What Happened to the Chamber I Once Knew?

I remember a time when the Chamber of Commerce worked to bring new businesses and good jobs to American communities. These days, however, the national organization seems more interested in blocking ingenuity than fostering it.

The National Chamber of Commerce recently kicked off an ad campaign tied to 21 Congressional races. Many of the ads address health care reform, but several focus on energy. The ads assail candidates who support renewable power, cars that go father on less gasoline, and other clean energy solutions. And they applaud candidates who favor the same fossil fuels that have dirtied our air for centuries.

Just to be clear: Every single one of the attack ads targets Democrats, and all the positive ads back Republicans.

Positioning America as the leader of the 21st century clean energy market should be a shared national goal, but the Chamber of Commerce has revealed once again it views clean energy as a partisan lightening rod.

For the sake of politics—or the fossil fuel sector—they are rejecting the enormous economic opportunity presented by clean energy. The U.S market invested $55.9 billion in clean energy technologies last year according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. You would think that kind of growth in the midst of a recession would earn some respect within the chamber.

Instead, chamber leaders ignore it and discount the jobs that come with this investment. It’s as if they were saying that the more than 100,000 Americans working in the solar industry or the more than 80,000 in the wind industry don’t embody the values of entrepreneurialism, prosperity, and growth that the Chamber of Commerce used to represent.

This may come as no surprise to those who know the chamber for refusing to accept climate science, but I knew the chamber in a different light.

My father was active in the Chamber of Commerce in the small, conservative town where I grew up. Like local chambers everywhere, it was dedicated to making our community grow and prosper. It wasn’t interested in blocking national energy policy or pretending to know more about science than scientists. It simply worked to support existing businesses in the area and attract new ones.

In those days, the chamber helped make the American Dream happen for people. Now its representatives in Washington act like a shadow group dedicated to obstructing innovation and progress. This makes them blind to real advances happening in communities across the country. More than 150,000 Americans, for instance, have jobs manufacturing clean cars. They work for 300 different companies at facilities in 43 different states.  Most of them are building cars and using technologies that weren’t even available 10 years ago.

That’s the kind of opportunity my dad would have welcomed in our town. But these days, the national Chamber of Commerce wants to undermine it and any policies that would encourage it.

It seems committed to turning clean energy into the third rail of politics for this cycle. It has promised to be more involved in this election cycle than they were in 2010, when it spent more than $33 million on federal races.

Money like that gives the chamber real power, but I believe the American Dream is more powerful. I think most voters will see that real jobs, real growth, and real innovation will do more for their communities than the chamber’s obstruction.




Day One

Recently Mitt Romney rolled out two new ads touting what he plans to do on his first day on the job if elected President. Both are filled with some lofty goals to say the least, with the scariest part being that he may actually believe he accomplish all these tasks on day one.

For the sake of time, I will set aside the ad mentions of overturning the Affordable Care Act and introducing tax cuts/reforms and just focus on two of the big hitters, approving Keystone Pipeline and repealing job killing regulations.

In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural activities, these ads want us to believe that Mitt Romney will make approving the Keystone Pipeline and the repeal of regulations his top priorities. So even with all the other issues facing our country, he’s going to make building a pipeline that transports dirty tar sands oil from Canada, through highly sensitive areas of our country, to the already endangered Gulf Coast his first act as President? And as his next act he will repeal all the regulations he deems job killers? Will there be any regard for considering that some regulations are good, can actually create jobs and are meant to keep us safe? And the really pressing question, will this be before or after he picks out his power tie and presidential cufflinks for his ceremonial walk down Pennsylvania Avenue?

On one hand, these ads are hard to believe and can probably just be chalked up to campaign rhetoric and the willingness to make promises, which probably can’t be kept (especially since Congress doesn’t care about “Day One” or “Day Three Hundred”).  In fact, the only way he could probably make this kind of promise happen is if he pays for it to become a reality. 

The scary thing is that he could. These ads could be plausible because Romney is seeking counsel from the likes of Harold Hamm. Hamm, who serves as Romney’s top energy advisor, is the billionaire chairman and CEO of Continental Resources. And, just one month after assuming his role as energy advisor, contributed nearly $1 million to the pro-Romney Super PAC. Raising legitimate questions about his influence with candidate Romney and how those ties could benefit his company.

The saying goes “you are who you associate with.” For Mitt Romney this seems to be not only true, but could become our reality if he is given a day one. 




IN Primary: Loss of Moderates No Good for Governing or the Environment

Long-time Senator Richard Lugar lost to Tea Party darling Richard Mourdock in Tuesday’s Indiana Republican primary contest. In a legislative body like the Senate where compromise and bipartisanship have long been necessary, this is another blow for getting things done.

