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Another Romney Flip Flop: More Pollution From Cars and Trucks

12:33 pm in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Another day, another flip flop. At Sunday’s Mike Huckabee-hosted presidential forum, Republican candidate Mitt Romney offered up yet another flip flop, this time on reducing global warming pollution from cars and trucks. He said that he would “get the EPA out of its effort to manage carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles and trucks.”

Back in 2004, then Governor Romney signed Massachusetts up to copy California in implementing carbon emissions standards for light duty vehicles. The car companies pretty much hated that because it created a dreaded “patchwork,” in which the standard would apply in about half of the states but not in the rest.

Luckily, the Obama administration stepped in. The President brokered a deal to come up with a single national standard to reduce carbon pollution, which the car companies, the states, unions, EPA, and environmental groups like NRDC could all agree on. He made it happen primarily through a rule issued by EPA, which reduces pollution, saves consumers money, and reduces confusion for industry. That program was so successful that last month, EPA proposed to extend and strengthen the program through 2025.

Back to Romney. Of course, no one likes a flip-flopper. But the truth is, sometimes it makes sense to change your mind. You get new information, like former climate-skeptic Richard Muller who came to his senses and realized the globe really is warming up. That’s what makes Romney’s latest flip flop so infuriating. Almost every bit of new information we have shows that the need to reduce global warming pollution is greater than ever and the dangers are worse than we previously thought.

And the rules that Romney once supported, but now decries, provide tremendous benefits. The new set of rules would save over 4 billion barrels of oil. Owners of new efficient vehicles would save up to $4,400 over the life of the vehicle. Since he doesn’t seem to have any problem with changing his positions, can we humbly suggest that the Governor just go ahead and switch back to the position that is good for industry, good for consumers and good for the planet?

President Obama’s Decision on Ozone: Bad Policy and Bad Politics

8:39 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

I’ll admit it. I was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008. I liked then-Senator Obama’s passion but I was comforted by Clinton’s experience in what I felt was a tumultuous time. After Obama became the victor from the primaries, I enthusiastically got on board.

Now, I feel like sucker.

Last Friday, President Obama forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set aside a measure to reduce smog. If you breathe, this should be a big deal for you. The new smog rule would have prevented up to 12,000 premature deaths, 5,300 heart attacks and tens of thousands of cases of asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses each year.

This is a decision that was solely in the President’s court. He ignored the EPA and the recommendation of the agency’s outside science advisors to side with polluting industries.

Why is the President now siding with polluters? He has taken strong environmental stands in the past. We saw the President push what was effectively the largest clean energy legislation ever passed as part of the initial stimulus bill. We stood with him as he pushed the climate bill in that first year. More recently, we saw the White House put us a road to reducing carbon pollution by making our cars cleaner.

But a number of recent moves are going in the opposite direction. The White House gave tentative approval to offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The Administration continues to move forward on steps to approve the Keystone pipeline. And now it is backing away from smog rules.

Why? The White House claims clean air protections would be too expensive. But this is a farce. Letting the polluters off the hook won’t save lives, won’t create jobs and won’t fuel innovation. It will, however, endanger the health and lives of children and seniors.

In fact, as NRDC’s Frances Beinecke said late last week, “clean air investments yield enormous returns. The smog standards would generate $37 billion in value for a cost of about $20 billion by 2020. Taken together, Clean Air Act standards generated approximately $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits in 2010 alone for a cost of $50 billion. That’s a value worth more than 9 percent of GDP for a cost of only .4 percent of GDP. The ratio of benefits to costs is more than 26 to 1.”

Why the White House is running away from this story is beyond me. This shouldn’t be about the economy because these safeguards will create jobs. And this retreat certainly isn’t going to get him any votes. In a June poll of likely voters commissioned by the American Lung Association found that 75 percent supported the EPA’s effort to set stronger smog standards and 66 percent believed that EPA scientists– not Congress — should establish clean air standards. Is he is hoping to attract a few votes from right? Unlikely if you consider that only 24 percent of moderate Republicans and 7 percent of conservative Republicans think he is doing a good job according to the the most recent Gallup polling.

