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Clean Energy Advances Despite Washington’s Worst Efforts

11:47 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Tea Party leaders like to paint clean energy and climate action as issues that matter only to elite Democrats living in coastal cities. This claim would come as a surprise to the 38,000 autoworkers building fuel efficient cars in Michigan, the 80 companies involved in the wind supply chain in Iowa, and the more than 100,000 Americans working in the solar industry across the nation.

But even if the Tea Party isn’t interested in genuine opportunities for job growth, it can’t ignore where the latest climate action is coming from: Texas and GOP statesmen.

Both are wellsprings of conservative values, and when Texas residents and Republican elders start talking about clean energy and global warming, it’s time for moderate lawmakers to listen.

As of October 1st, Austin, Texas became the largest city in the nation to rely entirely on renewable energy to power all of its facilities. The city of Houston still purchases a larger amount of renewable energy, but Austin leads the way in meeting all of its energy needs from clean sources. City officials said they pushed for these changes because they wanted to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality for residents.

Governor Perry may still live in Denialville, but the rest of Texas has joined the global community. The state is converting its West Texas wind into power and money, and it now gets 8 percent of electricity from renewable sources.
As Van Jones says: that’s not hippy energy, that’s cowboy energy. And it reflects rangeland values of independence, resourcefulness, and putting a resource to use instead of wasting it.

A growing number of luminaries in the Republican Party share those values. Earlier this week, the National Journal reported on a quiet campaign among elder GOP statesmen to call for climate action.

John Warner, the former Virginia senator and former Secretary of the Navy, is a senior advisor for the Pew Project on National Security, Energy, and Climate Change and he has been speaking at military bases to draw attention to the security threat posed by climate change and oil dependence.

George Shultz, President Reagan’s Secretary of State and an advisor on President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, is also a member of Pew’s climate project. Shultz says Republicans can no longer ignore evidence coming from places like the ice cap in the Arctic. He says people like climate deniers like Perry are “entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to the facts.”

Shultz wields a considerable amount of influence. Last year, when Texas oil companies funded California’s Proposition 23 to defeat the state’s global warming law, Shultz told the National Journal his response was: “We’re not just going to beat these guys, we’re going to beat the hell out of them. We conducted a vigorous campaign. It was a lot of fun.”

And it was wildly successful. Californians defeated Prop 23 by a ratio of 2 to 1. More people voted on Prop 23 than on anything else on the ballot, including the gubernatorial and Senate races, and even counties that backed Republican candidates shot down Prop 23.

Men like Shultz and Warner—along with Former Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), Former Representative Sherry Boehlert (R-NY), and others—share the goal of making our nation strong, secure, and independent. They know the politicization of environmental issues is a recent phenomenon, and they are not afraid to say fighting climate change should be part of the Republican platform.

I admire these leaders; I only wish their campaign wasn’t so quiet. I want to see them on Meet the Press and Face the Nation. If they make their voices louder, they will help create the political space for Republican candidates to start confirming climate science and advocating climate action.

Right now, the Tea Party has the megaphone. People like Rick Perry are yelling that climate change doesn’t exist and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is shouting that Congress must dismantle the Clean Air Act and rob the EPA of its authority to set limits on carbon pollution. This would upend a law signed by President Nixon signed and strengthened by President George H.W. Bush. It would also endanger the health of millions of Americans.

This overheated rhetoric is pushing our nation into a more disrupted and more dangerous climate. We have to bring it back from the brink. I remember back in the 1980s, my mom watched infomercials in which Susan Powter would shout: Stop the Insanity.

Cities like Austin, Texas, and leaders like George Shultz and John Warner are adding much needed sanity to the climate debate. They remind us that protecting our nation from climate change and putting Americans to work in the clean energy sector are not elite, partisan issues. They are the building blocks of the 21st century.

How Obama Can Keep Latino Voters: Focus on Health and the Environment

10:47 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

President Obama spent most of the week in California, the state known as the electoral ATM. It was a smart way to close out the third quarter of the fund raising cycle. But even as the checks roll in, campaign watchers are assessing which candidates have energized which segments of the electoral map.

Judging from current numbers, Obama is developing a bit of a Latino problem.

A recent Gallup poll found that his approval ratings have fallen to 48 percent among Latino voters—the lowest since he became president. In 2008, Obama carried 57 percent of the Latino vote. Today, 48 percent say they would give him a second term. In New Mexico, his numbers 69 percent in 2008 to 58 percent right now.

There are several likely reasons for this drop. With the economy still faltering, unemployment rates among Latinos hover above 11 percent, two points higher than the rest of the nation. Meanwhile, Obama has yet to advance the comprehensive immigration reform he spoke about in the 2008 campaign.

This is not a voting block any candidate wants to trifle with. Roughly 22 million Hispanics are projected to be eligible to vote in 2012. Seventy-five percent of the Latino population is concentrated in eight states, where their numbers reach or exceed 1 million: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, and Colorado.

