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Don’t call it a climate bill: Senators unveil bipartisan energy package

On Thursday, Senators Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and the chair of the Senate’s energy committee, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, unveiled the American Energy Innovation Act of 2020. If passed, the bill would be the first comprehensive update to U.S. energy policy in 12 years.

In a statement, Murkowski called the package, which combines bits and pieces of 50 energy-related measures cleared by the energy committee in 2019, America’s “best chance to modernize our nation’s energy policies.” She said she hopes Senate Democrats and Republicans will work together to pass the act, which “will help keep energy affordable even as it becomes cleaner and cleaner.”

That’s the foundational principle of this package, which is expected to be introduced in the Senate early next week. It basically ensures that states like Alaska and West Virginia can keep drilling and fracking while the nation also develops renewables like wind and solar and invests in advanced nuclear energy. In short, it’s an all-of-the-above energy strategy. It’s the kind of approach President Obama took in his years in office — one that has been disavowed in recent months by some presidential candidates.

Senate energy committee aides expect the bill to garner wide support in the Senate, and if the same happens in the House, it means Congress could actually pass bipartisan energy legislation in the year of our Lord 2020. But it certainly isn’t a substitute for a climate bill. Committee staff told reporters that while the committee considers the bill important for the climate, it isn’t claiming it’s “in any way sufficient.” Instead, it’s a “down payment” on tackling the crisis.

There are certainly some climate-friendly elements in the bill. It would require Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, a Trump appointee, to establish a pilot program aimed at awarding grants to nonprofits for using energy-efficient materials in buildings like museums and historical centers. It extends current energy-efficiency targets for federal buildings through 2028 and adds in water-efficiency targets through 2030. It would help “weatherize” renewable energy technologies to help them withstand storms. It authorizes the secretary of energy to create a wind and solar technology program to address “near-term, mid-term, and long-term challenges” in development through the fiscal budget year 2025. The list goes on.

Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says there’s a lot that’s laudable about the bill. “It’s really good that, even though the Republicans are the majority in the Senate, that there’s some willingness on the part of Senator Murkowski to do something” about climate, she said. The emphasis on energy efficiency is good, she said, if ultimately too narrow. Stokes said she’d like to see homes and commercial buildings included in the bill’s efficiency directives, not just schools, nonprofits, and federal buildings.

The biggest head-scratcher, she said, are the portions of the bill that focus on expanding oil and gas production. For instance, the bill would speed up the approval process for small-scale natural gas exports, even though recent research says the production of natural gas, once seen as a fuel that could bridge the gap between oil and coal and wind and solar, emits massive amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The bill requires Brouillette to study the possibility of building out new oil and gas facilities in Appalachia. It also includes provisions for research and innovation in carbon capture and storage technology for emissions from power plants and other industrial sources of carbon. Those provisions would, according to the bill, “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, costs, and environmental performance of coal and natural gas use.”

So, instead of banning fracking and other fossil-fuel related activities, the bill encourages those things while simultaneously boosting carbon capture, an unscalable (for the time being) technology the GOP has started to champion as a key part of its belated response to rising temperatures.

“I thought that was very odd,” Stokes said. “I don’t know why we need coal and natural gas technology programs at this point in time.” She said that a better bill would focus those carbon-removal technologies on capturing historical emissions directly from the atmosphere rather than capturing emissions from new fossil fuel developments. “I think that there’s a bit of a mismatch there,” she said.

Her general impression of the bill? “Not at the scale of what’s necessary by any means, but it’s better than nothing.” Stay tuned next week, when the bill moves to the Senate floor.

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Don’t call it a climate bill: Senators unveil bipartisan energy package

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Wait — Republicans used to like the Green New Deal?

Most Republicans once liked the Green New Deal. And no, you’re not reading climate fiction. This was reality just a year ago.

Some 64 percent of Republican voters initially supported the package of climate and green jobs policies, according to a poll from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. This was in December of last year, when those polled weren’t familiar with the name “Green New Deal.” Some 82 percent of them hadn’t even heard the phrase, let alone any nonsense about banning hamburgers. (For the record, that’s not part of the resolution introduced in Congress.)

Bipartisan support for the policy was short-lived, thanks in large part to a TV network that rhymes with “Lox Blues.” A new study published in Nature Climate Change found that the more Republicans heard about the Green New Deal, the less they liked it. Among those who watched Fox News more than once a week, support for the GND plunged from 54 percent in early December to 22 percent by early April. In other words, the majority of Republican voters supported what was in the package then changed their minds once they heard Fox’s talking heads seize on the ambitious scope of the program and trash it. On Tucker Carlson’s show, it was rebranded as the Green New Mess, as well as an excuse to usher in socialism.

The resolution was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York City and Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts in February, then shot down by the Senate in March. After its introduction in Congress, the Green New Deal was covered by Fox more frequently than other networks, and some of that coverage included straight-up lies. Analysis from media watchdog Media Matters found that more than half of Fox’s segments on the Green New Deal in mid-February didn’t even bring up climate change. Most of the discussion centered on political wins or losses rather than on how the resolution might work or what problems it would address.

By April, only 4 percent of Republicans who had heard a lot about the resolution backed it, compared to 96 percent of Democrats. Fast forward to now, and it’s hard to believe that the idea — and before that, the political will to take on climate change more generally — ever had bipartisan support.

