley’s admonition about listening more to freshmen then to old timers. Because the fact is, the majority of Democrats actually facing the polls this November are in favor of taking action on energy independence, clean energy, and holding corporate polluters accountable. Perhaps this is because they are listening to what the public is clearly demanding, which is fundamental change in U.S. energy policy? And perhaps they are not listening to a "conventional media" narrative which is completely wrong? Regardless of the reason, it appears at the moment – and certainly on this issue - that Democrats would be better served by listening more to the folks facing public opinion, as well as those elected more recently, and less to the ones preparing to depart for "greener" pastures.
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:
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?
Meanwhile, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and his Big Oil buddies continued to block legislation aimed at eliminating the $75 million liability cap on BP for economic damages stemming from the oil disaster that it caused. Apparently, protecting the mega-profits of a giant oil company is priority #1 for Inhofe et al, even as tends of thousands of Gulf Coast residents see their lives and livelihoods crumbling around them. Priorities, priorities, I guess.
Look, I am all for open markets and free enterprise. But, in addition to the chance to make enormous profits, doesn't doing business in a responsible manner also entail owning up to your obligations, not to mention your egregious mistakes? I mean, if I run up a bill on my credit card, I have to pay it. If I walk into a store and start smashing up the merchandise, the "Pottery Barn rule" is highly likely to kick in - "you break it, you buy it." In fact, I would go so far as to call this a basic principle of doing business. In Senator Barton's world, in contrast, the "Pottery Barn rule" only applies to the "small people," not to multibillion-dollar corporations like BP.
In the face of this heart-breaking and rage-inducing catastrophe, we don't need business-as-usual from Big Oil Barton and Company. Instead, we need something bold and transformational. We need comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that will break our addiction to oil, transform our economy, enhance our national security, and guarantee that oil disasters like this one never happen again.
Fortunately, even as a few lawmakers are busy apologizing to BP, others are hard at work trying to put America on a safer, cleaner path. Last week, Democratic senators held a caucus meeting on clean energy and climate legislation, and tomorrow they will hold another one. President Obama's get-together is Thursday. These gatherings are important, as they will help determine the Senate's path forward.
I am hoping that the meetings don't yield anymore ridiculous quotes a la Barton or Bachmann. My fingers will be crossed that after all the lawmakers have had a chance to be heard, they will move beyond rhetoric and lay out their plans for passing comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation this summer. Because action is what we need now from our elected representatives. If they fail to take that action, they will owe us all an apology.
This is a pivotal week in the clean energy debate. The Senate will vote on Murkowski's short-sighted resolution to take away the EPA's authority to regulate pollution. As we head into this critical time, it's not the Inhofe-cloned climate deniers who trouble me - it's the knowing bystanders who are keeping me up at night.
Before I start this rant, let me just state for the record that I still think deniers are about as accurate as my three year old is when she is trying to describe quantum physics at her make-believe tea parties (although they are wholly less adorable). The vast majority of these deniers resist climate legislation because they really don't believe global warming is a problem - yes their heads are in the sand. But for the purposes of the Murkowski resolution, their vote is already lost.
Lately I am even more frustrated with Senators who recognize that climate change is an urgent challenge, but who sit idly by on the sidelines doing nothing. For me, they raise the fundamental question - Who is worse - those that deny the existence of climate change or those that believe in the upcoming catastrophe and continue to lack focus or alarm?
Take Senator Schumer for example. He has stated that he thinks the Senate should confront the impacts of climate change. Yet just this week, when leaders should be pushing hard for climate action, Schumer's support has been tepid at best. On Morning Joe, he showered Senator Bingaman's energy-only bill with praise, then said, "What do you do about climate change? Kerry has a proposal that has pretty broad support...He is going to get a chance to offer that opinion, and we will see if it has the votes."
We are looking for more from our Leaders than a passive wait and see attitude. Senator Schumer is the third ranking Democrat, and that means he needs to do more than wait around to cast a vote. It's time for real leadership, which means rolling up his sleeves and making sure a bill passes. We need him in the trenches. In fairness, the Senator walked himself back a bit after people threw a fit over his Morning Joe ambivalence. He has pledged to meet with Senator Kerry on a path forward but until he demands action and puts him ample political muscle behind that call, I am skeptical.