In recent years, the upper chamber has lost - due to primary challenges, general election losses or resignations attributed to frustration with polarization - a number of moderates, including Olympia Snowe, Evan Bayh and John Warner. These Senators were often willing to buck their party leaders and cross the aisle on issues like climate change and energy security, forging the coalitions necessary to pass legislation.

Although not a central reason for why Lugar lost , Mourdock had criticized Lugar’s associations with groups like the Alliance to Save Energy and the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security Initiative. That’s because these groups had the nerve to endorse comprehensive energy legislation that would have dramatically improved the efficiency of our nation’s buildings and appliances while reducing costs. They also supported policies to reduce our dependence on foreign oil which increases our national security and protects our troops. All issues which should not be polarized by partisanship.

In his lengthy concession statement, Lugar focused on the costs of partisan politics and the need for elected officials to study the issues and sometimes take a different view than their party. He said,

“Too often bipartisanship is equated with centrism or deal cutting. Bipartisanship is not the opposite of principle. One can be very conservative or very liberal and still have a bipartisan mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the other party is also patriotic and may have some good ideas. It acknowledges that national unity is important, and that aggressive partisanship deepens cynicism, sharpens political vendettas, and depletes the national reserve of good will that is critical to our survival in hard times.”

Protecting public health and our environmental safeguards not only confronts Congress on a daily basis, it is also moving front and center in the 2012 elections. At the same time, new science suggests that the consequences of inaction on climate change could be more severe than we had previously imagined and today renowned climate scientist James Hansen wrote a scathing editorial in the New York Times calling for serious action to be taken.

Lugar is correct to point out that the inability to work across party lines threatens our ability to address this and other challenges. That’s why the NRDC Action Fund is a nonpartisan organization working to rebuild the environmental majority regardless of party affiliation. We want to remind candidates that you can run on clean energy and protecting public health and the environment, because it’s what Americans really want from their leaders.

Mother Nature is not registered with a political party. She’s just looking for all the help she can get.



Enough is Enough, Why Some Ad Campaigns Go Too Far

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been speechless. As a professional communicator, that’s probably a good thing. However, when the following headline: Heartland Institute compares belief in global warming to mass murder, reached my inbox this morning, I sat staring at my computer screen, with my mouth gaping, completely at a loss for words. Seconds later, after finally recovering from my initial shock, the words “now I’ve seen it all” came to mind.

While the Heartland Institute is known for its outlandish propaganda against climate change, this is a new low and might I say ill-advised attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Americans. A recent poll from the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion shows that 62% of Americans believe climate change is real. This number is significantly higher than polling from just two years ago. The trend is linked to respondents acknowledging their own personal experiences as the main reason they believe the earth is warming.

Aside from the fact that solid scientific evidence and public opinion are not on their side, the Heartland Institute decided to plow ahead with comparing the majority of Americans (myself included) to Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Charles Manson (a mass murderer) and Fidel Castro (a dictator) in their new ad campaign in Chicago. If, like us you don’t really identify with those notorious figures, you’re in luck. Future ads may feature Osama bin Laden. Seriously. I wish I was making this up.

There comes a time in all political discourse that someone must say “enough is enough” and this simply “goes too far.” The Heartland Institute should be ashamed of this type of extremist gamesmanship, which as the NRDC Action Fund previously blogged, “No one actually wins this kind of game. Instead, we end up with one big loser: the American people.”

What the American people want and need is a real dialog about how we can work together to invest in clean energy, while protecting our precious resources and the health of our kids. It’s time we all drew a line in the sand and told the likes of the Heartland Institute to stop these types of outlandish ads. 







When Politics Becomes the Game

The NRDC Action Fund just released a book called Reckless about the House Republican majority that cast more than 200 votes against environmental safeguards last year. We aren’t the only ones dismayed by the rise in GOP extremism. Republican leaders are too.

This week, two esteemed conservative thinkers published a must-read op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Mann and Ornstein are no lightweight centrists; they are the Republicans of the Republicans. If they see fault in their party’s lurch to the far right, then you know things have gotten out of hand.  

Their piece made me realize just how many lawmakers seem to have forgotten why they serve. This is true of Republicans and Democrats alike, but the Republicans have cast themselves as the Party of No and made the defeat of the other side their primary goal. No one actually wins this kind of game. Instead, we end up with one big loser: the American people.

Citizens send lawmakers to Washington to govern, not to play chicken. GOP’s obstructionism may score points with their base, but it prevents Members from actually doing the work of government and administering the public’s shared resources including roads, schools, clean air and water.

