Democrats see less green from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Richard Simon and Tom Ham­burger re­port­ing from washington

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who pro­vided money, zeal and man­power to Democrats in 2008 are de­mor­al­ized this cam­paign cy­cle, fur­ther fray­ing the coali­tion that sent Barack Obama to the White House and gave the party ma­jori­ties in both houses of Congress.

Mean­while, en­ergy and busi­ness in­ter­ests have ramped up spend­ing by tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, hop­ing in part to halt cli­mate change leg­is­la­tion promised by Obama but stalled in the Se­nate.

Key donors, cit­ing the fate of the global warm­ing leg­is­la­tion, are not con­tribut­ing as much money as they did in 2008. “One of them said, ‘I thought our side won the last elec­tion, and it doesn’t seem to make any dif­fer­ence,’ ” said Rodger Sch­lick­eisen, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the De­fend­ers of Wildlife Ac­tion Fund.

At the same time, some Demo­cratic lead­ers ac­cuse en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists of fail­ing to back mem­bers in tough dis­tricts who took a risk vot­ing for con­tro­ver­sial leg­is­la­tion to cap car­bon emis­sions.

“They promised to sup­port can­di­dates who took a tough vote for cli­mate change. Where are they? Where’s the cavalry?” asked

one Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to talk pub­licly.

At a pri­vate meet­ing of con­gres­sional Democrats last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Fran­cisco) dis­cussed the fund­ing dis­par­ity be­tween Repub­li­can-backed groups and those who had been ex­pected to help Democrats. One par­tic­i­pant said Pelosi told her fel­low Democrats that she had asked en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers, “Where are you guys?”

The en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists’ lack of en­thu­si­asm presents yet an­other chal­lenge to Democrats, who are strug­gling to keep con­trol of Congress. The en­vi­ron­ment has be­come a po­tent cam­paign is­sue, with a nu­mer­ous Repub­li­can can­di­dates down­play­ing hu­mans as a cause of global warm­ing, while lead­ing ad­vo­cates of cli­mate change leg­is­la­tion, such as Sen. Bar­bara Boxer (DCalif.), face strong chal­lenges.

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce has be­gun run­ning ads in mul­ti­ple states crit­i­ciz­ing can­di­dates who voted for the cap-and-trade bill. The cham­ber an­nounced plans to spend $75 mil­lion on cam­paigns this year, up from $50 mil­lion in 2008.

A num­ber of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ac­knowl­edge that fundrais­ing is chal­leng­ing this year, but say it is be­cause of the tough eco­nomic con­di­tions and that they ex­pect

‘They promised to sup­port can­di­dates who took a tough vote for cli­mate change. Where are they? Where’s the cavalry?’

— A Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cial, on en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists

to be out­spent by busi­ness groups like the cham­ber.

Sierra Club Chair­man Carl Pope con­tends that en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists will be­come fully en­gaged. “The mood in the coun­try is pretty grim, but I don’t think that means en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are just go­ing to stay home and pout,” Pope said.

He points to Cal­i­for­nia, where en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are rais­ing funds to fight Propo­si­tion 23, the bal­lot mea­sure that would sus­pend the state’s land­mark global warm­ing law.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists fear that a Repub­li­can takeover of the House on Nov. 2 would cost al­lies such as Reps. Henry A. Wax­man (DBev­erly Hills) and Ed­ward J. Markey (D-Mass.) their com­mit­tee chair­man­ships.

“It’s hard to imag­ine leg­isla­tive progress on clean en­ergy and the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Dan Weiss, who fol­lows the pol­i­tics of the en­vi­ron­ment for the left-lean­ing Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress. “A change in the con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity will bring an as­sault on the EPA and en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion.”

Some Democrats who sup­ported the House-ap­proved cli­mate change bill are tak­ing a pounding at home.

