Climate

The 20-Year Congressional Incumbent Who Could Be Taken Down Over His Position On Climate Change

CREDIT: AP/ Evan Vucci

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Times called Fred Upton, the Republican Congressman from Michigan and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, “one of the biggest threats to planet Earth on planet Earth.” In the intervening three years not much has changed — although in the next three days a lot could. Upton’s opponent this election, Paul Clements, is turning what seemed like a shoo-in race for Upton into a hotly contested one that looks like it will come down to the wire, and even yield an upset.

Clements is a nice foil for Upton. A political scientist at Western Michigan University, last year he said that it was Upton’s turnaround on climate change that caused him to run for Congress. “He used to say we needed to regulate greenhouse gases, but it seems to get promoted to the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, you have to cut a deal,” he told E&ENews.

Things really heated up earlier this week, when a poll conducted by Hamilton Campaigns for the Clements campaign found Clements in a statistical dead heat with Upton. Surveying 400 registered voters, the poll showed Clements down by only four points, 47 to 43 percent, but within the margin of error of 4.9 points.

A poll done by the same firm during the first week of October showed Clements down 15 points.

On Wednesday the Cook Political Report, a well respected political tracker, downgraded Upton’s chances from “solid” to “likely.”

Clements is not only closing in the polls but also closing the wide financial gap between himself, an unknown outsider, and Upton, an industry-friendly insider. This is in large part thanks to Lawrence Lessig’s MAYDAY super PAC, which aims to end “money’s corrupting influence in politics.”

After committing $1.5 million into defeating Upton earlier this month, MAYDAY doubled down earlier this week and said they were putting another $650,000 into the race. Lessig even wrote an open letter on Wednesday describing the PAC’s motivations:

When it comes to Fred Upton, the link between the people who fund his campaigns and the way he votes in Congress is crystal clear … Upton has taken $10 million in special interest PAC money over his career. He took $2.1 million from Big Oil and energy interests, and he voted to give away billions in subsidies for oil and gas companies. MAYDAY decided to work to defeat Fred Upton because he is the epitome of the modern corrupt politician.

Clements is a true political outsider. After growing up in Hong Kong and India, where his father was a social worker for the Methodist Church, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from Princeton University.

Last year he told E&E News that as an elected official he would push to bring more clean energy manufacturing to Michigan in the form of windmills and solar equipment — a process that he believes can be helped along by federal incentives. Upton, who spearheaded the politically motivated investigation against Solyndra, a solar manufacturer, and tried to shut down the related loan program, feels the exact opposite. Clements finds Upton’s perspective highly unsettling.

“I appreciate the federal government doesn’t get these things right every time, but Upton’s response was ‘If there’s one bad apple, you should stop supporting clean energy,'” Clements said. “That’s completely wrong.”