Most of the public servants I know—from Hill staffers to PTA presidents—pursue their line of work because they want to make things better. Politicians who see victory in paralysis seem to have lost sight of that goal. They have become like the young boy who dreams of playing in the NBA, but gets so focused on the machinations of what it takes to make it that he loses his love of the game. I get it. Institutions like Congress can grind people down. But that’s why we need leaders to stand up and offer inspiration—not nay saying.

The proliferation of negative ads is a symptom of this larger trend. Every political operative will tell you: campaigns use negative messages because they work. They lodge in people’s minds and deliver votes. But here is what’s different this year: PAC money. A new post by Paul Blumenthal includes some stunning statistics:

“While spending in support of one candidate nearly doubled from $19.14 million in 2008 to $36.59 million in 2012, spending against other candidates by independent groups exploded by 680 percent, from only $6.97 million in 2008 to $47.28 million in 2012.”

PACs are fueling the antagonism of an already polarized election cycle. When my two children are fighting, I don’t step in and raise the heat by saying: “Son, don’t you remember how your sister stole your ball? Or “Honey, he hit you first, didn’t he?” The PACs are the equivalent of a mother reminding her children why they hate each. If you stand in the way, you will never find resolution.

Then again, some companies behind the PACs don’t want resolution. Bloomberg News recently reported that 81 percent of anti-Obama ads focus on energy. Americans for Prosperity—a group supported by oil companies—spent more $16.7 million between January and March on negative ads attacking Obama’s energy policies.

Oil companies benefit from a paralyzed political landscape. If Congress can’t pass any laws, then companies don’t have to clean up their pollution, invest in low-carbon technologies, or give up their generous tax breaks. The American people, however, are stuck with the dirty air, the extreme weather events, and the wind turbine factories moving to China.

Candidates who make clean energy a central part of their platform can correct that imbalance. Clean energy is about job creation, competitive advantage, clean air, health families, and keeping our troops out of harm’s way. It’s about building things, not destroying them.

That’s what makes it a powerful antidote to current political antagonism. Lawmakers may debate the best way to promote clean energy or confront climate change, but the fact remains that expanding the clean economy will benefit America. Isn’t that why lawmakers serve in the first place?




Voldemort Leads Oil Industry Trade Group

It is never good when your leader is compared to Lord Voldemort, the evil “Dark Lord” of the Harry Potter series. Yet, that’s how one oil industry insider describes Jack Gerard, President of the American Petroleum Institute (API) according to a recent Washington Post profile.

The Post profile details Gerard’s long history as an anti-environmental, pro-pollution advocate. He previously worked for for Sen. James A. McClure, one of only 11 senators to vote against the overwhelmingly bipartisan and popular Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. He then worked for the National Mining Association and the American Chemical Coalition, two groups not exactly known in Washington for their strong advocacy of worker and public health.

Now Gerard has taken the helm and steered API toward a less factual, more political advocacy agenda. The group has already bought at least $4.3 million in broadcast ads this year. These ads tend to target politicians who dare suggest that drilling should be done safely or that innovative clean energy startups might need tax breaks more than highly profitable oil companies. API’s advocacy often hides in small print attached to groups with more appealing names like “Energy Nation,” “Energy Citizens,” “EnergyTomorrow,” “Vote4Energy,” or the “Coalition for American Jobs.”

Just like Voldemort, Gerard is a formidable foe. He’s got powerful allies and strong weapons (in Voldemort’s case, magic; in Gerard’s, lots of cash) on his side. But - spoiler alert - in the end, Harry Potter and the powers of good defeat Voldemort. It’s a reminder to clean energy advocates not to give up. In the end, we too can defeat You-Know-Who.


Whatever You Call It, Clean Energy is Bipartisan

Clean energy companies are forming a political action committee (PAC) to make sure that clean energy candidates are elected to Congress. The newly-formed Accelerating Energy Leadership PAC (or AccelPAC) was in the news last week not because it represents a significant beefing-up of the clean energy industry’s political might. Bloomberg broke the story by highlighting the way the PAC will talk about clean energy issues. Rather than referring to “clean” energy, the PAC is focused on “alternative” energy.

“We want to avoid the catch words -- clean energy, green energy -- that set people off in the wrong way,” said Tim Greeff, the Washington-based PAC’s treasurer. “The political rhetoric is starting to dictate and override any pragmatic solutions.”

Whatever you call it, AccelPAC makes clear that clean energy is a bipartisan issue. The PAC’s first recipient was Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller. We’ve highlighted Heller’s clean energy record here before, noting that Heller isn’t afraid to trumpet his support for “renewable” energy in his campaign.

