Show Up and Speak Up for Climate Change Legislation

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.

Coal Barons Meeting Today in Hopes of Ending All Climate Debate for a Generation

( – promoted by John Morgan)

Today, a bunch of coal executives are congregating for the WestVirginia Coal Association annual meeting at the luxurious Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. One of the primary things they will discuss is the formation of a 527 to take out candidates who may support a climate change bill. As Roger Nicholson of the International Coal Group alluded, the coal barons are psyched that they will FINALLY get their voices heard thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling that basically allows them to buy Congressional seats.

This kind of news just makes me sick – especially since these are the guys who have scarred WV’s land and abused her people. We don’t need to wonder what is driving some Senators to oppose popular legislation that would, in one fell swoop, create millions of jobs, strengthen U.S. national security, defund unsavory regimes and protect our environment from earth-scorching carbon pollution. Follow the money.

Clean energy and climate legislation didn’t make it through the U.S. Senate this summer, despite the overwhelming scientific and economic evidence, and despite the fact that there almost certainly were more than 50 (aka, a “majority” of) Senators willing to vote for such legislation. First and foremost among those reasons, of course, was the near-unanimous opposition by Republicans to move ahead in this area. In addition, there were several Democrats, mostly from states with coal interests, who were probable “no” votes – and the money helps paint the picture about why.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Pete Altman points out, “Next time someone asks why climate legislation is so difficult to move forward, point them this way. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are prime examples of how narrow special interests can operate in stealth mode to deny climate science and to put the brakes on climate legislation.” How do Peabody and Arch buy influence in Washington, DC? Very simple – money. Lots and lots of money funneled into influencing policy and policymakers. For instance:

— “In 2008 and 2009, Arch Coal ($3.04 million) and Peabody Coal ($14.2 million) spent a combined $17.9 million in direct federal lobbying on energy, environmental and other matters.”

— “The two companies contributed $5 million each to the budget of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (“ACCCE”) in 2008, and presumably have continued to keep their memberships current with contributions in 2009 and 2010.”

According to Open Secrets, in 2010 alone Arch Coal has donated $39,500 to Democratic members of Congress and $88,000 to Republican members of Congress. For its part, Peabody Coal has contributed $53,400 to Democrats and $45,400 to Republicans.

I could go on all day about the money flowing to Congress from corporations and PACs with an interest in killing clean energy and climate legislation, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. Despite the overwhelming benefits this legislation would bring to the vast majority of Americans, as well as to the U.S. economy and our national security, a few wealthy companies, driven by nothing more than greed, have spent lavishly to make sure none of this happens. And so far, they’ve succeeded.  The question is:  will we let them continue to do so?  Personally, my answer is no way!

Stop the Senate from Gutting the Clean Air Act!

Just when you thought the U.S. Senate couldn't do any less for clean energy and the environment than it's (not) done so far, we now face the real possibility of what would amount to a “stop-work order” on the 40-year-old, wildly successful (e.g., studies finding benefits outweighing costs at a 40:1 ratio), Clean Air Act.

That's right: believe it or not, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is moving ahead with a sequel to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's nefarious attempt, earlier this summer, to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s power to protect the public health from dangerous pollutants, including harmful greenhouse gases.  Just as bad, Rockefeller's proposal would keep America addicted to oil and other old, polluting energy technologies, while delaying or derailing our switch to a clean, prosperous energy economy.  

Essentially, what Rockefeller is proposing would tell the EPA – at least for two years, although we know that justice delayed is often justice denied! – that it has to be asleep at the switch, that it must not hold polluters accountable, that it must look the other way whole Big Oil and Big Coal trash the environment. Is that the lesson the Senate learned from the Gulf of Mexico disaster?  Really?

Fortunately, not everyone is so clueless as the U.S. Senate appears to be right now.  For instance, in yesterday's Politico, two energy investors – one Democrat, one Republican – explained what's at stake in clear, compelling language.