Exhibit #2 is Senator Rockefeller. As a Senator from West Virginia, he wants the federal government to do a better job of regulating mine safety, especially after the horrifying disaster at the Massey coalmine. I applaud him for that stance, but here is where I get confused. When it comes to global warming--something Rockefeller says, "America must address"--he suddenly gets allergic to federal regulation. He wants the Senate to block the EPA from reducing global warming pollution until Congress gets it's act together. The federal government can and should be involved - today. Just as federal regulation needs to be strengthened to deal with mine safety, we need to let the regulators use the tools on the books begin addressing greenhouse gases.
And finally, the fence sitters continue to be the best example of willful negligence. The Senate is going to consider a resolution this week from Senator Murkowski to put the breaks on EPA's efforts to address greenhouse gases. There is a small group of Senators - like Collins, Snowe, Pryor, Webb, and Scott Brown - who say they want to reduce global warming pollution but may vote for Murkowski's resolution to overturn the EPA's authority to do so. If you think carbon emissions are dangerous, wouldn't you want to use every weapon at your disposal to fight it?
When I see Senators backpedalling, downplaying and side stepping climate action, I want to ask them: what are you waiting for? When is there going to be a better time to transition to clean energy? America is watching the cost of failed energy policies literally washing up on our shores. Our nation is desperately in need of the jobs and economic growth that a clean energy economy can provide. Congress has the most pro-clean energy members we are likely to get for several years.
I think I just answered my own question - which is worse, a climate-denier or a knowledgeable staller.... I vote that someone who fails to act when they know the stakes is much worse.
If you look at any of the 24X7 news shows or even the Today Show, you will see everyone proclaiming that there is an anti-incumbent mood spreading across America. There is good reason to say that as evidenced by the size of Tea Party rallies and even a few of the races last Tuesday. But, my personal opinion is that this is less about an anti-incumbent mood and more about a "pro-change" disposition. Voters are angry about the current state of blame and stall politics. They expect elected officials to keep their promises - and that extends to clean energy and climate legislation.
Even though clean energy and climate issues are rarely at the heart of the anti-incumbency rhetoric, the frustration with all things Beltway could block comprehensive energy legislation this year.
President Obama's leadership is the only force that can change that.
You see, when the electorate turns anti-Washington, Congressmen freeze up. They get scared of taking bold steps and they start saying "no" to everything.
Even on a good day, the odds of passing any bill in Congress--no matter the issue--starts at about 5 percent. Smart gamblers always bet the no vote in Congress.
But being a naysayer becomes even more attractive to politicians when they think their job is at risk. Voting "no" on a big, transformative bill allows them to give the illusion that they are "playing it safe" and to keep the bull's-eye off their back for potential mid-term popularity contests.
"No" may be an easy decision for politicians, but it is the wrong choice for the American people.
We need to say yes to a clean energy and climate bill that will generate nearly 2 million jobs, put our nation at the forefront of one of the biggest markets of the 21st century, end our reliance on oil, and reduce dangerous pollution. Yet so many lawmakers are in a panic over elections that they can't see these benefits.
They need to snap out of it. In a movie, this is the moment when someone would come along and slap the panicking person in the face. In politics, that slap is leadership.
President Obama must take charge of clean energy and climate legislation. The only major bills that pass through Congress are the ones with White House support. We are fortunate that President Obama backs climate action, but given this anti-incumbent mood, we need him not just to support it; we need him to lead it.
What would that look like? We saw it in the heath care debate. President Obama went into campaign mode and stumped on that bill every single day. He called in political chits. He got people in the same room to negotiate. He dragged it over the finish line because he went farther than asking for change. He demanded it.
That is what we need him to do for a clean energy and climate bill. Because let's be frank: either we see some leadership or we call it a day.
If we don't pass the bill this year, we won't get another chance for years. Dave Robert's painted the grim prospects for national climate action given the likely outcomes of future election cycles in his Grist blog this week. It doesn't look good for another eight years - at least.
We need to get America moving right now toward a clean energy future, and we need President Obama to lead the way.
This week, Robert Redford appeared in a television ad for the NRDC that has already been written about in the Washington Post and New York Times. Interestingly, he didn't call on Congress to take clean energy and climate action. He called on President Obama.
The president is the one with the bully pulpit. Tell him to use it on behalf of clean energy and climate solutions. Securing our future depends on it.
One of my first real memories of tragedy was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. My entire school was cheering on teacher Christa McAuliffe, and when the shuttle blew up in midair, I remember standing with my sobbing classmates, trying to make sense of what we had witnessed.
As an adult, I felt a similar connection the day after September 11. In the midst of a national crisis, Congressmen from both parties and both chambers stood on the Capitol stairs and sang "God Bless America." I will never forget that moment and the sense of common cause it inspired in all who heard it.