Color me confused. The only thing that makes sense is that the White House made a political calculation that it couldn’t win the message war against the Tea Party. The Tea Party has made “regulation” a dirty word when in fact regulations help keep us safe.

Environmental and public health regulations are what keep that industrial mill from dumping its toxic chemicals in the lake you fish in each summer. Regulations have been cleaning our air for decades.Regulations on buildings ensure that your home and office be built to withstand foreseeable natural disasters. Long gone are the days when machinery regularly maimed employees thanks to labor regulations. And a lack of regulations can lead to disaster – just look at the Wall Street crash and the part that lax regulations played in that disaster. The word “regulation” is really a synonym for “public safeguard.” When did that become a bad thing?

President Obama should reconsider this misguided move and redouble his efforts to protect clean air. He is going to have many opportunities in the coming days to right this wrong. The House will be voting as early this month to try to overturn the clean air standards the White House has moved forward with. But if we don’t weigh in, the Tea Party will set the agenda of this White House.

Where is the hope and change that we were promised in 2008? I suspect that a lot of people who walked precincts and stood in long lines to cast a vote for the President Obama in the last Presidential election are asking themselves the same question.

Cantor’s Plan Won’t Create Jobs but Will Endanger Health

11:18 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

As we head into the fall political season, lawmakers and candidates of all stripes will be talking about the public’s primary concern – jobs. But just because some lawmakers will be using the word “jobs” a lot doesn’t mean they actually have a plan for creating them.

Take House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). On Monday, he sent a memo to his GOP colleagues about what he called his “jobs agenda.” But the memo wasn’t really about jobs, it was a list of regulations the Tea Party types have been targeting all year. Eight of the eleven listed were environmental safeguards.

In Cantor’s alternate universe, it’s not the global financial crisis that is slowing job growth. It is the Environmental Protection Agency. Sure, the agency has been around for 40 years, during which the economy has expanded significantly.

Nonetheless, Cantor still believes the solution for unemployment is to stop asking polluters to clean up their garbage. Why, 40 years after the Clean Air Act was signed into law by President Nixon, have environmental safeguards become the economic bogeyman all of a sudden? For the same reason the Tea Party hammered on about the debt ceiling for months. And for the same reason every GOP candidate expends a lot of hot air denying climate change.

They don’t know how to solve the big problem voters care most about: job creation. They don’t know how to get Americans back to work. It’s much easier to talk about hot-button issues that get the radical parts of the base riled up: Government overreach! Towering deficit! A false climate conspiracy! If the base gets really incensed, they might not realize that the Emperor has no jobs.

I get it. Governing is hard work, and climbing out of a global recession is even harder. But we can’t abide the sideshow tactics when so many Americans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. And we especially can’t do it when the so-called plan will actually endanger the health of American families.

All this grandstanding rhetoric about “job-destroying” regulations obscures two terribly important truths. First, environmental and public health protections save people’s lives. The updated safeguard for mercury Cantor was complaining about would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 asthma attacks among children each year. The smog standard he cited could save up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year.

Second, cleaning up our air and producing greener energy actually can create jobs. According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, more than 2.7 million Americans work in the clean economy. That includes people who stop raw sewage from going into our beaches, install scrubbers in power plant smokestacks, and generate clean energy.

Those numbers will only grow. Jobs in the wind and solar sectors have grown by 10 to 18 percent every year for the past eight years, even during the recession, according to Brookings.

The lithium battery industry is also expanding like crazy. These batteries power your smart phone, but they also make hybrids and electric cars go farther. According to New York Times article. American companies produced less than 2 percent of the global market for advanced batteries in 2009. By 2015, 40 percent of the world’s supply could be made in America. I went to Michigan during my summer vacation, and I saw what the newspaper described: abandoned factories every five miles. But the lithium battery industry is providing an alternative to Rust Belt blight. It’s putting Americans to work, but it’s also putting our nation on path toward leadership. Whoever figures out how to make cars and electronic be cleaner, more efficient, and cheaper will dominate one of the biggest markets of this century.

