Energy & Environment

Do Americans really want a hard right turn on climate change and renewable energy?

The outcome of the midterm elections represents a stinging loss for many issues I care about, but one thing is for sure — strong Republican control of the House and Senate is bad for the environment and growth of renewable energy. Sadly, these essential concerns have become partisan along, with too many other issues.

There’s already talk of Senate Republicans having the filibuster-proof majority they need to force through the Keystone pipeline, their No. 2 priority, says Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee (I assume repealing ObamaCare is No. 1). “I actually think the president will sign the bill on the Keystone pipeline because he’s going to be boxed in,” he said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.”

{mosads}Some quotes from our new “leaders” in the Senate give you an idea what we are up against.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee: “Catastrophic global warming is a hoax. That conclusion is supported by the painstaking work of the nation’s top climate scientists.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who will chair the Subcommittee on Science and Space of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation: “The EPA has adopted greenhouse gas regulations on the basis of scientific assumptions that have been totally undermined by the latest science.”

The irony of these false statements is that a day before the election, the world’s leading climate scientists — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — released their Synthesis Climate Change Report, summarizing three reports issued in 2014: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Each report issues more dire warnings about continued inaction on climate change, but Republicans obstruct every attempt to make progress. This wasn’t always the case — you might remember a television ad from 2007 when former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “the one thing we agree on is the need to address climate change.” But now the GOP is in lockstep, refusing to even acknowledge the science, much less do anything about the grave situation that faces humanity and life on Earth.

Why not work with Democrats on solutions, instead of saying “no” to everything? Don’t Republicans have a stake in clean air and water, and the millions of jobs being created by the rise of a strong renewable energy industry? Instead, they can be counted on to cut funding that supports renewable energy and when the the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduces commonsense standards to clean up our nation’s dirtiest power plants, they declare it a “war on coal.” Economists agree that putting a price on carbon (through a tax or carbon trading system) is the most cost-effective way to attack climate change while boosting the economy (generating $1.2 trillion in the next decade, while cutting emissions 20 percent), but rather than seriously assessing it, they turn into fodder for attacks on President Obama and Democrats.

At September’s U.N. Climate Summit, 73 countries — responsible for 54 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions and 52 percent of gross domestic product – and over 1,000 businesses and investors announced support for a price on carbon, but the U.S. was notably absent, greatly diminishing our credibility. Obama’s hands are tied by Republicans who fight against any action.

This level of obstructionism — and an utter lack of desire to cooperate on solutions — goes beyond the pale, in my opinion. Why does the GOP take such a hard line on this? At least partially because they are so well supported by oil and gas money, led by the Koch brothers.

Infinite money floods campaigns

Around $4 billion was spent to influence the elections, flooding close campaigns in the final days with tens of millions of dollars from dark money groups for mailers, robocalls and attack ads. Before that, an estimated 908,000 television ads had aired — and that’s just for Senate races, according to the Center for Public Integrity. More than half the ads in the 2014 elections were bought by dark money groups, most of them conservative, says the Brennan Center for Justice.

“Voters want change,” Sen-elect. Mike Rounds, (R-S.D.) told National Public Radio. “They want to see ObamaCare repealed on a section by section basis. … They want to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built. … They want to see the Environmental Protection Agency brought under control.”

In reality, his Democratic opponent, Rick Weiland, would have given Americans the change they actually want. Even polls of likely voters — which lean Republican — show 49 percent want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Poll after poll of the general electorate shows a large majority want more renewable energy, not fossil fuels. Seventy percent of Americans view climate change as a serious issue and support federal action, according to the latest ABC/The Washington Post survey.

But it goes way beyond climate change. When Republicans say they want to rein in the EPA, they mean to prevent any protection of clean air and water! Even after the catastrophic coal ash and chemical spills in rivers this year, they are actively preventing the agency from restoring and protecting waters that provide drinking water to 117 million Americans, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The same is true for smog, mercury and other health measures Republicans have blocked. As chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe plans to “file challenges against every final EPA rule.”

While the GOP claims any action handcuffs the economy, the math shows the EPA is the most effective government agency in terms of cost/benefits.

In what’s called the most anti-environment Congress ever (including on energy efficiency and clean energy), the House voted hundreds of times to grant every polluter’s dream. Now that Republicans control both houses, they will fully go to bat for an oil- and coal-soaked economy, giving the Koch brothers, but not Americans what they want.

Rona Fried, Ph.D. is CEO of, known for its daily green business news and national green jobs service since 1996. She selects the constituents for NASDAQ’s Green Economy Index.

Tags Climate change Environmental Protection Agency EPA James Inhofe Renewable energy Ted Cruz

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