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Will the True Extremist Please Stand Up?

11:23 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

It can’t be easy being a climate denier this summer. Record-breaking heat waves, freak storms, enormous fires, and the worst drought in 50 years are making it harder to ignore the reality of climate change.

Dark clouds of a Derecho

Derecho Wind Storm (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr)

Many meteorologists, network news shows, and public health officials are speaking candidly about the connection between extreme weather and climate change. These conversations confirm what so many of us can see with our own eyes: We just have to look outside or turn on the Weather Channel to see what global warming is doing to our communities.

And yet some candidates persist in denying the facts in front of them, even while their own states bear the brunt of climate change. Sticking your head in the sand is never a good position for a leader to assume, but it becomes downright irresponsible when people all around you are struggling.

Take New Mexico, for example. In the senate race, Former Representative Heather Wilson paints her opponent, Representative Martin Heinrich, as an environmental extremist because he wants to address climate change. Wilson, meanwhile, has rejected the idea that human activity is causing global warming.

Wilson likes to position herself as a moderate, but ignoring one of the biggest threats to your state’s economy and well-being is not a sign of moderation; it is a sign of recklessness—especially when your state is as vulnerable to climate change as New Mexico.

In May, Governor Susana Martinez declared the entire state was in a drought. “Fire danger is high, water reservoirs run low and in some cases, we’ve seen towns like Las Vegas take dramatic steps to reduce basic water consumption in their residents’ homes and businesses,” the governor said.

Read the rest of this entry →

Huntsman Flirts with Climate Craziness, then Returns to Scientific Reality

2:03 pm in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Former Governor Jon Huntsman is suffering from a case of always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride syndrome. He has watched as nearly every other GOP presidential candidate has taken a spin with frontrunner Mitt Romney.

First Tea Party darlings Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry had their chance to dance around the floor. Then Herman Cain was delivered into the spotlight with his economics-by-mnemonics plan. Now Newt Gingrich has stepped in for his match with Romney.

All the while, Huntsman has remained a wallflower. The man without an expense account at Tiffany’s or extramarital skeletons in his closet can’t get any love.
Maybe that’s why he tried flirting with the Tea Party crowd this week.

For months, Huntsman has been the voice of reason in a chorus of denial. Back in August, he famously tweeted: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

But in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, Huntsman started to hedge. When asked if he thought climate change was caused by human activity. He replied: “I don’t know — I’m not a scientist, nor am I a physicist. But I would defer to science in that discussion. And I would say that the scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description or explanation about what might lie beneath all of this. But there’s not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies in terms of addressing it overall.”

The reaction was instant: the blogosphere lit up with reports of this apparent reversal on an issue that has become a conservative litmus test. The next day, Huntsman was out trying to set the record straight.

“Let me be very clear on this,” he said. “There is no change. I put my faith and trust in science. So you have 99 of 100 climate scientists who have come out and talked about climate change in certain terms, what is responsible for it. I tend to say this is a discussion that should not be in the political lane but should be in the scientific lane.”

Either Huntsman’s words were genuinely taken out of context or the response to those words made him realize he has more to lose than gain by toying with the Tea Party.

Huntsman knows the White House will be won with the help of independent voters, not the radical fringe. In August, Huntsman called Governor’s Perry’s climate denial a “serious problem” for the GOP. He told ABC news in August: “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.”

Huntsman has built his brand on this reasoned approach. He is the experienced businessman, governor, and ambassador who projects an air of calm, assured leadership. The trouble is so does Romney, and in a race for the White House, you only need one business leader with moderate leanings. Romney staked out this ground first, and Huntsman will have a hard time pushing him aside.

With Huntsman standing in Romney’s shadow, the public hasn’t gotten a chance to learn as much about him as I would like. He hasn’t been put to the scrutiny that the other rivals for Romney’s spot have been given, and I think that’s shame.

I would like to find more about the single GOP candidate who respects climate science, for on this issue, Huntsman actually represents a majority of independent and Republican voters.

A recent Pew poll found that 63 percent of independent voters agree there is solid evidence of rising temperatures. And more than six-in-ten moderate and liberal Republicans say there is solid evidence of global warming, up from 41 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 65 percent of all Americans agree that climate change is a very serious problem facing the nation.

Huntsman seems to understand this, and that’s why I hope he gets his chance to be a GOP bride.