This kind of industry growth provides a positive agenda for the future. I challenge the GOP and the Tea Party to come up with something constructive. They keep talking about what they want to tear down—clean air safeguards, taxes, deficit spending. But what do they want to build? Even if they don’t have a job creation plan figured out, I would like to see them offer something affirmative for a change.

Ignorance Rages at CPAC

9:13 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is taking place this week. Billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in the nation, it is known for giving participants a chance to kick the tires of potential presidential candidates.

This year is no exception. The list of confirmed speakers reads like a primary ballot for 2012 or 2016, including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Johnson, John Barasso, and Rick Santorum.

When I read through these names, I realized that every single likely candidate in the early GOP field is claiming to believe that climate change does not exist or opposes doing anything about it. Climate denying has become a litmus test to the far right wing of the Republican Party – what a sad commentary when there is a tacit requirement for someone to REJECT SCIENCE in order to even be in the running to win the nomination.

Take Senator John Thune of South Dakota. When asked his view on climate science, he said, “I guess the answer to the question is I’m not sure. I think there’s a real mix of data on that.” Representative Ron Johnson of Wisconsin goes farther. He claims that record spikes in temperature are the result of “sunspot activity” – an idea that scientists have checked and explicitly rejected.
And that’s just two CPAC speakers. The entire conference seems dedicated to walking America backwards.

Most of the conference speakers decried the comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that Congress abandoned last year. It would have unleashed technological innovation and generated nearly 2 million jobs. Representative Michelle Bachman urged the people of Minnesota to be “armed and dangerous over this issue.” And most of them have spoken out against the EPA’s efforts to make our air safer by reducing carbon pollution. Newt Gingrich wants to abolish the agency altogether, while his fellow CPAC speaker Senator Barasso introduced a bill that would, in effect, prevent states and every federal agency from doing anything at all based on concern about climate change. That goes even further than Senator Jim Inhofe’s bill that would block EPA from limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Inhofe – who infamously called climate change a “hoax” – has been joined in his effort by Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the former moderate who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

This position may generate applause lines at CPAC, but it is out of step with what Americans want. According to a new poll done by Opinion Research Corporation for NRDC, almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.”

The folks at CPAC fail to see how cleaner air and climate solutions will take America into the future. Instead of embracing sustainable energy resources, they prefer burning black rocks like we’ve done since the 19th century. Instead of putting American companies at the forefront of the 21st century global marketplace, they prefer to keep us addicted to ever diminishing supplies of oil.

This U-turn into the past will put America in a dangerous position. Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed devastating floods in Pakistan that further destabilized an already precarious nation, we have watched Russia endure a punishing drought that economist Paul Krugman linked to both climate change and rising food prices, and we have seen Australians battle a flood that submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined. We can’t tie any single weather occurrence to climate change, but scientists have repeatedly stated that more severe weather events are a hallmark of what human beings are doing to the climate.

CPAC speakers like to pretend climate change doesn’t exist, but what the facts on the ground reveal are impossible to ignore. And the GOP can continue to build its house of cards on a bunch of deniers, but most Americans want to build a safer, more sustainable future.

This blog was originally posted in NRDC’s Action Fund blog, The Mark Up.

You Can Do Better, Senator Brown

10:01 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

I learned last week that Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is floating the idea of stopping EPA’s work to reduce carbon dioxide pollution for at least one year.

To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I have known and admired Senator Sherrod Brown for years, and I respect his track record on defending the environment.

Sherrod’s consideration of undermining the EPA’s ability to keep our air free from pollution doesn’t jibe with his past positions or with what’s good for Ohio’s economy and for its residents’ health.

And it certainly doesn’t match up with what I know of Sherrod Brown’s leadership.

