It doesn't pay to be a fossil fuel Democrat on election day

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WillinoisThis was a difficult election for Democrats and it was even worse for Democrats still pushing fossil fuels. The Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus lost his seat along with a slew of others who tried to prove they’re as pro-coal, pro-oil, and pro-fracking as any Republican.

There are plenty of examples like Grimes in Kentucky. Or Tennant and Nick Rahall in West Virginia who mimicked conservative talking points on coal in their losing races. Mary Landrieau is expected to lose in a Louisiana run-off. If you can’t run on clean energy and climate change in a state that saw hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster then you’re an incompetent politician.

No state made the point more clearly than Illinois, where Democrats serious about climate won re-election while fossil fuel Democrats lost. Governor Pat Quinn once bragged about passing a bill to launch fracking along with lead Senate sponsor Mike Frerichs. Quinn lost re-election after spending months avoiding the issue (and anti-fracking protesters).

Mike Frerichs, who has been viewed as an environmental leader in the past, is still second place in a close count for state Treasurer. He raised climate change and clean energy early in the race but dropped the issue after realizing most of the environmental movement is unhappy with his lead role in launching fracking. Most environmental voters aren’t nearly as happy with the fracking law as the four statehouse green groups who supported it.

An upset few predicted six months ago is the loss of incumbent Congressman Bill Enyart to confessed dog-killer Mike Bost. The Democratic district hasn’t elected a Republican in 70 years but has a long coal mining history. Enyart became Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus with John Shimkus, who’s best known outside Illinois as the Republican who conducted a failed investigation and helped cover up the Foley Congressional page sex scandal.

What did pandering to the coal industry accomplish for Enyart? He lost by a wide margin, getting just 39%. The Green Party candidate increased her vote share to over 6%. Voter turnout was roughly half what it was in 2012. Southern Illinois Democrats had little motivation to vote with the top of the ticket, Governor Pat Quinn, angering them by cutting public employee pensions, closing important regional facilities, and launching fracking.

The coal industry didn’t give Enyart a money advantage either. His fundraising was lower than most incumbents in competitive races. His opponent received larger donations from many fossil fuel interests, including Knight Hawk Coal and Koch Industries. No matter how pro-coal a Democrat tries to be, the industry can always find a Republican who will promise more.

It didn’t work for central Illinois candidate Ann Callis running in one of the nation’s most closely divided Congressional districts. After getting a Sierra Club endorsement in the primary, over two opponents with better environmental platforms, she expressed her support  for more spending on clean coal and promised to not support President Obama on new clean air rules because they wouldn’t create enough coal jobs. By trying to find a safe middle ground she managed to make both sides of the debate unhappy. Continue reading It doesn’t pay to be a fossil fuel Democrat on election day

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Illinois drought and flooding isn't climate change. It's a climate clusterfuck.

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Remember the stories about rivers in Illinois earlier this year? They were about a long drought so bad it was slowing barge traffic on the Mississippi River down to a halt.

And here we are in spring with our rivers and half the state flooded. In fact, heavy flooding forced the closure of about a dozen locks on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Sections of both rivers have been closed to barge traffic.

I just took the train from Chicago to Springfield and I saw all kinds of water in places where it isn’t supposed to be. It’s bad.

(Photo Credit: Chris Young)

In the Quad Cities, WQAD TV news has a story about drought and flooding hitting a Christmas tree farm along the Rock River. Drought had killed 900 trees when they first covered the farm in July. Now, he has to visit his trees in a boat. He says he has never seen it go from one extreme to another this badly before.

As usual, almost no one in the press is pointing it out, but this is exactly what those nagging scientists told us would happen. They warned the Midwest would have more erratic, extreme and unpredictable weather, including more droughts, and more severe storms leading to flooding. A federal report on the impacts of climate change in the Midwest summarized:

The likely increase in precipitation in winter and spring, more heavy downpours, and greater evaporation in summer would lead to more periods of both floods and water deficits.

The 2009 report even warned that low river levels would cause problems for river traffic. It’s like they could see into the future. That report was either written by clairvoyant fortune tellers, or a group of scientists who really knew what the hell they were talking about.

So yes, we get both more flooding and more droughts thanks to climate change. Barge traffic is interrupted in both winter and spring.

At this point it’s more descriptive to go ahead and call it a Climate Clusterfuck. That’s what we’re dealing with from here on out.

More attention is given to the threat of rising sea levels on the coast, but the Mississippi River Valley is already being hit hard in ways that harm our regional economy, food supply, and safety. No one can say exactly what the weather would have looked like this year if climate change wasn’t happening, but we do know that if we really want more seasons like this and worse, then we should keep burning fossil fuels. Continue reading Illinois drought and flooding isn’t climate change. It’s a climate clusterfuck.

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