As the NRDC Action Fund’s Running Clean report shows, leading on clean energy issues is a winning strategy. AccelPAC is a welcome addition to the world of clean energy politics. Because, at the end of the day, electing a clean energy majority is more important than the name we call it.



Voters Want Obama's Clean Energy Plan

Another major poll has confirmed that American voters across the political spectrum welcome clean energy development. It also found that when given the facts, the majority of Democrats and Independents oppose the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil.

The support for clean energy isn’t news—many pollsters have determined that Democrats, Republicans, and Independents embrace clean energy and want to develop more of it. But the timing of this latest poll is instructive.  

It should remind candidates that clean energy is a mobilizing issue. It offers a positive way to address voters’ biggest concerns right now: jobs, economic growth, and the health of our families.  

But as NRDC’s Action Fund mapped out in the report “Running Clean,” in order to win on clean energy, candidates can’t just name check the issue.  

They have to lead on it. They have to offer a vision for America’s clean energy future, and they have to do it before their opponents frame the issue for them.  

This latest poll, conducted by Geoff Garin and Allan Rivlin of Hart Research, focused on four swing states: Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. Those same four states have been bombarded with ads funded by oil companies attacking President Obama. And yet the poll found that 45 percent of voters trust the president more than the Republican Congress when it comes to energy issues. The GOP-led House only got 38 percent on energy.  

The poll also asked voters if they supported the president’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. At first, voters opposed his decision by 43 to 32 percent. But when pollsters offered more detailed arguments for and against the pipeline, things changed. More voters started to back the president and resist the pipeline.  

Of those, 79 percent of Democrats thought the president was right to deny the pipeline, while 9 percent did not. Forty-eight percent of Independents agreed with the president’s decision to reject it, compared to 33 percent who want it go forward. For Republicans, the split was 69 percent to 13 percent.  

GOP supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline have been out front with their message over the past few weeks. They have been using wildly inflated jobs numbers and downplaying the fact that much of the tar sands oil would be imported out of the U.S. to other markets. But their story seemed to break through.  

Media Matters released a survey analyzing coverage of the Keystone XL pipeline from August 1 to December 31, 2011. A full 79 percent of the time, broadcast news reporting on Keystone XL interviewed a pipeline proponent.  They interviewed a critic of the tar sands pipeline only 7 percent of the time.  

With coverage like that, it’s no wonder voters aren’t getting the whole story. But when they learn more—like that the pipeline will create as few as 2,500 jobs according to a Cornell University study, will increase gas prices in the Midwest, and send its dirty oil to the “Foreign Trade Zone” in Port Arthur, Texas, where companies get incentives to export around the world, then their opposition grows. The Hart Research poll confirms it.  

But leaders have to get their message out about why the dirty stuff hurts America and why clean energy helps it grow. Voters respond to the clean-versus-dirty message, but candidates have to deliver that message clearly and quickly. This isn’t just about the race in November; this is the race every day to frame the debate first.  

Obama has done a masterful job of framing the benefits of the clean energy economy. He consistently says clean energy can deliver more jobs, safer air, and a bigger competitive advantage for Americans businesses, and he enacts policies—from clean car standards to incentives for wind and solar power—that are delivering those benefits right now. He believes so strongly in the appeal of clean energy that he made it the topic of his first presidential campaign ad last month.  

In the end, this isn’t about campaign rhetoric. It’s about our country’s future. The polls show that Americans trust Obama on energy issues and support his clean energy plan. They are giving him permission to lead the nation into a cleaner future.  

The dirty tar sands pipeline has no place in that future. But if Obama continues to head down the cleaner path, voters will follow.

Gingrich and Romney Offer the Same Tired Energy Policies

Newt Gingrich trounced Mitt Romney in South Carolina, ensuring that the race for the GOP nomination will likely continue for weeks to come. The Republican establishment may have settled on Romney, but voters keep throwing their support behind the anti-Romney -- whichever candidate of the moment sounds as different from the supposedly “moderate” Massachusetts governor as possible.

Right now, Gingrich is the one generating all the passion. But if one goes by their campaign statements, Gingrich differs from Romney more in style (and personal life) than in substance. Gingrich has more spit and fire in him, but he and Romney share many views, including their similarly outdated approach to energy development.

We’ve heard the same tired ideas during the primaries, and we will hear them again in the Republican response to the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night: candidates offer plenty of attacks on Obama, but no new vision for America’s energy future.

Gingrich may be the man who wrote the book, Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less: A Handbook for Solving Our Energy Crisis, but Romney is just as eager to rely on the same fossil fuels we’ve been using for the past 100 years. Romney’s energy blueprint, included in his “Believe in America” economic plan, calls for flinging open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy companies, sinking wells into the deepwater, and expanding fracking in the Marcellus Shale, despite a long list of environmental and public health concerns (not to mention small earthquakes).