In Vir­ginia, 14-term Demo­cratic Rep. Rick Boucher, who voted for the cli­mate change bill, has come un­der at­tack in a TV ad spon­sored by Amer­i­cans for Job Se­cu­rity for putting “Pelosi’s job-killing agenda ahead of Vir­ginia coal.”

In his own ad, Boucher fea­tures a coal com­pany ex­ec­u­tive call­ing the con­gress­man “our best friend in Washington,’’ and prais­ing him for work­ing to “get the best pos­si­ble deal for coal” in the cli­mate change bill.

In Ohio, $171,000 has been spent on ads crit­i­cal of cli­mate change leg­is­la­tion in the re­gion served by Rep. Mary Jo Kil­roy, an­other Demo­crat who voted for the bill.

Many of the ads were spon­sored by Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, a con­ser­va­tive group founded by mem­bers of the fam­ily that owns Koch In­dus­tries, one of the nation’s largest en­ergy firms.

So far, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have not been on the air to counter those ads. But the cam­paign ex­pects them soon, said Brad Bau­man, Kil­roy’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor.

“The tim­ing could work out well be­cause vot­ers are re­ally just now start­ing to pay at­ten­tion,” Bau­man said.

In Cal­i­for­nia, where oil com­pa­nies and ex­ec­u­tives have spent heav­ily in hopes of sus­pend­ing the state’s reg­u­la­tion of car­bon emis­sions, ac­tivists and prom­i­nent clean-en­ergy in­vestors are re­spond­ing but haven’t caught up.

Propo­si­tion 23 would sus­pend the 2006 law un­til the state’s un­em­ploy­ment rate, now over 12%, dropped to 5.5% for a year, which has hap­pened three times in the last 40 years.

En­ergy and con­ser­va­tive in­ter­ests have pumped more than $8 mil­lion into the cam­paign, in­clud­ing $4 mil­lion from Texas-based Valero En­ergy Corp. and $1 mil­lion from a Koch In­dus­tries sub­sidiary.

“We don’t feel we need to com­pete dol­lar for dol­lar,” said Bob Ep­stein, a mem­ber of the fi­nance com­mit­tee for the cam­paign to block the ini­tia­tive. “We will have enough re­sources to be com­pet­i­tive.” He says the clear up-or­down vote fac­ing Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers is pro­duc­ing a na­tion­wide re­sponse. Much of the coali­tion’s fund­ing, Ep­stein said, is com­ing from the fast­grow­ing clean-en­ergy sec­tor.

While the Cal­i­for­nia en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­nity is hope­ful about de­feat­ing Propo­si­tion 23, as many as three dozen House Democrats who sup­ported the fed­eral cli­mate change bill are at risk of los­ing their seats.

If Repub­li­can can­di­dates who re­ject “the sound and set­tled sci­ence” of cli­mate change win their races, “the num­ber of card-car­ry­ing mem­bers of the ‘Flat Earth So­ci­ety’ will rise ex­po­nen­tially in the world’s great­est de­lib­er­a­tive body,” the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers wrote on its Face­book page.

Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, a con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy group, boasts hun­dreds of can­di­dates na­tion­wide who have signed its “No Cli­mate Tax Pledge” to “op­pose leg­is­la­tion re­lat­ing to cli­mate change that in­cludes a net in­crease in govern­ment rev­enue.”

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has an­nounced plans to spend $45 mil­lion this year on a range of is­sues.

In con­trast, the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers plans to spend about $4 mil­lion. While that’s less than the group spent in 2008, league of­fi­cials say it will be more than 2006.

Erich Pica, pres­i­dent of Friends of the Earth, said that al­though en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are dis­ap­pointed over cli­mate change leg­is­la­tion stalling in the Se­nate this year, “we can’t be in such a malaise where we don’t un­der­stand that our en­tire agenda over the last five years is go­ing to be com­pletely un­der at­tack if these Repub­li­can ‘tea par­ty­ers’ get elected.”

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