I first met Senator Brown when he was in the House and I worked for another member of the Ohio delegation. Both members served on the Energy and Commerce Committee. During the long committee hearings, members often left to attend other events, but Hill staffers had to stick around to listen. Staffers aren’t allowed to speak at committee meetings—only members can—so when we would hear witnesses making inaccurate statements or exaggerating the facts, we felt powerless to correct the record.

That was until we realized we could turn to Sherrod Brown. He was one of the few members who would sit through the bulk of hearings, and we could always trust him to correct the record when the speaker was off the mark, we could count on him to challenge falsehoods—especially when it came to environmental issues.

More recently, Senator Brown has been a supporter of clean energy—something that has been very good for Ohio. In fact, Ohio is the best in the Midwest when it comes to green job growth. Toledo and Cleveland have led the way by transforming struggling auto-parts factories into manufacturing centers of solar panels, wind turbines, and advanced batteries.

These opportunities led Senator Brown to play an active roll drafting comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that would have cut global warming pollution and brought as much as $5.6 billion in investment revenue and 67,000 new jobs to Ohio.

Unfortunately, that legislation never made it to the floor. So why would Brown want to put put on hold the only chance we have right now for cutting carbon dioxide pollution? The only thing likely to be different a year from now is that one more year of pollutants will be in our air and businesses will have suffered through another year of renewed uncertainty about the standards they will have to meet.

And EPA has not put in place some Draconian plan. All that’s being required is that new plants, or plants undergoing major changes install the latest, affordable equipment. Why would we want new plants to be dirtier than they have to be?

We shouldn’t stop work already underway to clean up our air and tackle climate change while we wait for Congress to get its act together. And Congressional “delays” tend to be extended year after year. Before we know it, America will be four or five years further behind in confronting the worst environmental, economic, and national security challenge of our time.

That isn’t something the Brown I know would want. And it’s not something the people of Ohio should want. Ohio has one of the best clean energy stories to tell in the nation. Confronting climate change and shifting to more sustainable energy will bring more jobs to your state and make the hard-working families of Ohio healthier.

When your children are sick, you don’t stop giving them the medicine they need because a better product might be available someday. Heck, you don’t even wait for your kids to GET SICK if you can take pre-emptive action to avoid it.

Sherrod Brown can stand up for the health and welfare of Ohio’s families by working WITH the EPA to make sure implementation of the Clean Air Act is successful in bringing standards up-to-date to protect public health and drive innovation. That is the leadership we need.

This blog was originally posted on the NRDC Action Fund blog, The Markup.

Rand Paul Radical Rhetoric Endangers Kentucky’s Working Families

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

The list of bedrock American laws that Rand Paul is opposed to keeps growing longer. In addition to the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Paul has made it clear that he doesn’t like the Clean Air Act either. Last weekend, Paul said that President Obama should leave Kentucky alone, especially when it comes to pollution. “You need to keep the EPA out of our affairs,” he called on the president.

Paul prefers to have things “handled on a local level.” But unlike Paul, I grew up in Kentucky, and I question this logic.

My elementary school sat on a cliff above an Ashland Oil refinery, and our playground was about eye level with the top of their smokestacks. When the paint on teachers’ car started to peel and children started getting sick, the PTA tried to make Ashland Oil do something about it. After some fighting, the company finally installed air monitors on the kickball field – and a few months later the school closed its doors.

What sticks with me still is the way the problem was solved: As far as I can see, Ashland Oil didn’t clean up its act at all. Our school shut down instead.

Federal efforts to cut pollution aren’t perfect, but they are the last line of defense for places like my hometown. They literally save our lives: the Clean Air Act, for instance, has been documented to prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

Kentucky has a long dark history of environmental injustice. Amazing groups like Appalachian Voices have been fighting for cleaner water, cleaner air, and better safety rules for miners. They often find local solutions, but they also turn to federal agencies like the EPA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration when they need to.

