Indiana voters may have a chance to significantly change their state's representation in Congress when they go to the polls next fall to elect a replacement for retiring senator Dan Coats. Coats, who returned to the Congress in 2010 after a break following nearly two decades of service, has earned himself the title of Dirty Air Villain. One declared candidate, Baron Hill, has the potential to be a Running Clean candidate who can speak up for Indianans who want to breathe cleaner air and who want action on climate.
Dan Coats' Dirty Record
The open seat is currently occupied by Dan Coats, one of the dirtiest members of the Senate. Coats is a Dirty Air Villain in the WhoVotesDirty.com database, having voted 100 percent of the time against clean air. He's received $626,916 from polluting industries. While Coats has a not-terrible lifetime score of 25 percent with the League of Conservation Voters, Coats hasn't cast a pro-environment vote since 1998.
Coats has been a leading climate denier in the Senate. As you can see from this January tweet, Coats seems to think climate change is a joke, not a serious problem deserving action.
-- Senator Dan Coats (@SenDanCoats) January 21, 2015
Coats is an original cosponsor of the Capito Polluter Protection Act, which would derail EPA's Clean Power Plan and halt important steps to address climate change. Coats has also worked to block limits on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, with a bill, an amendment and his votes.
Two declared candidates appear ready to follow in Coats' footsteps. Eric Holcomb is Coats' former Chief of Staff and has received Coats' endorsement. Rep. Marlin Stutzman is a current member of congress, a Dirty Air Villain who has received $115,336 from polluters so far and who has a 7 percent lifetime score from LCV. I think it's fair to assume these guys would pursue the Big Polluter Agenda.
Indiana can do better.
Baron Hill's Record
Former congressman Baron Hill has announced he'll run for the seat being vacated by Coats. During the 2010 election season we described Hill as having a "strong record" on the environment, pointing out his solid 86 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and 93 percent rating from Environment America. Most importantly, Hill voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), a comprehensive energy and climate change bill that would have limited dangerous carbon pollution.
Hill didn't just vote for the bill. He worked it, writing an op-ed in his hometown paper, improving the bill with an energy efficiency component, and making an argument that Pope Francis would probably approve:
"Look, folks: this is God's green earth and we ought to respect it. We ought to do what is right for our environment. This bill is what's right for our environment. This is God's green earth and we ought to protect it."
Hill is a Blue Dog Democrat from a coal-dependent state who was long considered a "maybe" on the climate bill. He could easily have opposed climate action as others in similar positions (like fellow Indiana Blue Dog and now-Senator Joe Donnelly) did. Hill didn't do it. He did the hard work of getting to yes, finding ways to make the bill better for his state and his district and ending up on the right side of history. Some might say he lost his seat for it (though that's not true, as post-election analysis of the 2010 results found "no overall effect" of voting for the bill compared with strong negative effects for other controversial legislation). But, he fought for what he believed was right and I like to think that voters will reward him for that next fall.
Next fall, Hoosiers will decide what kind of senator to send to Washington. Will they send someone who will work to advance the Big Polluter Agenda? Or will they send someone with a history of running clean, working to advance protections for the state and its people? I can't wait to see.