The environment wasn’t always so polarizing. President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, after all. But over recent decades, Republicans and Democrats have been driven further and further apart from each other on not just political opinions but on basic facts. That’s the case with climate change along with immigration, gun laws, and other issues. The so-called “Fox News effect” is a part of that story.

The good news? Younger Republicans now sound nearly identical to Democrats when it comes to a federal carbon tax, further restrictions on methane emissions, and a national renewable energy standard, according to a recent survey from Ipsos and Newsy. (Label them as part of the Green New Deal and results may vary.) The surge of environmental concern among young conservatives could bring big changes to the GOP in the years ahead.

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Wait — Republicans used to like the Green New Deal?

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Likely 2020 voters support parts of Green New Deal, despite reservations over the cost

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This story was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A majority of likely 2020 voters supports key aspects of a Green New Deal even when faced with potential costs and downsides, but strict regulations to decarbonize the nation’s top polluters could trigger a backlash, according to a new poll from proponents of the policy.

The survey, released by the think tank Data for Progress and shared with HuffPost, found net support for a range of policies, including improving drinking water infrastructure, reforesting land, providing job training and insurance to displaced workers, and guaranteeing clean-energy jobs.

“At the core, the Green New Deal is about a moral imperative to transform our economy and improve people’s lives for the better,” said Greg Carlock, the researcher at Data for Progress and architect of the first Green New Deal blueprint published last September. “You can’t put a price on that, but even when you do, people still support it.”

But faced with a range of possible price tags, voters’ support varied, suggesting costs could factor high into the Green New Deal’s political viability. The results showed a majority of voters would likely oppose policies with stringent mandates — rules requiring all cars be electric by 2030 and every fossil fuel power plant close by 2035.

To test the support, Data for Progress commissioned the Democratic pollster Civis Analytics to survey 3,496 likely voters between January 4 – 26 on 11 policies expected to be included a Green New Deal. The poll tested four different cost scenarios on each question, randomly alternating between zero, low, medium, and high prices to test how the cost of a policy weighed on one-quarter of respondents’ opinions.

The green jobs guarantee, considered by Green New Deal proponents to be the heart of the suite of policies, proved one of the tricker components. In a lengthy prompt, the survey asked respondents if they support or oppose a policy that Democrats promised would “guarantee an environmentally friendly job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector.”

The question described the job as a position that would pay “at least $15 an hour, included healthcare benefits, and collective bargaining rights.” The surveyors added that Republicans warned the policy “would increase the national debt, endanger the long term health of our economy, and this policy will end up paying people who can’t contribute in the job market to perform pointless busy work.”

Thirty-nine percent supported the green jobs guarantee, 33 percent opposed, and 27 didn’t know. Without a price, voters were 9 percentage points likelier to support than oppose the policy. At a low of $100 billion, support hit 2 percentage points. Voters were about evenly divided on policies costing $500 billion or $1 trillion.

Mandates requiring the country to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050 enjoyed sweeping support. The question noted that Democrats believed such a policy would “kickstart the renewable energy sector, creating jobs for many Americans and ensuring that America leads the world in green technology,” while Republicans said, “this would take away freedom from American consumers, put people out of work, and raise prices for everything from transportation to consumer goods.”

Thirty-eight percent supported the proposal, 33 percent opposed and 30 percent didn’t know. Without a price, voters backed the policy by 7 percentage points. At a low of $25 billion, that figure fell to 2 percentage points. Support held steady at 1 percentage point for both a medium cost of $37.5 billion and a high of $50 billion. Age impacted support at the unstated price level. Voters aged 18 to 34 supported the policy by 15 percentage points, while those 65 and older opposed the policy by 11 percentage points.

Policies improving drinking water infrastructure proved to be the most popular. The survey outlined a proposal to improve infrastructure “and replace lead pipes,” considering that Republicans “say that our drinking infrastructure is in good shape already, and this represents a wasteful use of resources that will burden our children with debt.”

Half of the respondents supported the proposal, 21 percent opposed, and 29 percent didn’t know. At no stated price, voters supported the proposal by 36 percentage points. Faced with a low cost of $25 billion, support sank to 27 percentage points. At a medium cost of $37.5 billion, the percentage dropped to 23. At a high of $50 billion, it fell to 22 percentage points.

The least popular policy was one “proposing requiring that all new cars sold be electric by 2030.” The question said, “Democrats say this would help stop climate change, save thousands of lives by reducing pollution, and make the U.S. the definitive leader in the electric car industry.”

Republicans say this would take away freedom from American consumers, put people making cars out of work, and make new cars unaffordable for the average American.

Just 26 percent supported the policy, with 44 percent opposed, and 33 percent unsure. Without even seeing a price, voters opposed the electric car mandate by 15 percentage points.

The second-least popular was a proposal “requiring that all fossil fuel plants (coal, natural gas, and oil) cease operating by 2035” in an effort to “help stop climate change” that Republicans say “would put many Americans out of work, and could lead to an energy crisis as energy prices soar.”

Voters opposed the measure by 3 percentage points, again without seeing a price.

