Campaign 2014

LCV's Karpinski discusses impact of EPA proposal on midterm prospects

How does U.S. EPA's proposed rule for existing power plants play with voters ahead of this year's midterm elections? During today's OnPoint, Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, explains which states' races he believes will see the greatest impact from the proposal. He also discusses how tea party candidates are affecting the environmental agenda.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. Gene, thanks for coming back on the show.

Gene Karpinski: Great to be here again, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Gene, EPA's new rule for existing power plants was published in the Federal Register this week. At this point in the election cycle, how aware are voters of the rule and the growing debate that exists over this rule?

Gene Karpinski: The good news is, and we've done a lot of polling on this question, inside the Beltway people think the EPA is some horrible entity that somehow kills jobs and increases prices; well, the public knows better.

They know the EPA was set up to protect our health, protect our air and protect our water, and we asked the public very specifically in the last few months do you think the EPA should actually cut carbon pollution from power plants, and they said of course they should by a 2-to-1, 3-to-1 margins, state after state, including many battleground states.

In fact, most people assume we're already cutting carbon pollution from power plants; they know we've done it for mercury and for arsenic and for other pollutants, they assume we've done it for carbon pollution as well, and when you tell them we haven't, they go, "Really? Well, I sure hope we do."

So the public understands the valuable role that EPA plays more generally, and specifically they want the EPA to cut carbon pollution from power plants; this is great news, because that's what we have to do.

Monica Trauzzi: But do they understand the specifics of this plan and what it could mean both for the environment but also for the economy?

Gene Karpinski: I think it's an ongoing education job that we all have to do, but as we saw Administrator McCarthy say when she announced the rule back on June 2nd this is good for our health, it's good for our economy. A good environment and a good economy go hand in hand, so I think people see the public health benefits, and that's why they're most interested and most supportive.

Interestingly, we just did a poll that we're releasing today, frankly, that says a majority of Republican women support this kind of proposal as well, so it's a bipartisan, independent majority of Republican women support this concept because the EPA is set up to protect our health, and that's exactly what this rule does.

Monica Trauzzi: We are, though, already seeing negative attack ads featuring this rule. When it comes to the economy and folks saying that this rule could have negative economic impacts, how does that play with voters?

Gene Karpinski: The good news is the public isn't fooled, so there were a couple ads; in fact the Chamber of Commerce did an ad before the rule came out claiming it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and impacts on the economy -- the good news is that ad got four big Pinocchios because it was a lot of shameless lies, quite frankly, based on a proposal that wasn't the proposal the EPA came up with.

We've heard this before: Back in 1990, the Clean Air Act, all the kinds of claims about the impact on jobs and the economy were not true -- the benefits far outweighed what they claimed, the costs were far less.

The industry will constantly do their scaremongering and claim about impacts on jobs, impacts on prices, but it's just not true and the public is not fooled, and that's the good news.

Monica Trauzzi: So you did specifically some polling in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and they were generally favorable towards the rule?

Gene Karpinski: Absolutely, so between two-thirds and three-fourths of the public says yes, we want to do this and, in fact, I'm surprised we haven't been doing it already.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, so what about the rest of the country; where in this country does the rule face the greatest challenge?

Gene Karpinski: Back in the fall of last year we did a survey of 11 of those battleground states, places like Alaska, places like Michigan, places like Georgia, New Hampshire, same results: 3-to-1 support for the rule.

That's not to say they're exactly the same in every state, but overwhelmingly, across the country in those battleground states 3-to-1 support, and the younger you are, the more you care about this. This issue of climate change is an issue for our future, it's happening now, and the younger you are the more you understand how important this issue is.

Monica Trauzzi: Eric Cantor's loss surprised everyone. Is the tea party demonstrating strength in particular as we saw in that race, and then what does that mean for the environmental message?

Gene Karpinski: Well, there's no doubt that race was surprising. We were not involved in that race, obviously, but here's the thing about the tea party on this issue: they are far out of touch with the public. Across the river in Virginia Terry McAuliffe is now the governor of Virginia -- he ran against someone who was a tea party darling, Ken Cuccinelli, who was proud to be a climate change denier.

Mr. McAuliffe leaned into this issue, did the first-ever statewide ad accusing his opponent of being a climate change denier, pursuing ... the scientist who was doing research, and he used that as part of his story about why Cuccinelli was out of touch, out of the mainstream -- this is a powerful issue.

Just in the last month Mark Udall in Colorado in a tight race; Gary Peters in Michigan in a tight race; Kay Hagan in North Carolina in a tight race, all of them accused their opponents of being climate change deniers. If you're a denier, you're in touch with the tea party and some of the big polluters, but you're not in touch with the general public. This is a powerful argument to use against people who are climate change deniers.

Monica Trauzzi: But the public is voting in these tea party folks.

Gene Karpinski: The Cantor race was a primary in Virginia. We're quite confident that in those swing states of races this fall in Colorado, in Michigan, in North Carolina -- as Terry McAuliffe did in Virginia -- if you will lean into this issue, you make it clear that climate change deniers are out of touch, that's a political liability.

We're quite confident those candidates will win just like Ed Markey leaned into this in Massachusetts in the primary, Terry McAuliffe in Virginia in the general election; this is a powerful weapon if you lean into it and make it part of the conversation.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned Colorado. You don't think that Udall's prospects will be hurt by his support of the EPA regulations?

Gene Karpinski: Not at all; this is a powerful issue, the public supports it. Again, unlike inside the Beltway, out there in the real world the public supports the EPA. They have a job to do to protect our health, there's bipartisan support particularly among women for this issue, so I think Mr. Udall has supported this, he's not running away from it, it will help him, and that's why he's leaning into it.

Monica Trauzzi: Some folks are already trying to compare the rule to Obamacare. That type of comparison paints a picture for voters. Do you think if that continues to be used that it will have negative impacts come November?

Gene Karpinski: Again, we're confident that the voters won't be fooled. There's no doubt these shameless liars and the climate change deniers will continue to make their case, but again, we're quite confident from all the research we've done and all the conversations we've done, all the polling we've done, that the public knows the EPA has a job to do, it's their job to protect our health, it's their job to protect our air -- they actually care about climate change, we're seeing the real impacts now -- they understand a climate denier is out of touch with their values, out of touch with their priorities.

We're confident that being with the EPA and with public health is the winning position. It's good policy and it's good politics.

Monica Trauzzi: Money talks: How powerful are the Koch brothers and the messaging against the rule?

Gene Karpinski: There's no doubt they will spend a lot more money than we will and we're not trying to compete dollar for dollar, but you go back to 2012 our opponents, mostly the chamber and Karl Rove's group, spent $300 million to our $15 million. Our return on investment -- we won 83 percent of our investments in races, they won 7 percent.

It's not just about money, it's about a message that wins and, again, being on the side of the EPA and public health and doing something about climate change is good policy and good politics.

Monica Trauzzi: So you just announced that the president will be speaking at next week's Capital Dinner that LCV puts on every year. It's the one-year anniversary, that day, of his announcement of the Climate Action Plan. What message do you think the president will be delivering that night?

Gene Karpinski: I think he'll be consistent with what he's been saying that it was the most comprehensive plan we've ever seen from a president; we've made great strides on cutting carbon pollution from automobiles; the announcement on June 2nd about the biggest step we'll ever take to cut carbon pollution from power plants is the next step forward.

He understands this is the right issue for politics, the right issue for policy and, frankly, the right issue for his legacy, for our families today and our kids in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Gene Karpinski: Great to be here, thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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