Hot Romney, Cold Romney

8:15 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Last Friday, Former Governor Mitt Romney confirmed once again that his political convictions are as variable as the weather. His positions on health care and collective bargaining have been blowing in the wind for some time. Now his stance on climate change has melted away.

Speaking in Pittsburgh, he told the crowd: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Only months ago, Romney said: “I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that…And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and global warming that you’re seeing.”

Climate denials are a dime a dozen in this year’s GOP race, but in the past, Romney has recognized the threat of global warming. But the past is rarely a prologue for Romney. Romney acknowledged climate change when he wanted to appeal to moderate voters, and he rejected it when he wanted to curry favor with the Tea Party.

These ever-changing positions could do some long-term damage to public health and the environment. It looks like the Mitt Romney who is trying to survive the GOP primary season is working against the Mitt Romney who could actually win the general election.

The next occupant of the White House will be decided by the voters in the middle, not the ones on either extreme. Most of them know climate change is real. A Reuters/Ipsos poll done in September found that the amount of Americans who believe the Earth is warming rose to 83 percent from last year’s 75 percent. More than 70 percent of them believe think the warming is caused partly or mostly by humans.

Then Romney found himself in a race shaped by Tea Party extremism. Governor Rick Perry is a full-throated climate denier. His state is in the grip of the worst drought in nearly 100 years that together with the wildfires has costs Texas $5.2 billion in agricultural losses. But still Perry won’t cry uncle. He refuses to acknowledge the climate change happening all around him.

Rather than providing a counterweight to Perry, Romney decided to join him in Denialville. As wacky as Perry’s climate stance is, I think he actually believes it. Romney should know better. It’s hard to imagine he’s acting out of misguided conviction; this smacks of pandering.

Romney chose a funny week to walk back his stance on climate. Just days before, one of the staunchest climate skeptics publicly reversed his position in the Wall Street Journal. Physicist Richard Muller released a study—funded in part by the polluting Koch Brothers—saying that temperature data confirms the Earth is warming.

We already knew this. The National Academy of Science among others said in 2010: “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risk.”

Romney risks leaving the crowd behind. His experiments with extremism are making it hard for moderates to buy into the whole reason he is the front runner and not the Tea Party crasher. In the past when Romney’s flip-flopped, he’s just rejected his own policy positions; this time he’s rejecting a scientific consensus.

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.

Should Candidates Who Don’t Believe in Science Be Disqualified from Serving as President?

11:28 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

"e=mc2" by chopchop81 on flickr

"e=mc2" by chopchop81 on flickr

As the GOP candidates jockey their way toward the presidential nomination, they continue to create new litmus tests for what makes a worthy pick. The top contenders have to loathe government. They have to hate health care reform. And most deny the reality of climate change.

Most of these benchmarks have their roots in ideological battles but that last one is different. It requires candidates to forgo reality as they disavow scientific evidence.

I wonder how they choose which science to accept and which to ignore. Is it alright to acknowledge that gravity exists and cigarettes cause cancer, but not okay to concede that man made climate change is making the Arctic is melt and extreme weather events are becoming the norm? When do you cross the line? When does the crazy start? Most importantly, should ignoring science disqualify you from being president?

Having a president who willfully disregards the scientific evidence of a looming threat is not in our national interest, to put it mildly. I don’t think President Reagan would have gotten elected if he’d said he didn’t trust the data showing the Soviet Union had an enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons. We don’t need leaders who close their eyes to the facts.

But in this race, it’s not about the facts; it’s about speaking to the Tea Party crowd. Read the rest of this entry →

Republicans for Science!

7:30 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Friday’s Washington Post features a very important op-ed by NRDC Action Fund board member and former House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who represented New York’s 24th congressional district for over two decades before retiring in 2007. Surveying the incoming class of Republicans, Boehlert worries that a stance of global warming denial has become all but synonymous with his party’s identity. He issues a resonant plea for a change of course:

I call on my fellow Republicans to open their minds to rethinking what has largely become our party’s line: denying that climate change and global warming are occurring and that they are largely due to human activities.

The GOP needn’t stake its reputation on climate denial, Boehlert argues. It’s perfectly possible to be a Republican who doesn’t support certain policy suggestions, but who still accepts that greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change. That is, disagreeing about climate policy is one thing, but rejecting climate science, despite overwhelming evidence, is something else:

I can understand arguments over proposed policy approaches to climate change. I served in Congress for 24 years. I know these are legitimate areas for debate. What I find incomprehensible is the dogged determination by some to discredit distinguished scientists and their findings.