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The findings come just weeks before the Senate is expected to hold a vote on the Green New Deal resolution Senator Ed Markey (a Democrat from Massachussetts) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a Democrat from New York) released last week. The measure, essentially a political statement outlining the scope of what’s needed to prepare the U.S. for a rapidly warming climate, staked out an ambitious list of policies to protect vulnerable communities already suffering from pollution.

In what Green New Deal supporters called a cynical ploy to halt their movement’s growing momentum, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a Republican from Kentucky), a veteran climate change denier who’s taken millions from the fossil fuel industry, vowed this week to hold a vote, forcing swing-state senators to take positions on a policy Republicans are aggressively working to vilify.

The vast majority of Americans understand climate change is happening and human-caused emissions are the primary cause. In December, 81 percent of registered voters supported the goals of the Green New Deal, including 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of conservative Republicans, according to a poll from Yale and George Mason universities. But the pollsters warned that the overwhelming bipartisan support could erode as the Green New Deal became more closely associated with individual politicians.

The Sunrise Movement, the grassroots climate advocacy group whose thousands of volunteers helped propel the Green New Deal into the national stage in November with a series of protests against top Democrats, said Wednesday it would ramp up actions confronting both Democrats and swing-state Republicans, urging them to support the policy. Groups like Justice Democrats, the left-wing organization that helped run Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, and Data for Progress vowed to aid efforts to primary any Democrats who oppose the Green New Deal.

“The Green New Deal won’t hurt Democrats politically,” said Sean McElwee, the co-founder of Data for Progress. “But failing to take aggressive action on climate change could demoralize the millennial base who demand immediate action on climate change.”

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Likely 2020 voters support parts of Green New Deal, despite reservations over the cost

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If Jeff Flake has taken up your cause, your cause is in danger

This weekend, someone — specifically, George Stephanopoulos — saw fit to ask Arizona Senator Jeff Flake what he thought of the Republican party’s position on climate change. Senator Flake, an active member of the party controlling our nation’s legislative branch (as well as its executive and judicial branches), said that he thinks the government should do more to combat warming.

You can always count on Flake to say something vaguely ethical and then do whatever will most directly undermine it. Most recently, you may remember him for giving an impassioned soundbite in support of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of assault, … and then immediately voting to confirm Kavanaugh to the court. You may also recall him speaking out against the Republican tax reform effort last December … and then immediately voting to make it law.

Conflict-resolution theory, according to Kim Kardashian West’s makeup artist, dictates that when you are disappointed in someone’s behavior, you should mention some of their good qualities so that it’s clear you are viewing them in a balanced way. Here we go: Jeff Flake has very nice teeth. On Sunday, Flake showed off his excellent chompers while giving the following vacuous reaction to the recent, upsetting U.N. climate change report to Stephanopoulos on ABC’s The Week:

“There’s been more recognition [of the need for climate action] among Republicans, but the administration hasn’t taken the view of some of us that this is something we really need to deal with along with the rest of the world and address this. It’s going to be challenging — obviously, that report that came out was pretty dire. But I think there’s things we can do and should do, and Republicans need to be at the forefront if we want to keep our place and keep our seats.”

It is true that Republican officials have not been particularly proactive on the matter of climate change, to say the least. Just this weekend, in the aftermath of the “dire” IPCC report, President Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow stopped just short of calling the assessment a “scare tactic.” And Flake’s colleague Marco Rubio, who represents Florida, where Hurricane Michael made its devastating landfall this past week, said he did not want to “destroy our economy” to combat climate change.

As a U.S. senator in a majority party, Jeff Flake is one of the one hundredth of one percent of humans in the world who can have a real, direct, tangible influence on slowing climate change. While he’s not seeking re-election this year, here is what he’s done with that position of power: He voted to confirm Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry, and Ryan Zinke to Trump’s cabinet. He voted against restricting methane pollution, incentivizing energy-efficient homes through the mortgage market, and banning fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic Refuge. He has a 8 percent pro-environmental voting record, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Now that he’s made public comments about the need to take on climate change, I look forward to Jeff Flake’s upcoming vote to build more coal plants on top of whales.

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If Jeff Flake has taken up your cause, your cause is in danger

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A new GOP carbon tax proposal is a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking

There’s a very small chance that President Trump, later this year, could sign into law the country’s first-ever federal climate change legislation — and it might actually be a good thing.

I know, I know. I hear you. Yes, this is the same Trump who bailed on the Paris climate agreement last year. But there’s now a possibility that he could have the opportunity to meet its goals anyway.

According to E&E News, Florida congressman Carlos Curbelo — a Republican — will introduce legislation next week that calls for a gradually escalating carbon tax specifically designed to accelerate the decarbonization of the U.S. economy.

Starting in 2020, the proposal would require fossil fuel companies and manufacturers to pay a fee of $23 per ton for their carbon emissions, rising slightly faster than inflation. It’s a relatively low tax to start, but it could ramp up significantly over time. The fee would rise an additional $2 each year emissions targets aren’t met — a clever twist. Preliminary modeling shows that the policy would be sufficient to meet former President Obama’s climate target under the Paris Agreement — a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

There’s a catch, though. In exchange for the fee, the proposal would completely eliminate the gasoline tax and press pause on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (that’s in jeopardy anyway under the changing Supreme Court). It would also devote most of its revenue to building new transportation infrastructure nationwide. That it raises money at all is controversial — most Republicans in favor of a carbon tax want a completely revenue-neutral proposal.

