Sestak and Toomey: Night and Day on Climate and Energy in Pennsylvania Senate Race

Battle heating up for coveted seat in coal and gas rich state

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WASHINGTON—Some election forecasters continue to peg the Pennsylvania Senate contest as a “toss-up,” while others have shifted it over to the “leans Republican” column.

Either way, conservationists intent on advancing climate and energy legislation in a reshaped Congress next year covet the seat Republican-cum-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter will be vacating after five terms, so they are making their voices heard.

Both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have endorsed the Democratic contender Rep. Joe Sestak, who is in his second term representing the Philadelphia area’s 7th District. The three star admiral and Navy veteran knocked an on-the-ropes, party-switching Specter off his longtime perch in the May 18 primary.

But polls show Sestak is looking vulnerable against his Republican opponent as the Keystone State inches toward Nov. 2 election.

Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to raise campaign dollars for Sestak in separate appearances within the next few weeks, according to CNN.

Recently, the League of Conservation voters made Sestak’s Republican opponent Pat Toomey, who challenged Specter six years ago, the target of an online campaign that includes a video and advertising. The advocacy group also added Toomey to its infamous trademark “Dirty Dozen” list for 2010. Tony Massaro, the league’s senior vice president for political affairs spelled out exactly why:

“Be it as a member of Congress or president of the Club for Growth, Pat Toomey has made clear that he walks in lockstep with Big Oil and other corporate polluters while opposing new energy policies that would set America on the path to a clean energy future. From drilling for oil in the Great Lakes to opposing legislation that creates clean energy jobs, his extreme views on energy policy put him far outside the mainstream and easily earn him a spot on the Dirty Dozen.”

Toomey’s press secretary didn’t respond to a SolveClimate News request for a comment about the listing.

The energy section of the candidate’s Web site is quite spare. In two short paragraphs Toomey notes that politicians “lack the desire and the political will to institute a forward-thinking energy policy that will lower the costs and make America energy independent.”

He also explains that while in the House, where he represented the 15th District in the Allentown region north of Philadelphia for three terms after first being elected in 1998, he voted to allow drilling in “a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.”

The section also features a link to a Nov. 6, 2009 opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where Toomey blasts Sestak for voting in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. He criticizes a cap and trade system for carbon as a massive job killer for the fourth-largest coal producing state.

Toomey then calls for “commonsense policies that protect our environment” and lists renewable energy, conservation, natural gas, nuclear energy and cleaner coal technology as pieces of the solution.

Sestak Not Backpedaling

Sestak has not backpedaled on his support for the cap and trade bill cosponsored by fellow Democrats Reps. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Henry Waxman of California. His campaign Web site delves into a long list of environmental issues and details about Sestak’s legislative wish list.

“We need to put aside political ideology and find practical solutions to reduce energy costs and spur investment in clean energy,” Sestak said in a news release, adding that he supports a renewable electricity standard of 25 percent. “This will create green jobs and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.”

Through Sept. 9, prognosticators at nonpartisan forecasting organizations such as The Washington Post and the Cook Political Report categorize the Pennsylvania race as a toss-up. Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics lists the race as leaning Republican on his Crystal Ball Web site. “The Crystal Ball’s predictions are clinical,” Sabato explains. “We are fond of people in both parties. We cheer for no one.”

In mid-August, another independent prognosticator, Rasmussen Reports, shifted the race from “toss-up” to “leans Republican.” The group’s latest telephone survey of likely voters released Aug. 31 shows Toomey continuing to hold a modest six-point lead over Sestak. Toomey had 45 percent support to Sestak’s 39 percent.

Earlier this month, Toomey led Sestak by nine points, 46 percent to 37 percent, according to Rasmussen numbers. Toomey’s support has ranged between 42 percent and 47 percent in surveys dating back to February. Aside from a brief surge following his primary victory, Sestak’s numbers have rung in between 36 percent and 40 percent.

The League of Conservation Voters criticizes Toomey for receiving more than $294,000 from energy interests—including $123,800 from the oil and gas industry—during his political career. As well, the group has hammered on him for voting against repealing subsidies to Big Oil and against energy efficiency and fuel efficiency standards.

Scores each of the candidates earned from the League of Conservation Voters for their environmental voting records are like night and day. Toomey’s lifetime score is 11 percent, while Sestak’s lifetime score is 96 percent.

“From his long career as a military leader,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the conservation organization, “(Sestak) knows that the policies needed to make America more energy independent and improve our national security are the same policies that will put Pennsylvanians back to work in a new clean energy economy.”