NRDC Action Fund

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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Time to Turn Off The A/C At the White House?

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?

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Small Business Support for Clean Energy A Key to 2010 Elections?

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!

With all that in mind, a recent national survey by Al Quinlan of Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research has potentially powerful implications for the 2010 elections, providing yet more evidence that climate legislation – despite a fallacious “mainstream media” narrative arguing otherwise – is actually good politics. The key findings are threefold (note: the document talks about strategy for the Democratic Party, but could apply to Republicans as well):

  1. 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”)
  2. Generating support from small business owners, for either political party, is a key to success in the upcoming mid-term elections.
  3. 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.”

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TX Oil Companies Try to Kill CA Clean Energy Legislation

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.”

That’s why we need everyone – not just Californians, but every American who cares about clean energy and our planet’s environment – to join our efforts at stopping this heinous, Texas oil company-funded Dirty Energy Proposition.   Please click here for more information and to join the campaign. Sign up for Stop Dirty Energy Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.  Also, check out the NRDC Action Fund Facebook page, as we will be heavily involved in this campaign.  

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.  

Thank you for your help.

NRDC Action Fund

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MSM Narrative on Energy/Climate Politics Completely Wrong

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.

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