In the midst of a tough reelection race in his Florida district, Curbelo (a member of the Grist 50) is bucking his own party by even proposing the legislation. It’s a long shot, but with the right mix of ideas, it just might work. Even if this specific bill doesn’t find its way to Trump’s desk, another one could, like the plan put forth by two Republican former Secretaries of State last year.

Almost 10 years after the last major attempt at climate legislation, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, failed in Congress, there’s reason to believe that this time, Republicans will lead the way.

The vast amount of America’s renewable energy is now produced in Republican-voting districts, and recent polling shows that Republicans nationwide are more willing than ever to support a carbon tax — especially one that will boost the growth of innovative technologies and reduce the burden of uncertainty on businesses that deploy them.

And the renewable industry seems to think Republicans are its best shot. In the 2016 election cycle, the industry’s political donations went disproportionately to Republicans for the first time. So far in 2018, that financial gulf has widened, and now favors Republicans roughly 2-to-1. More and more, renewable energy is a bread-and-butter right-wing issue.

Still, passing climate legislation is a tall order for an administration led by someone who has said climate change is a hoax. And, this week, congressional Republicans planned a symbolic resolution against carbon taxes that could be divisive — 42 Republican members have joined Curbelo in a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, and this vote would be the first chance for them to show real support. But now that Republicans control all three branches of government, it’s up to them to craft the next steps for environmental policy, for better or worse.

There are, of course, some serious flaws with Curbelo’s idea. In contrast to recent Democratic-led carbon pricing proposals, Curbelo’s bill is decidedly less aggressive. Taken as a standalone policy, replacing the gasoline tax with a carbon tax will do little to address transportation emissions, now the leading source of carbon pollution in the United States. To put the transportation sector’s emissions on a diet, there’d need to be accompanying incentives for electric vehicles and public transit.

That said, the final text of the bill has not yet been released, and these details could change.

Before you dismiss this GOP plan, remember the unyielding truth of climate change: We can’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect piece of legislation. We have to do as much as we can, as soon as possible.

According to a report released this week, even a modest carbon tax would substantially improve the prospects for solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower — and may help spawn a next-generation nuclear renaissance.

The most effective ways to address climate change are big and complex: reversing the demise of tropical forests, reducing food waste, encouraging family planning, shifting away from coal and natural gas. A carbon tax really only addresses that last one. But the other efforts can move forward alongside the push for a carbon tax, as part of a broad-based, radical rethink of civilization at a critical moment in our history.

Curbelo is turning the debate away from the science and toward solutions, and that should be celebrated. Now, let’s hope the other party leaders follow his lead.

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A new GOP carbon tax proposal is a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking

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Republican mayors push climate action without saying ‘climate change’

Leadership in addressing climate change in the United States has shifted away from Washington, D.C. Cities across the country are organizing, networking, and sharing resources to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and tackle related challenges ranging from air pollution to heat island effects.

But group photos at climate change summits typically feature big-city Democratic mayors rubbing shoulders. Republicans are rarer, with a few notable exceptions, such as Kevin Faulconer of San Diego and James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana.

Faulconer co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy Initiative, which rallies mayors around a shared commitment to power their cities entirely with clean and renewable energy. Brainard is a longtime champion of the issue within the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Climate Mayors network.

In our research at the Boston University Initiative on Cities, we found that large-city Republican mayors shy away from climate network memberships and their associated framing of the problem. But in many cases they advocate locally for policies that help advance climate goals for other reasons, such as fiscal responsibility and public health. In short, the United States is making progress on this issue in some surprising places.

Climate network members are mainly Democrats

In our initiative’s recent report, “Cities Joining Ranks,” we systematically reviewed which U.S. cities belong to 10 prominent city climate networks. These networks, often founded by mayors themselves, provide platforms to exchange information, advocate for urban priorities and strengthen city goverments’ technical capacities.

The networks we assessed included Climate Mayors; We Are Still In, which represents organizations that continue to support action to meet the targets in the Paris climate agreement; and ICLEI USA.

We found a clear partisan divide between Republican and Democrat mayors. On average, Republican-led cities with more than 75,000 residents belong to less than one climate network. In contrast, cities with Democratic mayors belonged to an average of four networks. Among the 100 largest U.S. cities, of which 29 have Republican mayors and 63 have Democrats, Democrat-led cities are more than four times more likely to belong to at least one climate network.

This split has implications for city-level climate action. Joining these networks sends a very public signal to constituents about the importance of safeguarding the environment, transitioning to cleaner forms of energy, and addressing climate change. Some networks require cities to plan for or implement specific greenhouse gas reduction targets and report on their progress, which means that mayors can be held accountable.

Constituents in Republican-led cities support climate policies

Cities can also reduce their carbon footprints and stay under the radar — a strategy that is popular with Republican mayors. Taking the findings of the “Cities Joining Ranks” report as a starting point, I explored support for climate policies in Republican-led cities and the level of ambition and transparency in their climate plans.

