Why environmental groups are backing Republicans

Washington She’s as green as they come.

Shenna Bellows, the Democrat running for Senate in Maine, proudly touts her environmental credentials. She rails against emissions intensive oil sands from Canada, would tighten EPA regulations on greenhouse gases, and wants more investment in renewable energy.

So why isn’t the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) a big name, big money green group endorsing Ms. Bellows?»Senator Susan Collins is committed to finding bipartisan solutions that will safeguard our environment and combat climate change while promoting clean energy,» LCV Action Fund president Gene Karpinski said in a statement announcing the endorsement this summer.

And it’s not just Sen.cheap nfl jerseys Collins. Environmental groups are opening their arms to some other unlikely candidates ahead of November’s midterm elections. From pro Keystone Democrats in the South to moderate Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest, environmental organizations have warmed to moderate politicians they may have overlooked in past cycles.

With more money, resources, and clout than ever before, greens are trying to broaden their sphere of influence, aiming to turn climate change and environmentalism into non partisan issues in coming elections.

Critics lambast the green movement for moving away from principle. But other observers applaud the pragmatism, and green groups insist it’s necessary for a compromise driven approach to action on climate change.

«If we’re going to change the politics of environmental issues, and particularly climate change, we need both parties,» says Tony Kreindler, senior director for communications at Environmental Defense Action Fund, the political action arm of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an environmental group that supports some environmentally friendly Republicans.

Cash to burnThe shift can be partly attributed to green groups’ deeper pockets in this year’s midterm elections. The usual players the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Sierra Club are increasingly embracing political action committees and private donor networks to match those in the Republicans’ camp. That’s helping green groups move beyond written endorsements to become heavy hitters in the campaign spending department.

One new group alone, NextGen Climate, is ready to spend $100 million to transform climate change into a major campaign issue. NextGen is billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s answer to the Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists who have spent millions aiding conservative candidates country wide.

Though NextGen has shied away from GOP candidates, groups like the Environmental Defense Fund are backing moderate Republicans with good environmental records.

Look no further than New York’s 19th Congressional District, where a liberal Democrat is facing off against a moderate Republican incumbent. Democrat Sean Eldridge trumpets environmental protection as a key platform. Incumbent Rep. Chris Gibson (R) has stayed relatively low profile on the issue, and LCV gives mixed reviews to Gibson’s voting record.

Nonetheless, the Environmental Defense Action Fund is dropping $250,000 to support Republican Congressman Gibson.

«If you look at the numbers in Congress, the math is inescapable: We still need Republican support to get climate legislation off the House floor,» Mr. Kreindler says in a telephone interview, explaining EDF’s commitment to electing pro environment Republicans.

Backing Congressman Gibson is only one piece of EDF’s foray into Republican politics this election cycle. The group has also gotten involved in several state level legislative races in Kansas, supporting Republicans who defended a renewable electricity production mandate in the state.

Green groups acknowledge that helping elect Republicans and moderate Democrats won’t yield sweeping climate and environmental changes overnight. Instead, they view it as an investment that will keep climate change on the radar for politicians in both parties.

And some observers think it may be a wise investment.

«It’s important to be pragmatic,» says Meghan McGuinness, associate director for energy and the environment at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington. «Getting things done will require bipartisanship, particularly in the Senate, and both sides will need to compromise.»

Moving to the middleIt’s not just Republicans who are benefitting from big green’s largesse. Moderate Democrats from Michelle Nunn in Georgia to Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado are raking in cash and endorsements from green groups that are willing to tolerate the pro fossil fuel and pro Keystone XL stances that the groups otherwise oppose.

Even Tom Steyer of NextGen Climate is pumping millions into campaigns for Democrats who don’t always toe the line on environmental causes.

Part of the reason greens are so willing to dump money into races with moderate Democrats is defensive. Groups like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters view a Democratic controlled Senate as a «firewall» to prevent a GOP led House from dismantling EPA regulations and eviscerating President Obama’s coal plant emissions reductions targets.

To keep the Senate in Democrats’ hands, green groups have gravitated toward candidates they don’t always agree with on key environmental issues. For example, several weeks ago the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Michelle Nunn, the Democrat running for Georgia’s open Senate seat.

«She knows we have a moral obligation to act on climate change, and she’s been clear she supports growing the clean energy economy. That’s why we’re happy to be supporting to her,» Sara Chieffo, legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters,told the Huffington Post.

But just a week before that endorsement, Ms. Nunn released an ad criticizing other Democrats for their position on one of green groups’ pet issues: blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil sands from Canada to US Gulf Coast refineries.

«Too many Democrats play politics by dragging their feet on the Keystone pipeline,» Nunn says in the 30 second ad.

Sierra Club backs pro Keystone candidates like Sen. Kay Hagan (D) of North Carolina herself facing a bruising re election bid demonstrating that green groups are willing to compromise. Keystone support isn’t a dealbreaker for Tom Steyer either, as he told C SPAN in an interview earlier this year. «We’re going to take a holistic view, and try and make sure that the people we support are going to be doing the right thing down the road,» Steyer said.

That’s not to say Keystone XL doesn’t figure into green juggernauts’ endorsement strategies, though. In their recent endorsement for South Dakota Senate Candidate Rick Weiland, for instance, LCV pointed to his anti Keystone stance as a reason for support.

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