We are not experts in vote counting or horse trading. But we do know how investors and markets will respond if Congress ultimately fails to put a market-based price on carbon. The response from capital will be brutal: Money will flow to places like China, Europe and India — and U.S. jobs will go with it.

The path to creating more U.S. jobs is simple: Pass legislation that eliminates uncertainty and levels the playing field, and investors will fund projects that create good jobs here at home. Rules bring certainty, certainty spurs investment, and investment creates jobs.

[…]

Take it from investors: Removing the uncertainty, and taking a more thoughtful approach to energy policy by putting a market price on carbon, can bring home new investments and jobs — and ensure that America leads the clean energy economy.

Instead, it now looks like the Senate not only won't be moving us forwards, but instead will be trying to move us significantly – and disastrously – backwards. What's truly stunning about this possibility is that, right now, the science of climate change is clearer and more disturbing than ever.  Heat waves are getting worse, the ice caps are shrinking faster than ever, and scientists are telling us that the world is setting new temperature records almost every month, every year, and every decade.   In addition, the results of our insatiable thirst for fossil fuels were demonstrated starkly and tragically, both in a West Virginia coal mine as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, on TV screens all across America in recent months.  As if all this isn't bad enough, we also could run out of water.

The American people know this situation can't go on. In fact, recent polls show large majorities supporting an energy bill that would “[l]imit pollution, invest in domestic energy sources and encourage companies to use and develop clean energy…by charging energy companies for carbon pollution in electricity or fuels like gas.” In other words, this is a case where good policy – limiting greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing our national security, safeguarding public health, jumpstarting a clean energy revolution – and good politics – strong poll results for doing just that – appear to align.  Yet, the U.S. Senate appears ready to ignore both good policy and good politics, and actually move to make matters worse by gutting the EPA and letting polluters like BP off the hook.

Don’t let them do it.  Call your Senators right now and tell them “hell no” to the “Let Polluters Pollute with Impunity Act.”  Also, while you’re at it, call the White House and tell President Obama that, if such a measure reaches his desk, he will veto it – no ifs, ands, or buts.

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

My Kids Are Losers: Commentary on the Climate Debate

The climate bill blame game has begun. When I first started writing this post about the so-called death of the climate bill, I literally pointed the finger at just about everyone, including myself. The anger poured out, and I was frank in my assessment as well as unforgiving in the motives behind this latest setback.

After I was done with my self-loathing tantrum, the kids ran in the door from camp and I was swept up in the lovely reality of my family's banter. It is summer, so the pace in our home is a bit more relaxed in the evening. We aren't quite as quick to rush through dinner, toss the kids in a bath, and then march them off to bed. Ice cream and extra cuddles are relished, and I am reminded each year at this time why I do this job.

Later, after progeny were tucked in, I went back to my draft blog post to spruce it up. I reread my rage, disappointment, and irrational ramblings and was embarrassed. And I asked myself “What good is all this blame going to do?”

At the end of the day, it is my kids – and your kids – who lose when we implode. If you think kids have a lot to say about their parents now on Dr. Phil, can you imagine what our children will say in 50 years should we fail to get our act together?

The country should be ready for this. The facts are on our side. As we witness the worst industry-caused environmental catastrophe in our history, the worst coal mining disaster in 40 years, and sweat through the hottest first 6 months of any year on record, it is clear that there's never been a more urgent time to move forward with a smart clean energy and climate plan.

Unfortunately, the politicians just aren't there. At every juncture during this debate, a minority, led by the Republican leadership and supported by a few impressionable (I might say pathetic) Democrats, has obstructed the opportunity to solve America's energy problems, preferring to leave the worst polluters and the big petro-dictators in control of our energy policy, while tax-payers are forced to pay for their messes.

Oopsy… there goes that blame again. Let's focus on what we can do next.