To tackle these questions, I cross-referenced Republican-led cities with data from the Yale Climate Opinion maps, which provide insight into county-level support for four climate policies:

Regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant
Imposing strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants
Funding research into renewable energy sources
Requiring utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources

In all of the 10 largest U.S. cities that have Republican mayors and also voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election, county-level polling data showed majority support for all four climate policies. Examples included Jacksonville, Florida, and Fort Worth, Texas. None of these cities participated in any of the 10 climate networks that we reviewed in our report.

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, CC BY-ND

This finding suggests that popular support exists for action on climate change, and that residents of these cities who advocate acting could lobby their elected officials to join climate networks. Indeed, we have found that one of the top three reasons mayors join city policy networks is because it signals their priorities. A mayor of a medium-sized West Coast city told us: “Your constituents are expecting you to represent them, so we are trying politically to be their voice.”

Mayors join networks to amplify their message, signal priorities to constituents, and share information. BU Initiative on Cities, CC BY-ND.

Climate-friendly strategies, but few emissions targets

Next, I reviewed planning documents from the 29 largest U.S. cities that are led by Republican mayors. Among this group, 15 have developed or are developing concrete goals that guide their efforts to improve local environmental quality. Many of these actions reduce cities’ carbon footprints, although they are not primarily framed that way.

Rather, these cities most frequently cast targets for achieving energy savings and curbing local air pollution as part of their master plans. Some package them as part of dedicated sustainability strategies.

These agendas often evoke images of disrupted ecosystems that need to be conserved, or that endanger human health and quality of life. Some also spotlight cost savings from designing infrastructure to cope with more extreme weather events.

In contrast, only seven cities in this group had developed quantitative greenhouse gas reduction targets. Except for Miami, all of them are in California, which requires its cities to align their greenhouse gas reduction targets with state plans. From planning documents, it appears that none of the six Californian cities goes far beyond minimum mandated emission reductions set by the state for 2020.

Greenhouse gas reductions goals, with baselines, for the seven largest Republican-led cities. Nicolas Gunkel, CC BY-ND.

Watch what they do, not what they say

The real measure of Republican mayors taking action on climate change is not the number of networks they join but the policy steps they take, often quietly, at home. While few Republican mayors may attend the next round of subnational climate summits, many have set out policy agendas that mitigate climate change, without calling a lot of attention to it — much like a number of rural U.S. communities. Focusing narrowly on policy labels and public commitments by mayors fails to capture the various forms of local climate action, especially in GOP-led cities.

Carmel, Indiana Mayor James Brainard has suggested that some of his less-outspoken counterparts may fear a backlash from conservative opinion-makers. “There is a lot of Republicans out there that think like I do. They have been intimidated, to some extent, by the Tea Party and the conservative talk show hosts,” Brainard has said.

Indeed, studies show that the news environment has become increasingly polarized around accepting or denying climate science. Avoiding explicit mention of climate change is enabling a sizable number of big-city GOP mayors to pursue policies that advance climate goals.

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Republican mayors push climate action without saying ‘climate change’

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College Republicans have a climate change plan, even if their representatives don’t

The chasm between congressional Republicans and Democrats on green issues is widening, according to the annual scorecard released this week by the League of Conservation Voters. The advocacy group evaluated how each member of Congress voted on environmental legislation in 2017. Senate Republicans had an average all-time low score of 1 percent — “meaning they voted against the environment and public health” 99 percent of the time. Their party members in the House didn’t do much better, going green only 5 percent of the time, on average. Democrats, on the other hand, netted an average mark of 94 percent in the House and 93 percent in the Senate on the scorecard.

But not all American conservatives feel the same way about the environment as the ones sitting in Congress. Take college Republicans, for instance.

On Wednesday, a coalition of Republican, Democrat, and environmental groups from public and private colleges and universities across the United States unveiled a plan to tackle climate change. It’s the first time college Republicans have publicly backed a national climate policy. The Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD) is a group of 33 student-led clubs that aim to harness the power of their academic institutions to shine a national spotlight on the climate.

“S4CD makes clear to our fellow young Republicans that we no longer need to choose between party orthodoxy and the mounting risks facing our planet,” says Kiera O’Brien, vice president of S4CD and a sophomore at Harvard University.

A growing number of Republicans embrace the scientific consensus on human-made warming, and many of them support market-based methods of curbing pollution and expanding renewable energy. Millennials, especially, are broadly concerned about climate change. A new poll from the nonprofit Alliance for Market Solutions found that roughly three out of four millennials agree humans should curb climate change — and a surprising 51 percent of young conservatives are concerned about the issue.

S4CD’s platform centers on a carbon-dividends tax pioneered by the Climate Leadership Council, an international policy institute whose founding members include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. The tax is known in conservative circles as the Baker-Shultz Plan — named after former Secretaries of State, James Baker and George Shultz.

It would put a rising price on fossil fuels in order to limit consumption and decrease pollution. The money generated by the tax goes back to Americans through an annual carbon dividend: for an average family of four, that would come in the form of a yearly $2,000 check. The plan also includes a “border adjustment” — penalties on incoming products from foreign countries that haven’t adopted a similar tax plan.

