Rob Portman, the Pope and the Need for Bold Democrats

When it comes to addressing climate change, the need to act has never been more urgent or more important. Not only was 2014 the hottest year on record, much of the country also experienced the devastating impacts of extreme weather. From a dangerous algae bloom in Toledo, Ohio that prevented nearly half a million people from drinking their own water to the dramatic droughts in California, climate change is upon us faster and in a more severe manner than scientists had predicted.

Pope Francis has joined the scientific community recently in sounding the alarm on climate change and elevating this critical conversation. His encyclical made clear that addressing climate change is not only about the sustainability of the planet; it is also a test of our moral grounding.

Will we leave the earth in better or worse condition than we inherited it? Will we do right by future generations?

The good news is that while the threat of climate change has never been greater, neither have the solutions. Here in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio, it's important to distinguish who supports these solutions and who opposes them.

Take, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. This plan offers a quadruple-win: good for the environment, good for consumers, good for our health, and good for the economy.

The Clean Power Plan is a common-sense, cost-effective approach to cut carbon pollution from coal-burning power plants by 30 percent by 2030. These power plants are the single biggest source of carbon pollution in this country, and this proposal is a major step forward in combating the climate crisis. The Clean Power Plan gives Ohio and other states the flexibility to achieve the pollution cuts in a variety of ways, including more renewable energy like wind and solar and more efficiency. This proposal will reduce pollution and protect public health, keep the lights on, and promote clean energy jobs right here in Ohio.

ICF International, a respected research and analytics firm, conducted a study of the EPA Clean Power Plan for the Natural Resources Defense Council which shows that Ohio would gain as many as 8,600 new jobs. The installation of carbon capture and storage technology at coal-fired power plants, as well as the transition to new renewable technologies like wind and solar power would create these new jobs, providing new opportunities and good wages.

The EPA Clean Power Plan will also lower electricity utility bills by increasing energy efficiency. The ICF International study showed the average utility bill in Ohio would be reduced by $82. Increased energy efficiency means lower usage -- and lower usage means lower bills.

Moreover, tackling carbon pollution would improve the health of millions of Ohioans. It could even save lives. A recent Harvard School of Public Health study identified nearly two million citizens in our state who suffer from asthma and other serious respiratory diseases. According to the American Lung Association, 270,000 of those are asthmatic children. Carbon pollution has been proven to aggravate asthma which puts these children at risk.

Seizing the moment demands facing hard realities, as Pope Francis is calling for. It demands putting our focus on the future. It demands bold leadership.

Alas, in Ohio, we know what failed leadership and lack of boldness looks like: it looks like the actions of Rob Portman. The incumbent Ohio Senator purports to have a balanced approach to environmental protection, but the truth is, he has a consistently poor record on conservation and environmental protection, which cannot be spun in a positive direction.

According to the League of Conservation Voters Environmental Scorecard, Rob Portman has one of the worst records in the United States Senate, having voted for environmental protection only 22 percent of the time in his two decades in Congress.

On the most critical environmental issue of our time -- climate change -- Rob Portman has been both a denier and obstructionist. He has been an outspoken proponent of the Canadian Keystone XL tar sands pipeline -- a project that would promote the dirtiest and most toxic oil on the planet, a filthy sludge that is one of the most carbon-polluting sources in existence.

Senator Portman didn't stop with his promotion of the toxic Keystone XL. Earlier this spring, he personally sponsored an amendment that would have cut the heart out of the historic Clean Air Act by allowing states to arbitrarily refuse to adhere to national clean air standards.

Senator Portman did not sponsor this legislation because he believed in a balanced approach to environmental protection. Nothing could be more unbalanced than 50 states all deciding on their own whims whether or not they will protect air quality. More likely, Rob Portman introduced the amendment at the behest of lobbyists and special interests who are more concerned with their short-term bottom line than the health of citizens in Ohio. Over the course of his long career in Washington, Portman has taken over $850,000 in contributions from lobbyists and polluters intent on weakening environmental protection. Indeed, his current Congressional chief-of-staff is formerly one of those very lobbyists.

Ohio, the country, and the planet can't afford more of Rob Portman.

Nor can we afford Democrats who sit on the sidelines remaining silent about the pressing environmental issues of our day. The cautious approach to politics will not do. The moment demands more of us.

Our planet is warming at a dangerous rate. Extreme weather threatens our lives, our health, our economy, and our national security. Every Ohioan will pay a price for the failure to act.

I say enough fear-mongering from polluting industries and the politicians who are doing their bidding instead of protecting public health and the environment.

It is time we had a new generation of leaders in Washington who were up to the challenge of protecting the environment for future generations.

As President Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address, "No challenge  --  no challenge  -- poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change." I couldn't agree more, and the urgent need to address the challenge of climate change is one of the reasons I'm running for the United States Senate. I will act on climate change, and I will act boldly -- to harness the opportunity to protect our children and grandchildren and build them a better world.