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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.

Show Up and Speak Up for Climate Change Legislation

10:59 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

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.

Lessons from the “Enlightened Eight”: Republicans Can Vote Pro-Environment and Not Get “Tea Partied”

9:16 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

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.

Five Reasons Clean Energy Trumps Tea Party Slogans

10:13 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

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

Change shouldn’t be this hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama or Bust: We Need Leadership from the Top

11:15 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

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.

Next Up: A Climate Bill

11:58 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Woo-hoo. The healthcare bill is done. People will see many of the provisions go into place immediately and then they can decide how they feel about these reforms based on reality instead of frenzied, uninformed rhetoric. Let’s just take a moment to recognize this historic occasion.

Unfortunately, just when we see Congress starting to pass bills promised during the last election, we get an unwelcomed glimpse of some of the ugliest parts of politics. It disgusts and frightens me that not only were Members of Congress spat upon as they walked to the Capitol, but lunatics threatened to kill the family members of our elected officials. I am disheartened by the actions of my fellow Americans in the last week but I am not without hope because despite all of these threats, they made real progress and that is something to celebrate.

Healthcare Reforms’ passage also clears the way for the Senate to take up climate and they are thankfully wasting no time. According to E&E senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is inserting himself into the energy and climate debate with a series of meetings [on Tuesday and Wednesday] with key players engaged in the closed-door negotiations."

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is also doubling down on climate saying, "In the wake of health care’s passage, we have a strong case to make that this can be the next breakthrough legislative fight. Climate legislation is the single best opportunity we have to create jobs, reduce pollution and stop sending billions overseas for foreign oil from countries that would do us harm."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the undecideds are starting to vocally call for Congress to consider a bill. Earlier this week, Senator Tom Udall lead a group of 22 moderate Senators in calling on Senator Majority Leader Reid to bring up comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation for a vote. The letter is especially significant because most of these folks hadn’t been saying much about climate legislation before. And if those in the middle remained silent, that would have deadened any momentum. But they didn’t.

Although none of this guarantees that we will get a bill and it certainly doesn’t guarantee that any bill that moves will be strong enough to address the problems, it represents significant progress. Members of Congress have had a hard week so I hope that they go home over the Easter recess and take a few days to recuperate. When they get back, there is much to do and a lot of momentum to build upon.

Heather Taylor-Miesle is the director of the NRDC Action Fund. Become a fan on Facebook or Twitter.