THE BLOG
10/29/2013 12:46 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Running Clean or Running Scared?

When you think of the type of leader you want to represent you in government, what do you wish for? I'm guessing you'd prefer to have someone who is both courageous and principled, rather than someone too scared to stand up for something, right?

I ask because this week House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky) released a draft bill to be introduced in both bodies of Congress that would repeal EPA's recently proposed rules to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution at new power plants and hamstring expected rules limiting carbon pollution from existing plants. These plants are responsible for 40 percent of our country's total carbon pollution, and are major driver of changes we're already seeing, and paying for, in our climate. Despite that reality, members of the House and Senate will be under intense pressure from the fossil fuel industry (to the tune of $139 million in lobbying so far this year*) to sign on to these misguided bills. We expect the industry to put especially heavy pressure on Senators facing competitive elections next year. Those senators have a choice: run clean or run scared.

While no single issue can guarantee victory, our in-depth research shows that running clean is both smart policy and smart politics. Running clean can be part of a winning campaign even in red states with strong fossil fuel industries. As I wrote earlier this month, that's true in large part because Americans of all political stripes support action on climate change. Members of Congress have a moral obligation to support policies that protect the health and well-being of their constituents. Choosing to run clean can be an important component of a smart campaign narrative that emphasizes local issues and communicates a candidate's values. These reasons represent the "smart politics" side of the equation.

But just in case anyone has forgotten the "smart policy" side of the coin, here are a few reasons why acting on climate change -- not cowering in fear of the fossil fuel industry -- makes sense in a few key states.

Arkansas: Incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor and his challenger in the 2014 election, Rep. Tom Cotton, would be wise to focus on the impact of climate change on agriculture (the largest industry in Arkansas). The entire state was already declared a natural disaster area last year due to drought, which is exacerbated by climate change. An increase in extreme heat days is expected to lead to reduced agricultural production. In Arkansas, farmers agree that "weather patterns that seem more extreme" are occurring, even though some are skeptical of a "climate change" message. With the potential for 5.7 million GWh of renewable energy, the state is ready to be an engine of a clean energy economy.

Indiana: Agriculture represented more than $8 billion in value for Hoosiers in the most recently available census. Recently elected Sen. Joe Donnelly must remember that climate change threatens this economic engine. After the 2012 summer drought, corn, and alfalfa hay production fell by about 30% each compared to the previous year. Likewise, natural disasters can cause hundreds of millions of dollars in crop losses. With wind, solar and biomass energy and clean vehicles manufacturing already creating jobs and the potential for 5.8 million GWh of renewable energy, the state is ready to be an engine of a clean energy economy.

Louisiana: Sen. Mary Landrieu and Rep. Bill Cassidy were doubtless profoundly affected by the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which cost their home state $250 billion. Climate change makes severe storms more likely. In addition, severe storms accelerate the loss of coastal wetlands. With wind energy and clean vehicles manufacturing already creating jobs and the potential for 5.9 million GWh of renewable energy, the state is ready to be an engine of a clean energy economy.

North Dakota: Recently elected Sen. Heidi Heitkamp knows that agriculture is worth $6 billion in her state. The industry is threatened by extreme weather events and other climate change impacts. For example, in January of this year, USDA declared 16 counties to be primary natural disaster areas due to various weather-related causes. With North Dakota's potential to generate more than 13 million GWh of renewable energy, the state is ready to create clean energy jobs.

We all know what is coming: a barrage of dirty energy spending that makes false claims about the cost of reducing carbon pollution (including the serious health implications) and ignores the high costs of inaction on climate change. As legislators consider whether to sign on to anti-climate bills, they'll have to decide whether they'll be ready to run clean or if they'll just be running scared. They should choose to run clean. That's where the smart money is.

*Combined oil and gas and electric industry spending.