By championing this carbon-tax plan and reminding the Republican Party of its conservationist roots, college Republicans hope to get lawmakers in Congress to go a little greener. But to move their elected officials, S4CD will also have to contend with the fossil fuel industry. Oil companies and a range of well-funded lobbying groups have spent decades and billions of dollars fighting climate change legislation. And they have tremendous sway over many conservative politicians, including the current head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt.

Alex Posner, a senior at Yale University and founding president of S4CD, thinks those industry attitudes toward climate policy are starting to shift. “We’re in kind of a unique moment: What makes most sense for business — a clear predictable price on carbon — is also the policy that almost all economists agree is the most effective way to drive emissions reductions,” he says. “There’s this synergy of interests that’s rare in the climate space.”

It might sound like an uphill battle for a group of adolescents to get congressional Republicans mobilized in the fight against climate change. But, according to Posner, most elected officials have yet to feel the true power of the students involved in the coalition. After all, many of them haven’t had a chance to vote.

“We haven’t had much say over political positions in the past or present,” Posner says. “Our goal is to have a say over the political positions of the future.”

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College Republicans have a climate change plan, even if their representatives don’t

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Congressional Republicans got F’s on their environmental report cards

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have never been further apart on environmental issues. The top leadership in the GOP is comprised entirely of climate change deniers, while Democrats have aligned in opposition to President Trump’s agenda. But a report released today by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) calibrates the distance between the two parties with some hard numbers.

The group has been calculating the performance by members of Congress for nearly 50 years by evaluating how each member votes on environmental legislation. This year, the Republican-controlled Congress had plenty of opportunities to show where they stand. LCV counted a total of 35 House votes and 19 Senate votes to overturn climate regulations, open up drilling on public lands, undermine the Endangered Species Act, and confirm a slew of Trump-appointed judicial and cabinet nominations.

“We’ve seen the parties have gotten further and further apart,” says Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president for government affairs, “and more Democrats have recognized that good climate politics is good politics.”

All those votes resulted in single-digit failing scores for most Republicans. The Senate average of 1 percent is a historic low, while House Republicans pulled an average of 5 percent. Meanwhile Democrats in the House and Senate earned 94 percent and 93 percent, respectively.

Those are just party averages, and it’s worth noting just how many legislators are at the extremes, which tilts the scores: More than 100 Democrats, now leading the opposition to Trump’s deregulatory agenda, earned perfect scores, while the Republican average was dragged down by the 170 lawmakers across the two chambers who earned a zero.

But what about the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House, the growing bipartisan caucus whose 70 members (with 68 voting members) are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats? For some moderate conservatives and climate activists, the caucus represents the best hope in Congress for ever advancing climate legislation as long as Republicans hold power. One might expect the caucus Republicans to earn higher scores than their party overall, and technically they did score a bit better than their House peers. But their average 16 percent score is still a failing grade.

In fact, more than half of the Republicans on the caucus earned less than 10 percent (Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who once proposed a bill to abolish the EPA, is among them with 6 percent). Representative Carlos Curbelo is co-chair of the caucus and represents the Miami area. He is generally considered a leader on climate change, but his score was 23 percent. One caveat is that many representatives from Florida missed a number of votes, due to the time they spent in their districts after Hurricane Irma — those missed votes may have affected their scores.

As Megan Jula and I reported:

[The Climate Solutions Caucus’s] critics charge the caucus has expanded its size at the expense of its credibility, providing Republicans who have been actively hostile to government programs a low-stakes opportunity to “greenwash” their climate credentials without backing meaningful action — just in time for midterm elections. In fact, many members may be vulnerable in the 2018 cycle; 24 of the 35 Republican members’ districts will be competitive races, according to an analysis of The Cook Political Report. Republicans in these races could benefit from distancing themselves from Trump’s climate change denial.

The exception is Pennsylvania Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, who earned the highest of any Republican with 71 percent — a solid C-minus.

“It’s unfortunate that 71 percent is now such an outlier,” Sittenfeld notes, “because it used to be that a number of Republicans voted pro environment.”

Here’s LCV’s full report with a breakdown for individual members of Congress.

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Congressional Republicans got F’s on their environmental report cards

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Seeing Red on Climate

Todd Tanner has a pretty sweet offer for his fellow Montanans: a new shotgun in exchange for science-based evidence that he’s wrong about climate change.

The conservationist uses the challenge in an attempt to raise awareness about our warming planet. A lot of people where Tanner lives in Bigfork, Montana, would probably like to take him up on his offer: The state has one of the highest rates of outdoor recreationists in the country, and Tanner is no exception. He was planning on going hunting after we finished our interview. “You wouldn’t know it,” he said over the phone, “but I’m literally walking around in a pair of wool pants.”

Tanner is sure he’ll never have to hand over that new shotgun, though he says he would love to find out that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real. “If someone shows me the error of my ways they can have their choice,” he said. “They can have any rifle, shotgun, pistol, or rod I own, and I’ll walk away feeling like I got the better end of the bargain.”

Since 2011, Tanner has harnessed his prominent position in Montana’s hunting and fishing communities to get people engaged. After wildfires incinerated forests and droughts desiccated rivers in Big Sky Country this year, agitated sportsmen and women have become easier to find. Tanner’s nonprofit, Conservation Hawks, is part of a coalition of grassroots organizations trying to pull conservatives into the conversation about rising temperatures.