Latino voters could decide several Congressional races in 2012, and maybe even the president if it gets close enough.

That’s why it is so critical for Obama to mobilize this base of support. Despite the dip in Obama’s approval ratings among Latinos, many will probably vote for Obama anyway. The question is: will they come out in big enough numbers to make a difference in battleground states.

If Obama really wants to reenergize these voters and get them to the polls, he needs to stand strong on something Latinos care deeply about: public health and the environment.

These are issues that cut close to home for many. Sixty-five percent of Latinos in the United States live in areas where the air is too polluted to meet federal public health standards. Fifteen percent live within 10 miles of a coal-fired power plant, one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the nation. Breathing air in these regions can lead to increased asthma attacks, bronchitis, cardiac disease, and cancer.

Most Latino voters view strong environmental safeguards and cleaner, more sustainable solutions as ways to protect their families. They will vote for leaders who fight for policies that bring safer air and cleaner water.

A poll of Latino voters across five western states found that 83 percent reject the false choice between protecting land, air, and water and having a good economy. The National Latino Coalition on Climate Change found that a majority of Latino respondents equated switching to clean energy with building a good economy.

Obama can win impassioned Latino support if he makes environment and public health a more central part of his platform. Many Latino leaders were deeply distressed when Obama abandoned stronger smog standards earlier this month. If he sides with polluters one too many times, he will fail to mobilize these critical voters.

But if he allows the EPA to continue releasing strong public health standards and if he keeps threatening to veto the dirty bills coming out of Congress, he can find common cause with the fastest growing population in the country.

There Has Never Been a More Important Election to Get Active

2:21 pm in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Originally posted on The MarkUp.

Recently, the Wonk Room identified six Senate races and eight House races in which supporters of climate action are pitted against candidates who deny that climate change exists.

One candidate, Allen West in Florida, asked “Al Gore to apologize to God,” while another, David Harmer in California, said “Global warming is more a religion than a science.” Such candidates simply ignore the science, and the consensus reports from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. They have nothing credible to respond to the logic of climate science – we’ve known for more than a century that carbon dioxide traps heat – or its scientific conclusions – no natural phenomena can explain the average temperatures of recent decades. They don’t counter the science; they simply reject it.

The statements of these candidates make it clear this midterm election isn’t about Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about reality versus fantasy. It’s about real policy solutions versus angry diatribes.

And it’s the reason why this is one of the most important elections you can get active in. You thought the 2008 presidential election was big, and it was. But right now, we are fighting a battle to maintain straight-forward, reality-based lawmaking in Congress.

If this were just the same old two-party brawl, we could still make progress on clean energy solutions. There are plenty of Republican incumbents who (when pressed), will say they know America has to confront climate change (and even more will say so privately). There are also Republican lawmakers who act like statesmen — leaders who engage in civil dialogue and make meaningful compromises.

But the Tea Party has yanked the GOP to the right, and all GOP candidates for the Senate now say climate change is not a threat worth acting on or that it doesn’t even exist. Statements that should be viewed as loony are being portrayed as mainstream. We are facing the biggest environmental challenge of the century, and China is eating our lunch in the clean energy market, but GOP leaders are sticking with the old and the dirty.

They profess to hate cap and trade, despite the fact that it is a conservative, market-based idea that was first signed into law by President Bush in 1990 to curb acid rain, after being passed in the House by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority of 401-25 and in the Senate, 89-10. But hey, who cares about historical facts if they get in the way of campaign rhetoric?

I know we are in an anti-government year. I get it. But, at the end of the day, we cannot allow gross misrepresentations and disavowals of scientific data to rule the day. We have to fight back. Tea Party candidates operate on instinct not information, and it’s up to us to set the record straight. Speak up at campaign events. Write letters to the editor. Email articles like this one that explain that rather than burdening homeowners with a so-called energy tax, the program to reduce global warming pollution from Northeastern power plants has SAVED consumers $900 million on their energy bills.

And don’t be shy about talking to your neighbors. I was at a neighborhood party recently when a man started spouting crazy notions about taxes and the Constitution. I finally had to say, “Excuse me, but you are speaking falsehoods. It’s okay to have your own opinions, but please don’t represent them as facts.”

This is where we are right now. We have to pull out our mommy voices and say it’s time for everybody to do their homework.

That includes the media. Write a letter every time they talk about groups like Americans for Prosperity and fail to report that it is not a grassroots movement but is actually funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and other oil industry interests.

Maybe in the past you would have rolled your eyes at these kinds of misrepresentations. But now isn’t the time to be privately distressed. Now is the time to be publicly engaged.

I assure you: if you think it is bad for climate science and clean energy solutions now, you have to realize that it will only get worse if we don’t fight back.