Hope is not lost. Of course, the closer we get to the midterm elections, the more challenging passing a bill becomes. Still, it's not impossible. In fact, the Senate has passed almost every single bedrock environmental law in the fall of an election year or in the “lame duck” session following an election. Here are just a few examples:

o Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) – 1996 Amendments: 8/6/96

o Food Quality Protection Act: 8/3/96

o Energy Policy Act of 1992: 10/24/92

o Clean Air Act of 1990: 11/15/90

o SDWA – 1986 Amendments: 6/19/86

o CERCLA (Superfund): House 9/23/80, Senate 11/24/80, POTUS 12/11/80

o Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA): 10/21/76

o Toxic Substances & Control Act (TSCA): 10/11/76

o SDWA: 12/16/74

o Clean Water Act: 10/18/72

o Establishment of the EPA: first proposed 7/9/70, established 12/2/70

o National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): 1/1/70

o The Wilderness Act: 9/3/64

As this list demonstrates, the Senate and the environmental movement are no strangers to passing major legislation right before – or just after – an election.

I don't want to overpromise success. This is an uphill battle. But if you and I show up to every town hall, rally, spaghetti dinner, and other rituals of election year and fight for our kids… fight for our country… fight for our America… we can turn the tide. Without that kind of passion, we will all lose. That's an outcome we must try hard to avoid, on behalf of people, communities, large and small businesses – oh, and our kids, sleeping peacefully or playing happily around the country.

In the meantime, we must also protect what we already have, like a plethora of state laws and the federal Clean Air Act. I recommend reading David Doniger's blog on Switchboard today that really outlines how we can make progress with the tools we have right now.

In coming weeks and months, we must continue to push forward for a strong, clean energy and climate bill, just like we have done countless times in the past. I am done with blame. History is on our side. Are you?

Take action today for a cleaner, stronger, and more sustainable future. Join NRDC Action Fund on Facebook and Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest environmental issues and actions you can take to help protect our planet.

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

On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219-212 in favor of HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Only eight Republicans – we'll call them the “Enlightened Eight” – voted “aye.” These Republicans were Mary Bono-Mack (CA-45), Mike Castle (DE-AL), John McHugh (NY-23), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Leonard Lance (NJ-7), Mark Kirk (IL-10), Dave Reichert (WA-8), and Christopher Smith (NJ-4).

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.

Edward James Olmos on the Definition of “Insanity”

Yesterday, the NRDC Action Fund launched a campaign featuring a powerful new ad by renowned environmental activist and celebrated actor, Edward James Olmos. In the video, which you can view here, Olmos explains what makes people – himself included – “locos” when it comes to U.S. energy and environmental policy. Now, as the Senate moves towards a possible debate on energy and climate legislation, we need to let everyone hear Olmos' message.

Hi, I'm Edward James Olmos. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess that's what makes Americans “locos.” We keep yelling “drill baby drill” and expecting things to turn out ok. But the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing new. The oil industry has been poisoning our oceans and wilderness for decades. It's time to regain our sanity. America doesn't want more oil disasters. We need safe, clean and renewable energy now. Think about it.

Sadly, Olmos' definition of “insanity” is exactly what we've been doing for decades in this country — maintaining policies that keep us “addicted” to fossil fuels instead of moving towards a clean, prosperous, and sustainable economy.

As we all know, dirty, outdated energy sources have caused serious harm to our economy, to our national security, and of course – as the horrible Gulf oil disaster illustrates – to our environment. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent nearly $400 billion, about half the entire U.S. trade deficit, importing foreign oil. Even worse, much of that $400 billion went to countries (and non-state actors) that don't have our best interests at heart.

As if all that's not bad enough, our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels also has resulted in tremendous environmental devastation, ranging from melting polar ice caps to record heat waves to oil-covered pelicans and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

As Edward James Olmos says, it's enough to drive us all “locos.”

Fortunately, there's a better way.

If you believe, as we passionately do, that it's time to kick our addiction to the dirty fuels of the past, then please help us get that message out there. Help us air Edward James Olmos' ad on TV in states with U.S. Senators who we believe can be persuaded to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. If we can convince our politicians to do their jobs and to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation this year, we will be on a path to a brighter, healthier future.

Thank you for your support.

NRDC Action Fund