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

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

Now, I feel like sucker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the Game: Your Part, My Part

In an era when the oil and gas industry poured more than $22 million into candidates’ coffers in the 2010 election cycle, it is easy to believe polluters hold all the cards. The truth is there are still ways to gain political power that don’t involve writing a fat check.

But in order to get in the game, you have to show up.

You have to get on your feet and make your presence known at lawmakers’ district offices, hometown rallies, or Washington events.  Some folks make their presence known through civil disobedience. I am too much of rule-bound first-born to take that path; being my mother’s daughter and having an arrest warrant just don’t jibe. But I have great respect for those who use this peaceful technique to capture politicians’ attention.

This week, for instance, environmental activist Bill McKibben, has organized daily sit-ins at the White House to call on President Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline . The pipeline, which would run 1,700 miles from Alberta to Texas, would lock America into using more dirty tar sands oil—a fuel that generates three times as much global warming pollution as regular crude.

The people risking arrest include farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, and landowners from along the proposed pipeline route. They include religious leaders, labor activists, and others. And they include the renowned Gus Speth, one of the co-founders of NRDC, the chair of President Carter’s Council on Environmental Quality, and the former director of the United Nations Development Programme.  Speth was arrested during the sit-in, along with 161 other people so far. In a statement  from the Central Cell Block of the D.C. Jail, he said, “I’ve held numerous positions and public offices in Washington, but my current position feels like one of the most important.”

Having respected citizens like Speth invite arrest—during the same week the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is being dedicated in Washington no less—gets attention. It makes it harder for leaders to pretend constituents don’t care about the tar sands oil pipeline.

But civil disobedience is just one approach. If that’s not your style, you can find other ways to step up.

Because this is the season to get involved. It is the season of candidates riding around on bus tours. It is the season of new candidates joining races every other week. And it is the season of Member of Congress fighting to keep their jobs.

It is a political truism that even when people hate Congress as a whole, they still like their own members. The 112th Congress has blasted that pattern to bits. Earlier this month, CNN released a poll that showed for the first time ever that people are ready to throw their elected officials out of office regardless of party. This is sobering news for lawmakers.  It also means members will be spending more time in their home districts trying to shore up support. I encourage you to attend their public events (you can often find schedules on their websites) and ask them where they stand on key environmental issues.

Posing questions accomplishes two things. First, you find out what their position is.  One of the most powerful images for me in the 2010 election was from a video on YouTube of a young woman from St. Louis asking Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill: are you on the side of polluters or are you on the side of the people? McCaskill said she stood with people, but then she wound herself up into an agitated response, acknowledging the political contributions she gets from coal companies and even saying that the young woman’s question “irritates” her. Well, at least we know more about where she stands.

Second, asking questions show lawmakers that voters value environmental protections. Polluters are very busy trying to tell them otherwise. As the New York Times pointed out recently, candidates for the GOP presidential nomination have turned bashing the Environmental Protection Agency into a part-time sport. I think they do it because they think no one cares about environmental and public health safeguards.

We have to show them that we do care.

Politics is about repetition, and we need to use every town hall meeting, every bus-tour stop, and every ribbon cutting ceremony to tell our representatives that we care about environmental protection. And then we need to do it again.

The more we show up, the harder it is for them to ignore us. And the more we speak up, the sooner they will have to respond.

Perry Just Another Climate Denier

The past week has confirmed that climate paralysis reigns in the GOP. Michele Bachmann has been relishing her first place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll, but Ron Paul came in just 152 votes behind her. That counts as a toss-up in my book, and I can’t decide which one is worse: Bachmann who denies climate exists, or Paul who acknowledges that climate change might be real but doesn’t believe government should do anything about it.

The new golden boy of the race, Governor Rick Perry, shares Bachmann’s refusal to accept the reality of global warming. But unlike Bachmann, he stands a good chance of winning the party’s nomination. And that could have major implications for our country’s energy future.

Believe it or not, a Republican president doesn’t necessarily spell the end of climate action. Most major pieces of environmental legislation have passed when a Republican sat in the Oval Office: President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, President Ford signed the Safe Drinking Water Act, and President H. W. Bush signed the Clean Air Act Amendments (which launched a cap-and-trade program to reduce acid rain pollution).

