The Obama administration just did the most important thing it could to confront climate change right now: it set limits on carbon pollution coming from power plants. These plants kick out 40 percent of all carbon pollution in the US, yet they get a free pass to foul our atmosphere and destabilize the climate. The Environmental Protection Agency is finally holding these plants accountable.
The new carbon limits will help protect our health, generate clean energy jobs, and shield communities from extreme weather and other hazards of climate change.
They will also give a boost to climate champions running for election this fall. Good climate policy means good politics, and candidates who support cleaning up carbon pollution will benefit at the polls. Here is why.
1. Voters Favor Government Action to Cut Carbon Pollution
President Obama was emboldened to take strong climate action because the American people want it. Poll after poll has confirmed their support, even in red and purple states. In March, the NRDC Action Fund asked Harstad Strategic Research to survey voters in the closest Senate races in the country, including Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The results were resounding: more than two-thirds of voters in 11 battleground states say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. That includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.
2. Climate Voters Could Make the Difference in Narrow Senate Races
Concern about climate change is growing among the general public, but it is even stronger among three significant voting blocs: women, Latinos, and young people. Eight in 10 Latinos, for instance, want President Obama to curb carbon pollution, according to a January poll conducted by Latino Decisions for NRDC. People who care about climate change have proven to be dedicated volunteers (in 2008) and able to sweep climate champions into office (2012). Their enthusiasm could be pivotal in 2014, especially when so many Senate incumbents are running in toss-up races.
3. The Carbon Rules Tap into Reality that All Politics Are Local
The EPA has taken a state-by-state approach to reducing carbon pollution. Every state has its own reduction target and a great deal of flexibility in how to reach it. This keeps the focus squarely on the local level. Candidates can engage voters in a conversation about what climate change is doing to towns and cities, and how low-carbon solutions like energy efficiency and renewable power will benefit their state. Representative Gary Peters, for instance, has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land for failing to recognize how climate change is threatening the Great Lakes. He could also point to the fact that Michigan's energy efficiency measures--the cheapest way for states to meet carbon reduction targets--have saved people a net $800 million on electricity bills in the past few years.
4. Carbon Limits Will Create Jobs and Save People Money
Local carbon reduction translates into local job creation. NRDC asked ICF International, an independent firm that analyzes electricity markets for industry and government, to analyze the economic impact of carbon limits. Their study found that reducing carbon pollution by 25 percent could save Americans $37.4 billion on their electric bills in 2020. It would also create more than 274,000 jobs. Some candidates may claim carbon limits will spell doom for the economy, but even the Chamber of Commerce failed to produce numbers to back them up--the chamber's recent attempt didn't even account for jobs that will be created in wind and solar power and energy efficiency efforts.
5. GOP Is Walking Back It's Rhetoric of Denial
Republican lawmakers may finally have gotten the memo about voter support for climate action. In the past month, several have passed up the opportunity to reject climate change outright. House Majority Leader John Boehner said last week, "I'm not qualified to debate the science over climate change." And when Governor Rick Scott was asked if human activity is causing climate change he said, "I'm not a scientist." This may be a dodge, but it is not denial. It is a step toward recognizing that if candidates want to reach beyond the Tea Party base, they can't bet against the majority of voters who care about climate change. That is why a climate denier won't be able to win the White House in 2016.