Boehlert took climate science, and climate scientists, very seriously. He called them to testify, listened to what they had to say, worked to understand the nuances and uncertainties of the various issues.

But there are widespread fears that in the next Congress, we’ll see a very different approach: attempts to assassinate the character of climate researchers, rather than calling upon them to provide useful information to aid in policymaking. Boehlert warns against this scandal-mongering tack:

The new Congress should have a policy debate to address facts rather than a debate featuring unsubstantiated attacks on science. We shouldn’t stand by while the reputations of scientists are dragged through the mud in order to win a political argument.

In these intensely partisan times, Boehlert’s voice is a rare but essential one. He helps underscore the fact that there are still many Republicans who want to have science and reason lead the way when it comes to dealing with our entwined climate and energy problems. Clean energy isn’t a partisan issue. And when it comes to the reality of climate change, we can’t afford to distort the debate with false information.

There’s a better way—and Boehlert outlines it. Let’s hope his Op-ed is widely read during this time of congressional transition.

A Dirty Pledge

12:31 pm in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Originally posted on The MarkUp.

On Thursday, House Republicans issued their roadmap for the midterm elections and the next legislative session. It’s called the "Pledge to America," but on energy issues, it sounds more like a pledge that makes powerful promises to the oil and gas industry.

The document says, "We will fight to increase access to domestic energy sources and oppose attempts to impose a national ‘cap and trade’ energy tax."

That’s it. That’s all the platform says about America’s failed energy policy and the crisis of global warming.

I could understand if the GOP was pushing for a different energy and climate policy than this administration. I could understand if they wanted to try a new mechanism for reducing carbon emissions — despite the fact that cap and trade is a market-based model first signed into law by a Republican president and GOP majority vote. I could understand if they wanted to try other ways to reduce our dependence on oil or to make the U.S. more energy efficient.

But I cannot understand the complete failure to address one of the biggest environmental, public health and national security risks of our time. I know some Tea Party and GOP candidates deny the existence of climate change, but that doesn’t make the problem go away. We should have learned that from previous generations of deniers who wanted us to do nothing about leaded gasoline, or about smog or about acid rain. We didn’t make progress until we ignored the deniers and got to work.

How is burying your head in the sand a visionary pledge to Americans?

I shouldn’t be surprised by this failure of leadership. After all, this party platform was literally written by a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. Author Brain Wild was a Hill staffer and assistant legislative director for Vice President Cheney. Then, he went to work for a lobby shop that had a $1.3 million contract with Exxon Mobil, $800,000 from Anadarko Petroleum, $740,000 from AIG and $625,000 from Pfizer.

As Sam Stein reports, those associations may win favor in GOP circles, but you can’t escape the conflicts of interest they raise.

We’ve tried this before. We spent the past decade letting the polluters call the shots, and it didn’t end up too well: the BP oil spill.

If someone drives a car off the road, you don’t give them the keys again.

Still, there is something a little desperate about the way GOP leaders are trumpeting their supposed agenda. These people are likely to be replaced by more extreme Tea Party favorites and so they’re trying to echo the Tea Party agenda to stave off their own demise.

Come November, my guess is that Representative Boehner and his colleagues will be so tied up with the civil war within the Republican Party; they won’t have much time for doling out giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.

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.

Castle’s Defeat Should Be A Wake Up Call

8:52 pm in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

I’ll admit it. Although anyone who reads my bio knows that I have worked for Democrats, I was upset when Mike Castle, a Republican, lost last night in the Delaware primary. I may not have agreed with Castle on everything but he was a representative that was always open to listening, including on issues related to clean energy and climate change. It is a real shame and a loss for civility in politics.

Today is a new day and I personally think it is time that we all wake up.

The Tea Party has been successful throughout the primary season. Their candidates have come from behind and taken out what I would have previously described as ultra conservative incumbents, with what can only be described as radical right-wing rhetoric. Recently defeated Senator, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) received a cumulative 90% rating from the conservative, pro BIG business U.S Chamber of Commerce. Robert Bennet (R-UT), who lost to Tea Party son Michael Lee, had a 97%. By comparison, the Tea Party’s beloved Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) only received an 83%. As someone who loves politics, I am mesmerized by this entire Tea Party exercise, but as someone who supports progressive policies and good government that serves the people, I am nervous.