A GOP candidate or president with a moderate stance on climate change could move America down the road to reducing carbon pollution. But one who doesn’t even acknowledge the problem will make our nation’s eventual response cost too much and come too late. Unfortunately, Perry is squarely in the denial camp.

As Dylan Matthews points out in a piece in the Washington Post, Perry wrote in his requisite campaign book that “we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time.”

Last week PolitiFact.com examined a similar claim when Tim Pawlenty told the Miami Herald that climate science is “in dispute.” PolitiFact.com puts politicians’ statements through its so-called Truth-o-Meter, and most of the time the needle points somewhere in between True and False. For Pawlenty’s claim—and by extension Perry’s—the needle rested squarely on False.

This is Flat Earth territory. This is “I choose not to believe in gravity” wackiness.

I can find common ground with a GOP leader who acknowledges scientific data since, while we might have different views about the policies we need to address the problem, at least we can agree on the facts. But I can’t imagine that someone who so willfully ignores the evidence can successfully govern a country.

Perry has pronounced that he will not watch Al Gore’s slide show on climate change. What if he someday he decides he will not hear the security briefings from the CIA? What if he decides to stop listening to the people at the Federal Reserve? Is that any way to lead the nation? We don’t get to pick the facts of our times, but we do get to choose how we confront them.

There is something I share with Perry: a belief in prayer. But even here, Perry takes the easy way out. During his famous prayer vigil a few weeks ago, Perry called on the audience to pray for victims of the droughts plaguing the country – which is ironic since scientists tie global warming to increased frequency and severity of droughts. I am happy to join in that prayer, but my work doesn’t end there. I also do my part to solve the problem intensifying those droughts: climate change.

I believe God hears our prayers, but expects us to do our part.  My brother just had a stroke at the age of 28. My family and all our friends prayed as hard as we could that he would recover. But we also made sure he got to the hospital and did what the doctors told him.

Ignoring climate change doesn’t make it go away. And it is unlikely that resorting only to prayer without actions will work either. We need leaders—of either party—who can acknowledge what science tells us and meet in the middle to craft smart policy to deal with it. The GOP has a history of doing that on environmental matters. Someone just has to remind their party frontrunners of that fact.

Clean Energy is A Political Winner

There is a name for avoiding certain issues in politics: avoiding the “third rail.” The theory is that if you touch this highly charged rail it will kill your political career. Clean energy and climate issues got that “third rail” tag during the 2010 election but the facts and the polls tell a very different story.

Senator Reid ignored the risk of clean energy being a “third rail”. He was one of the most endangered incumbents in the nation in 2010. To win, he focused on job growth with a specific emphasis on the jobs in the renewable energy sector. In fact, the very first ad produced by the campaign focused on clean energy. Brandon Hall, his campaign manager said, “Clean energy was our #1 issue in terms of a positive reason to vote for Harry Reid. It was huge with Independents – it was the #1 issue. We used it in everything we did.”

Why did it work? Clean energy is a winner across the board:

  • 91% of Americans say developing sources of clean energy should be a priority for the President and Congress, including 85% of Republicans and 89% of independents, and 97% of Democrats. (Yale Project on Climate Communication, 5/2011)
  • 86% of those polled want federal government to limit air pollution from businesses and 76% favored government restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from businesses. (Stanford University, 6/2011)
  • 66% of Americans consider “development of alternative energy such as wind and solar” as the preferred approach to addressing our energy concerns (only 26% chose oil, gas, or coal supplies. (Gallup Environment Poll, 3/2011)
  • On average, battleground state voters were almost 20 percentage points more likely to vote for someone who supports clean energy legislation. (Public Policy Polling, 10/2010)
  • When asked which energy sources we need to rely more upon, 88% of Americans said solar power, 83% said wind power, 28% said oil. In fact 71% of those polled felt like we should rely less on oil. (CNN/New Opinion Research Corp, 3/2011)
  • When asked who is to blame for an increase in oil prices, 61% of respondents said that oil companies had a “great deal” to do with the price spikes. Only 24% thought environmental regulation was to blame. (CNN/Opinion Research Corp, 5/2011)
Too easily members running for office are afraid of well-funded opposition creating the “third rail”. In 2010, Texas oil companies helped fund a California ballot initiative to roll back the state’s landmark clean energy and climate law. They spent millions of dollars trying to charge that rail.

