White House picks 2014 fight on climate

The White House launched a new climate push on Tuesday with the release of a report that concludes human-generated climate change is having dramatic effects on every part of the nation.

The 841-page National Climate Assessment, which the administration touted as the most comprehensive look yet at global warming in the U.S., said climate change is raising temperatures, contributing to storms, and making water more scarce and wildfires more common.

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“Americans are noticing changes all around them,” the report states. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.”

The election-year report, which was three years in the making, appeals directly to the Democratic Party’s liberal base, which must come out in full force this fall if the party is to hold on to a majority in the Senate.

[READ NATIONAL CLIMATE ASSESSMENT.]

Green groups praised it as an alarm clock on the danger of global warming, and a senator said the administration had “upped its game” in the area in a way that would be helpful to Democratic campaigns.

“There was a time when you couldn’t get them to say climate change,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told The Hill. “They’ve really turned hard in realizing this is an issue to get right. And it’s just not in the regulatory side but raising the profile of the issue in a very helpful way.”

Yet the report also provided ammunition for Republicans running against an administration it says is waging a “war on coal,” and represents a danger for centrist Democrats seeking to distance themselves from some of Obama’s green-friendly policies.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is running against vulnerable Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), plans to use the report against his opponent, tethering her to the larger climate regulations Obama and Senate Democratic leaders are pursuing.

A spokesman for Cassidy’s Senate bid, John Cummins, said Louisianans know Landrieu sides with the president “97 percent of the time.” 

He noted that the report was released as the Senate tries to debate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project Landrieu supports but that Obama’s administration has failed to green-light.

The administration enlisted more than 300 experts and 13 federal science agencies, along with a 60-member committee to produce the report.

To gather the data, researchers utilized satellites, weather balloons, thermometers, buoys and other observing systems, in order to make sure every member of the U.S. public could find information that applies to their region, the administration said.

Obama has made fighting climate change a central part of his second term, and he highlighted the report in a series of one-on-one interviews with national and local TV meteorologists on Tuesday.

In an interview with CBS, he warned that “people’s lives are at risk” because of climate change.

“Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires — all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak,” Obama said.

Skeptics called the report another “scare tactic” by the administration. Many contend there is far from a consensus among U.S. scientists that the globe is in fact warming, arguing that the temperature changes have continually occurred throughout the last century.

“Facing a recovering, yet fragile, economy, with families across the country struggling to make ends meet, it is concerning that the Obama administration is busy promoting its politically driven climate change agenda, instead of addressing the real issues plaguing our nation,” said Laura Sheehan, of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

 The highly publicized report comes on the heels of the United Nations global climate change report, which offered similar conclusions for the planet.

  “The National Climate Assessment paints a bleak picture, but it is a picture we have seen clearly for many years, and we have to act on it now,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen.

Sierra Club Director Michael Brune added that impacts on health, communities and the U.S. economy will “skyrocket” if the country fails to act.

The new report includes research and evidence from 13 federal agencies. It found the average temperature in the U.S. has increased by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit, coming in at 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895.

A majority of that increase took place since 1970, the report states. And the most recent decade was the nation’s hottest on record, with 2012 being the hottest year on record in the U.S.

The change in climate in the last 50 years, the report concludes, is a result of human activities, mainly from the burning of fossil-fuel energy sources.

The report breaks the U.S. into eight regions, detailing specific climate changes in each.

It said climate change is leading to drought in the Southwest, greater heat waves and precipitation in the Northeast, and lower crop yields as a result of rising carbon dioxide in the Midwest.

John Melillo, a marine biologist who sits on the White House climate assessment committee, cited the rise of  sea levels in the top three “most concerning” findings from the report.

Global sea levels have risen roughly 8 inches since 1880 and are expected to rise an additional 1-4 feet by 2100, according to the report.

Democrats on Tuesday insisted the report wouldn’t hurt vulnerable centrists.

Indeed, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky suggested the report would just give red-state Democrats another opportunity to distance themselves from an unpopular president.

“No matter the issue, each of these Senate races will come down to the clear contrast between a Democratic candidate who is focused on creating opportunity for the middle class and is willing to disagree with their own party leadership when they think it’s best for their state, and a Republican candidate who is beholden to the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and a small group of right-wing billionaires pushing a dangerous anti-middle-class agenda,” Barasky said.

Updated at 8:34 p.m.

Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.

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