Paul may call it “federal overreach,” but I call it protecting the health of Kentuckians.
Of course, Paul trots out the old saw that cutting pollution kills jobs. But I think Paul is more concerned about ideology than jobs, because if he really wanted to create jobs for Kentucky, he wouldn’t turn his back on clean energy and climate legislation. Clean energy jobs are growing 2.5 times as fast as traditional jobs. Paul would rather shoot down federal climate solutions than bring the jobs of the 21st century to his state.

Instead, he is banking on the same old dirty industries, and he seems to think that if children get asthma because they played on a field next to a refinery, that’s alright because someone had a job. I am sorry, but I can’t accept the misconception that my classmates and I were the collateral damage of some polluter’s payroll. Good companies that are following the law and being good neighbors provide jobs every single day.

Companies have found time and again that a clean business model is part of the recipe for a successful company. That is why 5,171 small businesses from across the country are supporting the climate bill. That is why some of the largest companies in the nation are calling on Congress to take action immediately.

The parents I know in Kentucky have no interest in working jobs that sacrifice their children’s health. They want to provide for their families AND keep them safe at the same time. This isn’t an either or situation. Paul seems to forget this in the midst of his fixation with “federal overreach.” I too respect states rights, but states still have to be good neighbors. Local empowerment doesn’t give you the right to endanger your residents’ health, export pollution into nearby states, or block national solutions to fight global climate change.

If leaders like Paul forget these lessons in responsibility, then I am glad federal agencies like the EPA can step in and remind them.

Our Senators, the Climate Bill, and Tying Your Shoes with One Hand

11:45 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Of course, it is not a clear-cut comparison because some people voted against the flawed resolution to make a point about process or simply to support the science. It is significant to note that we have 10 more votes in favor of reducing carbon emissions than we did the last time climate change was discussed on the Senate floor two years ago.

But here is what I find most interesting about last week’s vote: the number of Senators who have all publicly exclaimed that global warming is a pressing problem but who voted to block the EPA from dealing with it. Are they sitting on an "election year fence" or are the deep pockets of Big Oil & Coal companies propping up their campaign contribution fences? The question must be asked – Why do these senators benefit from burning caveman fuels?

Senator Rockefeller, for instance, said: "I am not here to deny or bicker fruitlessly about the science… In fact, I would suggest that I think the science is correct. Greenhouse gas emissions are not healthy for the Earth or her people, and we must take significant action to reduce them. We must develop and deploy clean energy, period."

And yet the man voted to hamstring the EPA. Indeed, Senator Rockefeller intends to push his own bill that would put the EPA’s effort to confront global warming on hold–giving West Virginia’s coal industry a free pass for two more years.

Senator Chambliss from Georgia, meanwhile, said, "I know the climate is changing." And Senator Hutchison from Texas declared: "As a solution to climate change, we need to work together to promote the use of clean and renewable sources of energy….It is important that we work together. We are the elected representatives of the people."

And yet both of them voted against one of our main tools for combating global warming pollution: the EPA.

I’m sorry, but if you really believe this is a crisis, why wouldn’t you want to fight it with every weapon available? Why wouldn’t you deploy the muscle of both Congress AND the federal government?

While I was listening to last week’s debate, I couldn’t help but be reminded of teaching my three-year-old how to tie her shoes. I showed her how to do it with two hands, of course. Why on earth would I suggest she do it with one?

Yet that is what these Senators seem to be proposing. Senator Collins from Maine said:
"I believe global climate change and the development of alternatives to fossil fuels are significant and urgent priorities for our country."

Why would she want us to fight global warming with one hand tied behind our back?

On the one hand, these statements are good news – despite the yelping of Inhofe and Hatch, the Senate is not a bastion of climate deniers. There’s even a consensus that something must be done. The bad news is they’re still not doing it. What is it that these Senators actually would support that isn’t just some vague theory?

Who is the Worst Offender: The Climate Denier or The Complacent Staller?

10:32 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

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.