With California suffering the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, the oil companies claimed their ballot initiative (Proposition 23) would support job growth. Data quickly revealed that keeping families safe from air pollution was a top priority -- and when voters learned that Proposition 23 would lead to dirtier skies, they opposed it. Californians defeated Prop 23 by a ratio of 2 to 1 on Election Day. In fact, the defeat of Proposition 23 gained more support than everything else on the ballot, including the gubernatorial and Senate races.

Two thousand miles away in Northwest Ohio, there have been mass layoffs and everywhere you look there are empty industrial facilities. Representative Betty Sutton (OH-13-D) used clean energy to paint a hopeful future for her district saying, “We have a lot of things going on in the development of alternative and new energy that is going to be powered by American workers … we have examples to present to people. We see work happening to sort of break down those fears that we have in my district.”

Clean energy is building a new economy based on the spirit of American innovation. It will create new job opportunities, reduce our dependence on oil and protect us from pollution that threatens our health and contributes to climate change. Voters understand this - and they’re supporting elected officials who share that vision.

The strength behind the clean energy economy is so clear that it’s no longer a Democratic, Republican, or an Independent issue. Lori Weigel, a Republican strategist and pollster with Public Opinion Strategies states, “What we are seeing consistently is support for renewable energy. We ought to be doing more. Voters’ support of a Renewable Electricity Standard is 65%, across the partisan spectrum. They are coming at this from a very positive view of renewable energy.”

Clean energy represents an incredible opportunity for candidates and the communities they hope to represent. Across the country, candidates successfully used it in their campaigns, and have won. It is the best of American values, such as innovation and entrepreneurship. Candidates will be successful when they take this message forward, whether celebrating a new battery research facility in Ohio, watching a new wind turbine turn powerfully against a Texan sky, or standing with the families who breathe cleaner air.

Find out more about running on clean energy at runningclean.org

Rep. Upton attacks strawmen

Rep. Upton has been heavily criticized for catering to special interests (especially to those donors who have made substantial contributions to his campaign).   It's also been shown that he is using bad information, misleading his constituents, and flip flopping on his previous positions.

Instead of addressing this criticism head on and providing leadership on policies that would help his constituents, he's written an emotional OpEd that accuses environmental groups of being "divisive, shrill, disingenuous and inaccurate".   Notably, he chooses to use unnamed sources ("Some claim….") in his criticism instead of citing credible sources.

Sadly, he also continues to say that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would bring  "100,000 jobs" even though he's yet to cite his source, and the State Department estimates are dramatically lower. And he also fails to mention that the existing Keystone pipeline has already had 12 spills or leaks in the past year.

In his OpEd, Upton tries to label environmental groups as "special interests" even though these groups are working to protect the health of children against his unprecedented assaults on the Clean Air Act.  Given that the majority of his constituents oppose his efforts, I guess you could say that we're all specially interested in him doing the right thing.

GOP Presidential Candidates Are Inconsistent in their Religious Values

Representative Michele Bachmann officially joined the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates on Monday. Like many in the race, she identifies herself as a Christian. In fact, in her kick-off speech in Waterloo, Iowa, she described how she gave her heart to Jesus Christ at the age of 16, and how she uses prayer to guide her decision-making. 

But there is one area in which Bachmann departs dramatically from her own tradition and that of most Christian denominations in the nation: environmental values.  Bachmann calls climate change “nonsense” and she routinely refers to the EPA as “the job-killing organization of America.” And yet the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, to which Bachmann was until recently connected, asserts that caring for the world is “a moral issue.”

Bachmann isn’t alone: In a great new post, Eleni Towns of the Center for America Progress outlines how nearly every GOP presidential candidate follows their church teachings when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, but not when it comes to climate change and environmental protection.

As a Christian myself, I know what it is like to have disagreements with the Church. I don’t concur with every teaching that comes from the pulpit, and I believe that questioning is a vital part of faith. But I am still suspicious about the timing of this GOP heterodoxy.

