09/01/2010 04:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If You Care About Clean Energy, You Should Care About Midterm Elections Too

August has passed without any major town hall eruptions, but that doesn't mean it is a quiet time in American politics. Midterm election campaigns are heating up, and it's becoming clear that these races could determine what gets accomplished in the next Congress.

This includes what we do -- or don't do -- on clean energy and climate solutions.

Comprehensive climate legislation may be off the table right now, but the tenor and outcome of these elections will still have an enormous influence on our energy future. They will decide when we succeed in generating millions of green jobs and cleaning up our energy supply.

As executive director of NRDC's Action Fund, I urge all of you who care about these issues to get active in this campaign season. Candidates need to know that clean energy and global warming matter to voters -- matter so much, in fact, that some lawmakers will lose their jobs because they didn't act boldly enough.

Go to campaign events, write to your candidates, and let them know that clean energy is a top priority for you. Whatever you do, don't sit this one out. We need your voices, and here is why.

Lawmakers need to be held accountable.

Back in July, the Senate decided not to vote on a clean energy and climate bill. This abject failure rests in the hands of Senate Republican leadership and a small cluster of Democratic Senators, and they need to pay a price for blocking legislation that could have generated 2 million jobs.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is launching an accountability campaign targeting six Senators who could have made a difference with this bill, but declined to take action. These ads include a "Ticker" tracking the tons of global warming pollution dumped into the air and the number of jobs the Senate could have created in each state since the Senate refused to act on July 22. Already the ads have attracted national and local media attention and turned the heat up on these failed leaders.

The NRDC Action Fund urges you to conduct your own accountability efforts. Find out where your senators stood on the climate bill and tell them what you think about their position.

If there is an election in your state, find out what the candidates are saying -- or failing to say -- about investing in clean energy and confronting climate change. Go to campaign events to make sure your voice is heard out loud. It's time to remind lawmakers that clean energy supporters are a force to be reckoned with.

The fossil fuel industry isn't letting up.

We need all the citizen power we can generate given the following numbers: In 2009, the oil and gas industry spent $174 million on lobbying the government. In just the first six months of this year, the industry spent another $75 million.
These deep pockets have purchased considerable influence in the campaigns. Last week, the New Yorker published a devastating expose about oil giant Koch Industries. According to the article, David Koch founded an astro-turf group called Americans for Prosperity. In addition to hosting more than 80 events opposing climate legislation, the group has vowed to spend $45 million more before the midterm elections.

Some of this money pays for attack ads like the one criticizing Representative Betsey Markey because she supported climate legislation -- legislation that would have brought 30,000 jobs to Colorado and generated opportunities for farmers in her district. Markey is facing a competitive race this season, and these kinds of misleading attacks will make it even harder unless we stand up and set the record straight.

We will never match the oil industry in funding dollars, but we can use the tools of average voters to keep the pressure on: rallies, letters to the editor, social networking, calls to campaign headquarters, persistent questions about where the candidate stands on clean energy.

This election could shape the agenda for years to come.

Remember the pivotal Congressional elections of 1994? Newt Gingrich's cronies stormed into Washington and turned health care reform into an issue lawmakers wouldn't touch for 16 years and kept climate legislation off the table for the entire time they were in power.

We cannot afford to let the same thing happen again with clean energy action. If Congress stalls on climate solutions for the next several years, the impacts of global warming will get worse and America will postpone the creation of 2 million new jobs.

It doesn't have to be this way. If we make clean energy a big enough campaign issue, and if we remind candidates that climate solutions are good for America's workers, our economy, and our national security, we can restore comprehensive clean energy action to a top legislative priority.