And it’s starting to work. There’s a small but growing alliance of concerned conservatives who want to reclaim climate change as a nonpartisan issue. This motley crew of lobbyists, Evangelical Christians, and far-right radicals call themselves the “eco-right.”

Christine Todd Whitman, former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, believes the eco-right has a real chance at inspiring action in Congress. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, and a record-breaking year of environmental disasters finally behind us, 2018 could be the year the party reverses course. “If you look at the damage from just this last summer, from the floods, the droughts, the fires, it’s pushing $300 billion out of our economy,” Whitman said.

In Montana, Tanner diligently crafts his messaging in the hopes that he can turn even a small portion of the red state’s hunters and anglers into climate activists. There’s also a broader, national effort to target American conservatives. RepublicEn, for instance, is a coalition of more than 4,000 conservatives and libertarians pushing for environmental action. The organization hopes that, generations from now, the eco-right will be remembered for leading the United States out of the climate crisis and into the clean energy revolution.

Alex Bozmoski is the director of strategy and operations at RepublicEn. It’s a job he’s well-suited for — he used to be a climate denier himself.

Alex Bozmoski

As an undergrad at Georgetown, Bozmoski enrolled in a climate science class as a joke, planning to heckle the professor. But when challenged to justify his skepticism, Bozmoski found he had drawn erroneous conclusions fueled by conservative radio shows and Fox News. He cast around in his network of fellow Republicans and conservatives for people he could discuss his newfound understanding of climate change with, but he kept coming up empty.

Bozmoski found that, despite a long legacy of environmental leadership in the Republican Party, most modern-day members weren’t even thinking about our overheating planet, let alone figuring out how to address the problem.

Environmental issues weren’t always this polarizing. President Nixon set a firm national precedent when he created the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1970. The Senate passed the Clean Air Act that same year, 73 votes to 0.

Fast-forward to the 2012 presidential election, when multiple Republican candidates advocated for abolishing the EPA. Two years later, just one of all the 107 Republicans running for Senate mentioned climate change.

It’s no wonder Bozmoski felt betrayed by his party and ill-equipped to apply his conservative thinking to the issue. Yet he could still understand why his fellow conservatives didn’t care.

“When you don’t trust anyone talking about climate change, when you don’t see your tribe talking about solutions that fit with your worldview, it’s really easy to cope with the problem by ignoring it or denying it,” he said. Bozmoski did neither.

He went hunting for like-minded Republicans and found Bob Inglis, a former U.S. representative from South Carolina who came out swinging against global warming in 2010 (a position that likely cost him his seat in the House). Bozmoski tracked the ousted politician down in 2012, and they started a project called the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. RepublicEn grew out of that project. They popularized the term “eco-right.”

RepublicEn hit the road in 2014, traveling across the country to persuade conservatives that their principles and values can be applied to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, RepublicEn has held 300 events across America, mostly for expressly conservative audiences. Bozmoski estimates that the organization has reached more than 26,000 Americans. He gets people to listen by reminding them that they have power.

“You are the most important environmental champions on planet Earth,” he tells them. “Republicans won’t lead without first being led by their constituents. You have an outsized influence on our ability as humanity to deal with this problem.”

RepublicEn hopes to generate conservative support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. “It’s the only solution that’s effective enough to address climate change and fits with conservative principles,” Bozmoski said.

A carbon tax is pragmatic and relatively simple: Put a rising fee on the use of fossil fuels, forcing companies to curb their emissions. To make it revenue neutral — and more acceptable to conservatives — the money generated by that fee goes back to Americans through checks or by cutting payroll or sales taxes.

A carbon tax in any form is unlikely to make it through today’s highly partisan Congress, so, in the meantime, RepublicEn advocates for a level playing field for wind and solar energy, less leaky oil and gas infrastructure, and nuclear power.

Jessica Fernandez, a lifelong Floridian and conservative, was one of the people inspired by RepublicEn’s national eco-right tour. Her upbringing might have had something to do with it. “At my house,” she said, “we grew up with solar panels on the roof and composting.”

Jessica Fernandez

In 2014, she met Alex Bozmoski and Debbie Dooley, head of a subset of the Tea Party called the Green Tea Party. Fernandez, a long-time director of the Miami Young Republicans, liked their pitch that conservatives should be leaders in conserving the environment. “It’s groundbreaking, I know,” she said with a chuckle. When trying to engage other Republicans on green issues, she quickly learned that an alarmist attitude just doesn’t work.

What approach does work? A focus on money. Fernandez said that conservatives are more likely to respond positively if you say, “Hey! Fixing the climate is something that can benefit you economically.” She tells them about community solutions like solar co-ops, groups of homeowners who use their collective purchasing power to install solar on the cheap, thereby reducing monthly electric bills.

Tanner, the conservationist from Montana, approaches the issue from a different angle. He thinks talking to conservatives about climate change requires language that is hyper-specific and localized.

The fine lines between demographics are razor-sharp. Messaging that works for a hunter might not work for a fisherman, even though both face the same set of environmental consequences: a scarcity of fish and game. “It’s almost like code,” he said. “As soon as you try and talk to people who aren’t like you, all of these barriers go up.”