Over the past several years, most Christian denominations have officially embraced environmental values broadly and the moral imperative to confront climate change specifically. The Vatican, the National Association of Evangelicals, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, and other churches have called for on the faithful to help solve the climate crisis.

Several GOP candidates agreed with these church teachings — until the Tea Party became the new religion in Washington, that is.

Ever since the Koch Brothers (who made their money in oil refining and other fossil fuel operations) started pouring funds into the Tea Party, it has taken on decidedly polluter-friendly positions: climate change does not exist, we should rollback public safeguards that help prevent business from harming communities, and companies should not be required to reduce their dirty emissions.

And seemingly, once GOP campaigns realized that the Tea Party might bring more voters to the polls than churches could, they too started following the gospel according to the Koch Brothers. They began siding with the guys behind the curtain instead of the guys in the pulpit.  Almost every candidate has flip-flopped from their previous positions on climate change in the last year, even as their churches’ positions have become stronger.

Back in 2008, for instance, Newt Gingrich sat down with Nancy Pelosi and made a video saying the only issue they agreed upon was the need to fight climate change. Today, Gingrich doubts climate science and questions the need for action.

When Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota, he signed a climate law designed to reduce Minnesota’s carbon emissions and helped launch a regional climate initiative within the Midwest. Today, however, he wonders how much of climate change is caused by humans and accuses the scientific community of “data manipulation.” Pawlenty, who is an evangelical, must have missed the 2006 “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” that 86 leaders signed, including the pastor of Pawlenty’s church.

I too hold positions that are at times out of sync with the Methodist Church, even though the church plays an enormous role in my life. It isn’t easy, and it makes me uncomfortable, and I only do it if my heart, my conscience, and my prayer guide me in that direction. I don’t do it to win primaries.  When the GOP candidates chose to follow the polluting Koch brothers instead of their own clergy, that’s pandering, not principle.

Romney Needs to Go Further

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has garnered attention lately for refusing to back down on climate change. He recently told a town hall meeting in Manchester New Hampshire: “I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

I’m relieved that at least one GOP candidate for president is willing to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.  But I am disheartened that he has yet to offer any solutions to meaningfully address the problem.  And, I can’t help but feel saddened by the flurry of chatter about Romney’s position.

Has climate denial become so routine nowadays that any candidate who acknowledges the facts makes headlines?

In this phase of the presidential election cycle, candidates are jostling over which political strategies will best fix our government’s problems. I expect to see disagreement over policy solutions, but opting out of the facts shouldn’t be an option. It’s one thing to fight over how to fix Medicare. It’s another thing to decide that tumor growth, the evaporation cycle, or other physical phenomena do not exist.

Against this backdrop of denial, Romney looks like a clear-eyed savant.

Of course, he has his own political reasons for sticking to the facts. He doesn’t want to be tagged with the dreaded "flip flopper" label that hovers around him. And he astutely believes that his reasoned stance on climate change will appeal to the majority of voters who value science and want to protect their children from an altered climate.

Romney thinks acknowledging climate change is enough. That is only the beginning. I want to know what he and all our elected officials are going to do to stop the climate crisis.

Romney says he doesn’t believe cap and trade is the answer. This surprises me, considering cap and trade is a Republican-crafted approach first promoted by President George Bush to address acid rain that relies on free markets to drive down the cost of reducing pollution. One would think that a man who built his fortune in the private sector would appreciate a market-driven solution.

But like other fence sitters, Romney would like to play it both ways: acknowledge that climate change exists but don’t actually try to fix it.

That isn’t leadership. Belief without the determination to act is cowardly. What if President Roosevelt said the economic realities of the Depression were grim, but failed to take steps to get America out of it? What if President Reagan had said the Soviet Union was a threat to democracy but hadn’t done anything to deter it?

America needs presidents who don’t just name a problem, but actually solve it.  To be considered a serious contender for environmental voters, he needs to propose solutions.

