The Political Climate on Climate

By Ben Malley, The Advocacy Fund

While the impacts of climate change play out around us, the US House of Representatives, with its more than 100 climate deniers, remains the most anti-environment House of all time. According to the latest League of Conservation Voters scorecard, House Republicans cast an anti-environment vote more than 90 percent of the time in 2013, voting to weaken the Clean Air Act 20 times and weaken the Clean Water Act 37 times. With very little prospect of this changing in the upcoming election, climate groups continue to face the prospect of a House that is not only unresponsive, but antagonistic to the urgent need to address climate change.

Climate groups have instead turned to the executive branch and the states as a way to push positive change on climate issues. The movement has centered around three priorities 1) Improving and creating stronger pro-environment rules through the EPA; 2) Pressuring President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; 3) working to prevent fracking at the state level.

The current priority is to ensure that the EPA proceeds with implementing strong public health rules under the Clean Air Act. Climate advocates are working to ensure that the administration finalizes a rule which would set the first-ever limit on greenhouse gases from new power plants, and that it proposes a similar limit for existing coal-fired power plants.  Success on these two rules would help reshape the energy landscape in the U.S. by setting a clear limit on carbon emissions.

The campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline has been an unprecedented grassroots organizing opportunity for the climate movement. The largest civil disobedience action in Washington in 30 years took place over President’s Day weekend in 2013 with nearly 50,000 people demonstrating at the Washington Monument. More than 70,000 people have pledged to engage in civil disobedience if the President approves the pipeline. The President’s continued delay in reaching a decision was originally a huge victory for climate groups, especially 350.org, which led the effort to make Keystone a major issue. For the first time last summer, President Obama framed the decision around the pipeline in terms of a climate test, rather than a jobs test. Activists are confident that if the climate test is properly applied, the pipeline cannot be approved, but the fight continues with the President expected to make a decision in the coming months.

Anti-fracking activists are working a number of states and municipalities including California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Strategies vary depending on the receptiveness of state legislatures and governors to the practice of fracking and include seeking a complete fracking moratorium, enacting groundwater protections, blocking fracking wastewater disposal, and helping municipalities impose moratoria on new fracking permits pending additional studies.  Governor races in 2014, especially Pennsylvania, will be critical to the success of this work.

Despite the vehemently anti-environment House, the Senate has successfully prevented many of the House’s most anti-environmental bills from coming to the floor for a vote. The goal for climate groups this cycle will be to keep climate advocacy top of mind and continue educating the public about the importance of addressing climate change now – before it’s too late.

  • Marti Roach

    One climate group not mentioned Ben is Citizens Climate Lobby. this group is now international. In the US, there are 146 chapters and over 4,000 volunteers keeping a laser-like focus on the need to put a price on carbon. Efforts aim at influencing media and members of congress and ongoing engagement in the community to expand awareness and call for this action. Citizens Climate Lobby promotes the need for a carbon fee and dividend policy that would tax fossil fuels at the well head, port or other place of production and pass all revenue back to households. Economists and policy analysts on the left and right endorse this policy and recognize a steadily rising price on carbon sends a market signal to invest in clean energy. The dividend makes this fair to all, as those limited financial means will get funds back to more than cover the rising costs of energy. http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org