For that reason, Tanner says the messenger and the message have to be authentic. He spends his weeks customizing language that personally appeals to various sub-demographics of sportsmen and women. There are millions of hunters and anglers in the United States. “That’s a ton of us,” he said. “If even 20 percent or 30 percent of them got engaged, it would have a huge impact.”

James Tolbert

James Tolbert is an unlikely environmental lobbyist. He spent 27 years helping big corporations clean up pollution. In 2013, the engineer was wrapping up work on the fallout from a million gallons of crude oil spilling from the Enbridge Pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan when he decided to switch teams. He traded in his senior position at energy infrastructure firm AECOM for a role as a lobbyist at Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

While Conservation Hawks and RepublicEn use grassroots organizing to drum up support among conservatives, lobbyists like Tolbert use a “grasstops” approach to push Republican representatives in Congress to support solutions.

We “create political space with a member of Congress by showing him that there is support from key members in his community,” Tolbert said. Citizens’ Climate Lobby calls these key community members “influencers” — business leaders, members of the chamber of commerce, even regional newspaper editorial boards. He sees them as crucial to getting anywhere with members of Congress.

When a Republican representative hesitates to accept climate change for fear of losing an upcoming reelection campaign, a well-placed opinion piece in a hometown newspaper or an endorsement from a local business leader can occasionally tip the scales.

It’s premature to say the winds of change are blowing, but we may be seeing the beginnings of a breeze. This month, more than 100 congressional lawmakers, including 11 House Republicans, wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to address climate change and the threat it poses to national security after his administration left the issue out of its national security strategy.

William Ruckelshaus, who served as EPA administrator under Nixon and President Reagan, has met with a number of eco-right organizations. He believes massive support for significant action on global warming is “going to have to include conservative groups, and virtually every discipline in society.” When Republicans do finally warm up to the idea of a conservative environmental movement, the eco-right will step out of the wings.

“They’re going to begin to get worried” about the growing impacts of a warming planet, Ruckelshaus said. “If there are organizations that they feel more comfortable with, they’re more likely to sign on.”

Todd Tanner.Image credit: Jeremy Roberts

The eco-right hasn’t exactly received a warm embrace from the conservative movement. In 2014, the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm Berman and Company launched the Environmental Policy Alliance — yes, EPA for short. The outfit is “devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups.” Among its targets: climate-conscious organizations like Tanner’s Conservation Hawks.

Shortly after it started, the alliance launched a website called Green Decoys, which claims that left-wing environmental NGOs use sportsmen as a cover for their “radical environmental activist” agendas.

The site has a different informational video targeting each kind of American conservation group. In the “Montana” video, a man in camouflage carrying a rifle speaks straight into the camera. “I’m a real sportsman,” he says. “And I’m a member of organizations that support hunting and fishing.” His double appears on screen, wearing a camo neckerchief. “And I’m a phony sportsman,” the double says. “I support candidates that think we cling to our guns because we just don’t know any better.”

Tanner isn’t worried about people who question his legitimacy. “If the folks who run Green Decoys, and I’m well aware of who they are, want to get together and see who’s a better hunter or fisher, or who’s the real deal and who’s not,” he said, “we are more than happy to have that conversation.”

Bozmoski recognizes that some conservatives have gone too far down the path of denial to be receptive to RepublicEn’s message. “We aren’t big enough to go around persuading people who really believe, to their core, that this is a government conspiracy,” he said. “We don’t worry about the people on the fringe who are hobbyists in antagonism on climate change.”

Fernandez hopes the tide of support for environmental legislation will rise to the highest levels of government.

“Climate change doesn’t have a political affiliation,” she said. She believes that even President Trump might change his tune if the solution is “repackaged as something that benefits the United States of America.”

What should the eco-right do while the top dogs on Capitol Hill insist on looking the other way? Ruckelshaus, the former EPA chief, says to “keep on.” But as we descend into ever-worsening environmental chaos, the question remains: How soon can these conservatives alter the course of history?

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Seeing Red on Climate

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There’s new evidence that facts really do make a difference.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held a press conference to discuss the Department of the Interior’s intentions for drilling rights in American-controlled waters. In brief: The Arctic, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and possibly parts of the Pacific are pretty much all fair game now. The new policy would encompass “the largest number of lease sales ever proposed,” Zinke said.

It’s a direct take-back of the plan that the Obama administration finalized in November 2016. Those rules, which protected the Arctic and Atlantic seas from new drilling, were supposed to hold until 2022. But President Trump has long claimed the legal authority, and intention, to reverse it.

Conservation groups will almost certainly challenge this new draft plan in court. And a bipartisan group of local and state officials also oppose new drilling in some of these areas. In June, 14 House Republicans issued a joint letter opposing drilling off the Atlantic. Florida Governor Rick Scott joined the opposition Thursday, saying that his “top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”

Overall, more than 100 lawmakers — along with plenty of governors, attorneys general, and the U.S. Defense Department — oppose the plan.

Just last week, the Interior Department’s rollback of drilling safety regulations after the 2009 Deepwater Horizon spill cited their “unnecessary … burden” on industry.


There’s new evidence that facts really do make a difference.

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