The Dirty Koch Brothers Launch Their Latest Spin Campaign

As if we haven’t heard enough from the Dirty Koch Brothers, now comes their latest scheme:  This week, Americans for Prosperity -- which is founded and funded by dirty energy giant Koch Industries -- is launching its “Running on Empty Tour” in an attempt to blame high gas prices on the environmental safety regulations and the Obama Administration.   You can be pretty sure they’re not going to talking about how gas prices are affected by Big Oil companies, foreign governments or oil industry speculators like, say, Koch Industries.  They’re planning to preach their lies in places like Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.

These wealthy fat cats are working hard to advance their misguided, dirty agenda which is full of falsehoods and great for their corporate bottom line -- but it isn’t good for your family or your community.  Here are a few examples of their lies:

The lies just keep piling up.  They are spread like urban legend on talk-radio and even in the Capitol.

The solutions they propose in this latest roadshow, like more drilling, will not reduce your gas prices.  In fact, as much as it disturbs me as an environmentalist, the truth is that U.S. Oil production is higher under the Obama administration than it has been in years, according to the Energy Information Administration. Claims that drilling permits are being held up by environmental rules and the Obama Administration are just bogus. The agency that issues offshore drilling permits, in fact has issued shallow water drilling permits at a rate of six per month since October 2010.

The five largest privately held oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — earned profits totaling $901 billion between 2001 and 2010, the non-profit Center for American Progress calculated using companies’ annual reports. And as prices rise, those profits will grow. Big Oil takes care of itself.

Their lies are making us less healthy, our economy less sustainable, our security more questionable and our environment dirtier.  We should do everything we can to stop them.

T-PAW Behind the Times

Former Minnesota Tim Pawlenty (R) decided to run for President on Monday.  Let’s see if it’s a decision he sticks with.  Because when it comes to environmental decisions, he has a habit of repeatedly changing his mind.

A quick review of Pawlenty’s career shows that, in the past, he has often worked to protect public health and the environment in the past. He pushed for expanding mass transit in his home state, and he even backed the cap-and-trade approach to fighting climate change.

Or at least his did temporarily. Once he set his sights on the White House, he decided to renounce his support of cap and trade in a hat tip to the Tea Party. Plenty of politicians reverse course during their professional lives. But what Pawlenty generally does is more troubling than your average flip flop: he only flip flops when it seems fashionable.

Instead of leading the way, Pawlenty waits for the crowd to move, and then he jumps on the bandwagon. That’s not what I call leadership.

For years Pawlenty opposed a commuter rail project, but changed his mind when the G.W. Bush Administration concluded that the project would be cost-effective and save commuters time. He backed another light-rail project that would have connected Minneapolis and St Paul… until 2008 when he followed a group of Republican governors who were refusing to accept federal money for green infrastructure investments like high-speed rail.

Even in his reversal on climate action, Pawlenty says he is just following a trend. As governor, Pawlenty signed a climate law in 2007 designed to reduce Minnesota’s carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, he helped launch a regional climate initiative within the Midwest, and he and then Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano made a radio ad calling on Congress to address climate.

Yet when asked why he is now saying cap and trade is a “clunker,” his defense is essentially “all the kids are doing it”:   "As to cap and trade, almost everybody who's run has got the same problem," Pawlenty said at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference recently.

Pawlenty likes to embrace new trends, but only after the trend-setters have stated their position. He’s the guy who will start wearing bell-bottoms when the cool kids are tight-rolling their jeans. Just take his nickname. He actually calls himself T-Paw. Even then, you have to wonder why he is copying a Jennifer Lopez handle from 2002. Couldn’t he be a little more current?

His pack-mentality makes him a safe, predictable choice—he isn’t likely to propose anything radical or cutting edge. But considering the state of our economy, environment, and position in the world, America could use a trend-setter, not a follower.

We don’t need someone who will only be moved by major events or political pressure. We need someone who will take a stand and define the path forward.

Considering the major threats looming over our country—prolonged economic recession, two protracted wars, a changing climate—we desperately need strong leadership. This is not the time for fence-sitters.

Tim Pawlenty seems destined to let someone else define his environmental agenda.  If his track record is any indication, I am nervous that that someone is the Tea Party. He might occasionally veer off in one direction or the other, he might support clean energy or he might decide that climate change isn’t a problem anymore. But he is not likely to set his own course for America.

And we need someone with the courage to do that.

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

 

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