Opposing clean energy hurts GOP

In attacking the clean-energy legislation just passed by the House, Republicans make three critical errors for which they may well pay a political price.

First, they confirm the potent role of the Flat Earth Society in their party. For years, many GOPers have embraced a contemporary version of the know-nothing philosophy, thereby alienating the party’s former base among better-educated, upper-income voters. In a country where 78 percent believe global warming is either happening now or foresee it in the future and where 69 percent believe global warming already constitutes a serious threat, allying themselves with the deniers only cements Republicans’ “know-nothing” image.

Because voters feel global warming poses a clear and present danger, they are demanding action. Our polling for the Pew Environment Group found a 77 percent supermajority wants the U.S. to reduce its carbon emissions. What’s more, support for action is intense, as 58 percent not only favor action, but do so “strongly.” Republicans stand with the mere 15 percent who oppose action. In this respect, GOP leaders betray their own partisans, 62 percent of whom want action to reduce carbon emissions.

Second, by opposing clean-energy legislation, Republicans reveal themselves to be anti-jobs. The economy and jobs are voters’ greatest concern and our surveys reveal that Americans believe efforts to curb global warming will be an engine driving job growth. A majority believes “efforts to reduce global warming will create new American jobs,” while just 21 percent side with Republican leaders who claim these efforts will cost jobs. Here again, in refusing to recognize the job-creating potential of a move to clean energy, Republicans are a party without a base — there is no segment of the population where a majority agrees with them.

Indeed, voters believe these efforts will create not only new jobs, but whole new industries — the kind of new enterprises we need as our old industries appear to fade. Refusing to recognize the job-creating potential that unfolds from technological innovation is a grievous sin, especially in this economy.

Finally, in railing against making polluters pay, Republicans reinforce their image as defenders of corporate greed at the expense of the national interest. Some energy prices may increase slightly in response to this legislation, and while GOPers want to call that a tax, voters reject that label — instead calling it corporate greed by a nearly 20-point margin.

In fact, when the tax argument made by Republicans on the floor last week is matched against a counterpoint making it clear that it is polluters, not taxpayers, who pay and that consumers will receive part of the money polluters pay as an energy tax credit, voters side with proponents of the legislation by a 42-point margin. In an environment where voters are 12 to 20 points more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on taxes, the GOP is unlikely to get very far with baseless accusations.

You can see the ads now — Republicans repeating tired and discredited claims about Democratic energy taxes that no one will see, while Democrats argue that Republicans are trying to thwart efforts to create clean-energy jobs, increasing our dependence on foreign oil, refusing to make polluters pay and opposing an energy tax credit for American families. There is little doubt in my mind — or in the data — which side will get the better of that debate.

Voters want clean-energy legislation because they believe it will create jobs, reduce our dependence on oil and reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming. By positioning themselves as consistent opponents of the majority’s will, Republicans risk deepening their isolation from America’s mainstream.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.