If they can beat Castle in Delaware, Murkowski in Alaska, Bennet in Utah, to name a few, can they take over the Republican Party – and if that happens – could they take over Congress?

A takeover by the Tea Party would be devastating to environmental policies. The Tea Party would have caveman climate denying down to a science, if they actually believed in science. They claim that legislation addressing global warming is akin to raising taxes. But, the facts just don’t back them up – and they completely fail to consider the costs of inaction.

The Tea Party is screaming about jobs lost to other countries when their unresearched positions on clean energy legislation have actually hurt our economy. In fact, yesterday, the Small Business Majority, Main Street Alliance, and the American Businesses for Clean Energy released a report showing nearly two million jobs have been lost because of Senate inaction on a climate bill. The same report noted that China "gained more than $11 billion in job creating clean energy investments in the two months since the U.S. Senate abandoned climate legislation." The bottom line is that the Tea Party doesn’t have any idea what they are talking about when it comes to clean energy – but unfortunately, that doesn’t keep them from talking.

And they have lots of environmental champs on both sides of the aisle running for cover. A recent Wonk Room survey found that of the Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, all but one (who got beat last night) dispute the scientific consensus that the U.S. must act to fight global warming pollutions. Just two short years ago, Republicans starting to use climate change as a rallying cry to bring more people into what was going to be the "big tent" of the Republican Party. What a difference a couple of years can make.

I get that folks are disappointed that Congress has failed to enact some progressive policies, like climate legislation. Last night, that all changed for me. If you think things can’t get worse, try picturing Christine O’Donnell as a Senator with Jim DeMint as the Leader of the Senate.

Time to get energized. If you support environmental policies, the Tea Party must be defeated.

Why didn’t anyone tell me that Sen. Murkowski was a climate champion?

7:52 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Tuesday’s Republican primary in Alaska may still be undecided, (currently incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski trails her tea-party challenger Joe Miller by approximately 2,000 votes) but that hasn’t stopped anti-environment pundits from speculating that if Murkowski loses, it will be because of her support for climate legislation. Now I follow the climate debate pretty closely, (even if it wasn’t my job, as a political junkie I’d follow it nonetheless) and I just don’t remember Murkowski being a climate champion. That isn’t to say she’s another James Inhofe in the Senate, but being open to negotiations on climate legislation does not make her the zealous supporter her opponent portrays her to be.

Fact is that Lisa Murkowski is far from an environmental champ. The League of Conservative Voters(LCV) gives her an 18% career rating, meaning that she votes the right way on less than one out of five environmental issues. And, more recently, she gave us environmentalists heartburn by leading an assault on the Clean Air Act – only one of the most successful environmental laws of all time.

Murkowski’s effort to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific finding that global warming threatens our health and welfare was bad, but at least she was polite enough to claim her attack “has nothing to do with the science of global warming.” That’s a far cry from her opponent, Joe Miller, whose campaign website says that “The science supporting manmade climate change is inconclusive.” The last thing that Alaska needs is a climate denier representing it in the Senate. Even the late Ted Stevens, never an environmental champ himself, recognized that “Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world.”

To say this primary suggests that climate change is a political non-starter in Alaska shows a selective memory. Just two short years ago, Alaska elected a real climate champ, Mark Begich, to the Senate. Climate change was a top issue during Begich’s campaign, when he called for an 80% reduction in carbon pollution by 2050 and adaption strategies to help Alaska deal with the effect of climate change. Since coming to the Senate, he has continued to work to advance clean energy and climate solutions, earning an 82% rating from LCV in his first year. Last August, he introduced a package of seven bills aimed to help Alaska prepare for the changes and challenges created by a warming planet. And, in June, he voted against Murkowski’s Clean Air Act attack.

This is just another case of anti-environment pundits not letting the facts get in the way of propagating their backward agenda. I’m interested to see how they’ll change their tune if the absentee ballots put Murkowski in the lead. If she wins in the end, I wonder if they’ll claim her victory was due to her steadfast support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Or maybe it’ll be her support for offshore drilling?

The only thing I know is if she wins, they won’t be crediting her position on climate.