POLITICS
11/07/2012 07:27 pm ET Updated Jun 14, 2013

Environmental Groups, Cheered By Election Results, Demand Climate Change Action From Democrats

WASHINGTON –- Environmental leaders on Wednesday celebrated election victories of pro-environment candidates, victories they say show the public wants action on clean energy and climate change.

"Big oil and other big polluters spent unprecedented big amounts of money to spread big lies and they lost big time," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). "Across the country, clean energy champions were the big winners."

LCV also spent its fair share of money in the 2012 cycle -- nearly $14 million -- although it didn't come close to that of the biggest spenders on the Republican side.

Karpinski and other leaders from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Environment America held a press conference Wednesday at the National Press Club to discuss fallout from the election.

Environmentalists focused on defeating GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republicans in both the Senate and House that they viewed as anti-environment and who didn't support action on climate change. The LCV labeled the group of politicians it targeted as the "Dirty Dozen," and they appear likely to have helped defeat 11 of those politicians, including George Allen (R-Va.), Josh Mandel (R-Ohio) and Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)

The environmental community was particularly pleased with the wins of Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), as well as the newly elected Maine independent Angus King, who ran an ad on the importance of tackling global warming.

King's victory led Jeremy Symons, a senior adviser at the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund to say "climate is a winner in politics today and this was even before Superstorm Sandy was a game-changer that has shaken up the political scene here and promises more action to come than anybody expected."

In Washington state, for example, Democrat Jay Inslee, who focused on the link between clean energy and jobs during his campaign, holds a lead in the vote count to be his state's next governor.

But in return for the support they've given Democrats during the past election cycle, environmentalists also said they expect a number of policy victories, including allowing the EPA to finish work strengthening rules on polluters, making progress on climate change, and continuing to shift the country toward clean energy and away from fossil fuels.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said President Barack Obama's reelection gives environmentalists hope that more work can be done to grow solar and wind power.

“We're calling on President Obama to use his powers of the presidency to lead," Brune said. "What we recognize is four years down the road, climate change won't be solved with a single bill, won't be solved with a single international treaty, won't be solved with a single administrative rule, but it will take persistent, tenacious, determined, creative, inspirational leadership on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, primarily from the White House, in order for us to have a chance to wrestle to the ground what is one of society's biggest problems."

But challenges in Congress, Brune recognized, could thwart legislative action on climate change. "We have, particularly in Congress, a mindset that is antithetical to actually solving some of the biggest problems in the country," Brune said. "And to be frank, it's not clear whether or not the fever has actually broken and whether or not we'll have a mindset that allows for real solutions to be brought to some of the country's biggest problems."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised hopes on Wednesday of new work on a climate change bill, saying it's "an extremely important issue for me and I hope we can address it reasonably," according to Reuters.

"It's something, as we've seen with these storms that are overwhelming our country and the world, we need to do something about it," he said.

Right before the election, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-Independent, endorsed Obama, writing in a Bloomberg View op-ed that "one sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics."

After months of ads attacking Obama and Democrats on subsidies for the clean energy industry, environmentalists were relieved on Wednesday that many voters weren't swayed.

A new poll out Wednesday of 1002 voters in 11 swing states conducted from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that Americans support renewable energy. Almost two of every three voters said they had a favorable view of clean energy and more than 70 percent said they supported an increased use of wind and solar power.

The poll also indicated that a majority of voters favored supporting clean energy with the use of tax credits, and 57 percent showed support for the EPA making new rules to protect the health of Americans.

Symons, of the NWF Action Fund, said that after the election, the Republican Party has a chance to shift its views on the environment. "There's a window of opportunity for Republicans to embrace their roots and Teddy Roosevelt conservation and appeal to a broader set of voters including sportsmen, including young voters, including Latinos and women."

Follow Daniel Lippman on Twitter @dlippman

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