Neither Romney nor Gingrich has a fresh plan for an energy future built on innovation and cutting-edge technology. Neither one talks about how better-performing cars are putting 150,000 Americans to work right now and helping slash our oil addiction at the same time. Neither one trumpets the fact that American engineers are already making breakthroughs in the next generation of solar technology. And neither one of them urges America to lead what has been estimated as the $243 billion global clean energy market.

Instead, both Romney and Gingrich seem to view renewable technologies as a wasteful distraction. This despite the fact that the Department of Defense—the nation’s largest consumer of energy—has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 because of national security concerns.

The candidates like to demagogue about energy independence, but they have no plan to achieve it besides doing more of the same—an approach that hasn’t worked so far. We saw it in Gingrich’s acceptance speech in South Carolina. “I want America to become so energy independent that no American president ever again bows to a Saudi king.” That is a fine aspiration, but instead of encouraging Detroit to build more fuel-efficient engines or farmers to grow sustainable biofuels, he called for expanding offshore drilling and approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

When your home has 1.6 percent of the globe’s proven oil reserves and you consume 26 percent of the world’s supply, there is a limit to how much you can influence supply. That's not politics; it's geology.

And building a pipeline from a friendly ally won’t help much when the pipeline operators routinely say in the Canadian press that a primary goal of Keystone XL is to access Asian markets. The same operators have refused in Congressional testimony to commit to selling the majority of their oil to the United States. Instead, they are rerouting it out of the Midwest and into the “Foreign Trade Zone” in Port Arthur, Texas, where companies get incentives to export from of the United States.

Approving a pipeline to help dirty tar sands oil get to Asia is not a long-term plan for America’s energy system. Opening more ocean waters to drilling won’t position us to lead the next generation of energy breakthroughs. But that doesn’t stop Gingrich and Romney from singing the same old song again and again.

President Obama recognizes that America’s energy leadership will be built on clean technologies. Last week he kicked off his presidential campaign advertising with an ad devoted to the economic power of clean energy. I expect he will highlight it again in the State of the Union.

Here is how I expect the GOP candidates to respond: They will criticize Obama’s clean energy programs and sprinkle in fossil fuel buzzwords like Keystone and drilling. But their complaints can’t cover the fact that they have no fresh ideas, no innovation, and no groundbreaking vision for America’s energy future.

API’s Next Sham Campaign

Today the American Petroleum Institute launched its latest attack on our great nation with their “Vote 4 Energy” or “I vote” campaign.

At the campaigns unveiling, API President Jack Gerard explained, “We are doing this because an electorate that is educated on energy issues will demand of all candidates, for every office, a commitment to honest common-sense discussions of how we can achieve energy security…”

I look forward to engaging in that discussion with Gerard and candidates for office because the electorate has been pretty clear what they want:

A Pew poll done last year found that 71 percent of Americans believe “This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment.”  And 59% believe that “strongly.” The same poll found that 63 percent favored prioritizing clean energy, such as wind and solar. Only 29 percent favored expanding exploration and production of fossil fuels.

A more recent poll from November by the Washington Post and Pew Research Center found that 68 percent favor developing solar, wind, and hydrogen, only 26 percent oppose it. This compares to 58 percent who favor drilling offshore or on federal lands, and 35 percent who oppose it.  Support for nuclear energy is supported by only 39 percent of Americans while 53 percent are still opposed.

Voter support is even stronger when it comes to cleaning up pollution caused by fossil fuels. A poll conducted by Ceres on behalf of a coalition of investors, environmental, and public interest organizations found that 75 percent of voters think the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not Congress, should determine air pollution standards. 88 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents, and 58 percent of Republicans oppose Congress stopping the EPA from enacting new limits on air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Mr. Gerard implies that somehow Americans aren’t having an honest discussion about energy but I don’t think Mr. Gerard, with his $4.31 million salary and corporate perks, has any idea what normal people are talking about and how honest or dishonest the conversation is. In fact, API spent almost $6 million last year lobbying Members of Congress to continue their oily ways.

Despite API’s expenditures, voters are pretty clear what they want. I am sure that API will spend a lot of money spreading falsehoods in 2012 (like this one, this one, and this one) to further scare politicians beholden to corporate interests who don’t want to pay to clean up their messes. But if your audience is truly the public, Mr. Gerard, let’s have this debate.

I vote and my kid’s health and our country’s economic future matter way more to me then your bottom line. I am betting that there are millions of other voters just like me.


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