FROM: Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth Action — the First National Environmental Group to Endorse Obama
RE: Historic Mandate for Clean Energy
Energy policy has never been more prominent in a national election, and rarely have the results been so clear. Today’s landslide election of Barack Obama and pro-environment candidates across the country signals a strong rejection of the failed energy policies of the last eight years and a historic mandate for large-scale, transformational change.
While Barack Obama, John McCain, and their respective parties agreed energy was a top priority, they offered strikingly different agendas. By putting Obama and the Democrats in office, voters have sent a clear message that they want a fundamentally different policy–one that aggressively invests in clean and energy-efficient infrastructure, creates green-collar jobs, fights global warming, and strengthens our economy.
This creates an exciting opportunity. Change won’t come easy, but tonight it’s time to celebrate. In addition to endorsing Obama, Friends of the Earth Action supported other federal candidates who promised to help us repower America by changing Washington. Their dramatic victories offer real hope for the future.
ENERGY WAS A KEY ISSUE, AND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE PARTIES WERE CLEAR
As fuel prices rose in the spring and through the summer, the G.O.P.–with a long history of supporting subsidies for Big Oil while opposing incentives for renewable energy–decided to demagogue the issue. Republicans including House Minority Leader John Boehner pretended to support an “all of the above” energy policy (by the way, isn’t “all of the above” what you pick when you don’t know the answer?), but it quickly became clear that the G.O.P.’s top priority was expanded domestic oil drilling.
While Congress went on recess in August, House Republicans stayed in Washington and took to the House floor each day for some mediocre political theater, chanting “drill, drill, drill.” This chant, “drill, baby, drill,” and “drill here, drill now” were repeatedly echoed by prominent Republicans, including John McCain and Sarah Palin, and arguably became the party’s central election message. Unfortunately for the G.O.P., this opened Republicans up to a bit of political jujitsu, and Democratic candidates and independent groups began attacking them for their close ties to oil industry lobbyists and record of opposition to clean energy. (For example, MoveOn.org Political Action aired an ad in North Carolina and Al Franken aired one in Minnesota.)
The other major component of the G.O.P. energy message was a massive ramp-up of nuclear power. Led by John McCain, Republicans called for the construction of 45 new reactors in the U.S. (at a cost of perhaps half a trillion dollars), while disparaging environmental and safety concerns, referring to them as “blah, blah, blah.” During his convention speech, in stump speeches across the country, and in every debate, McCain touted nuclear poweras a key answer–“the best” answer even–to America’s energy needs. McCain may also have cost himself Nevada’s five electoral votes by arguing that dangerous nuclear waste should be dumped at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site , while saying the waste was too dangerous to transport through Arizona. Obama opposed opening Yucca and ran ads criticizing McCain for his position.
While the Republicans played up drilling and nuclear power, Democrats, led by Barack Obama, had a very different message.
Obama repeatedly called changing our energy policy a top priority. For example, this summer, he told Rolling Stone that “a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming” would be one of the top three priorities for his first term as president. While Obama did not oppose drilling or nuclear power, he talked about their drawbacks and placed much greater emphasis on alternatives, arguing “we can’t simply drill our way out of the problem” (see for example Obama summarizing his energy position in the second presidential debate). Obama repeatedly connected energy issues to the broader economy, focusing on how his plan to invest $150 billion in clean energy and energy-efficient technologies would create five million jobs as well as help the environment. Obama also took a much more aggressive approach to global warming than McCain. McCain’s climate proposal would have allowed twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as Obama’s by 2050. And unlike McCain, Obama proposed auctioning off all pollution permits in such a system, forcing corporate polluters to pay for their pollution.
Democrats around the country echoed Obama’s position, calling for serious action to fight the climate crisis, green infrastructure investments to grow the economy, and an end to the malign influence of Big Oil and other special interests on federal energy policy.
Broader philosophical questions also came into play. The election wasn’t just about energy. It was also about fundamental ideological differences–differences that profoundly impact energy policy and the environment. After eight years of rule by an administration that embraced “deregulation” and tried to limit government oversight, Democrats and Obama promised a starkly different approach. Dick Cheney had met with energy industry lobbyists to write the Bush administration’s energy policy, George Bush had appointed energy industry cronies to key positions, including the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department, and the Bush administration had created a free-for-all environment in which polluting industries were subject to little oversight. Obama rejected this right-wing, anti-government ideology. He told Americans that the government belonged to them, insisted that government had a legitimate role in protecting the public welfare, and rejected lobbyists’ contributions and promised to limit lobbyists’ influence. Obama also exhibited a stronger desire to work with other nations to solve global problems (including the climate crisis) and restore America’s standing in the world, as well as the diplomatic temperament that such collaboration requires.
VOTERS SENT A CLEAR SIGNAL
Tonight’s elections provided Democrats with an overwhelming victory, but even given the amount of time the candidates spent talking about energy, it’s fair to ask whether this issue really played a significant role in motivating voters. A look at recent polling confirms voters were paying attention to the candidates’ energy positions and liked what Obama had to offer:
· In an October 21 Pew Research Center poll, 78 percent of Americans said candidates’ positions on energy were “very important” to their vote–topping health care, education, taxes, the Iraq war, terrorism and every other issue except for jobs and the economy.
· A USA Today/Gallup poll published October 14 asked respondents which candidate they thought would deal best with “energy, including gas prices.” Obama led 52 percent to McCain’s 40 percent.
· A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted October 17-19 also asked likely voters who would best handle “energy policy.” Obama had a significant lead in this poll too, 53 percent to 43 for McCain.
· An October 25 Washington Post/ABC poll found Obama led by a 57 percent to 39 percent margin among voters who are primarily focused on energy issues.
· And a Fox News poll released yesterday showed Obama beats McCain by 11 points on who is better able to bring about energy independence.
Voters were unquestionably tuned into the energy debate, and they clearly preferred Obama’s approach, sending him to Washington with a strong mandate for change. Voters also elected new congressional leaders who truly understand the need for investments in clean infrastructure and green jobs, including Senate candidates Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Tom Udall in New Mexico and Mark Warner in Virginia, as well as House candidates across the country.
THE HARDEST WORK IS ABOUT TO START
After nearly two years of a nonstop campaign, a vast majority of voters made clear tonight they believe the country is on the wrong track and they want new leaders who offer a fundamentally different approach and put us on the path to a clean energy future. Americans now have an exciting opportunity to start moving in the right direction. But we have to be honest with ourselves: the challenges are immense. Those of us who are fighting for clean energy have won a seat at the table, but the entrenched corporate interests that benefit from the status quo will do all they can to prevent real change. And many members of Congress, Democratic and Republican alike, will find it hard to abandon the old ways of incremental change and embrace the bold advances that are needed.
Our country is in a tough spot. Our outdated energy infrastructure and reliance on fossil fuels are damaging the economy, endangering our national security, and threatening the planet with an unprecedented environmental and human catastrophe in the form of climate disruption. But these challenges also provide an opportunity to move forward, as wind, solar, and efficiency projects can happen quickly. Barack Obama and the new Congress can help the United States fulfill its potential to again be a world leader in the provision of clean energy. It’s our job to hold their feet to the fire and ensure they do so.