Energy & Environment

Republicans split on attacking climate science

The Republican Party is divided over whether to attack the science of climate change when opposing liberal policies.

Many of the most vocal Republicans say they have significant problems with the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming and that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity is the main cause. The skeptics include presidential hopefuls Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) and Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas), both chairmen of committees overseeing environmental issues.

{mosads}But others in the GOP aren’t interested in litigating the science. They say it’s more important — and far easier — to show that Democratic climate proposals would be disastrous to the economy and kill jobs.

The split comes as more and more voters, particularly young people and minorities, say in opinion polls that they believe climate change is real and want action to fight it.

Democrats have lined up firmly behind that view, with President Obama set to implement carbon dioxide limits for power plants that amount to the most significant action yet by the federal government to fight climate change.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said that since science underpins climate change policies, it’s important to examine it in detail.

“We know that there’s an ideological obsession to advance on this global warming agenda,” said Sessions. 

“Good policy should reflect the best science that we have. But a lot of the predictions that were confidently made have not occurred,” he said, pointing to predictions of temperature increases and storm activity that he said did not pan out. 

Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, brought national attention to his crusade against climate science when he brought a snowball to the Senate floor during a cold February day to mock alarmist climate conclusions. 

“Do you know what this is?” he asked Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who was presiding over the Senate’s debate, as he removed the snowball from a plastic bag.

“It’s a snowball. And it’s just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out. Very unseasonable.”

Comedians, Obama, greens, Democrats and others still bring up Inhofe’s “snowball moment” to mock the Republican Party’s position on climate change.

Many of the party’s presidential hopefuls have aligned with climate skeptics, including Cruz, Carson and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

“I am not a believer,” Trump said in a radio interview. “I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up, and it goes down, and it goes up again.”

At a hearing Cruz chaired in December on climate science, he repeatedly railed against climate change “alarmists” and said the Earth has not warmed in 18 years.

But Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the only other Republican to speak, only asked questions about the cost of Obama’s climate policies.

Daines declined to directly attack Cruz but said after the hearing that his constituents’ top problem with Obama’s policies are their impact on the economy.

“Montanans are most concerned about these regulations from the EPA and what effect it’s going to have on their pocketbooks and their everyday lives,” the freshman senator said. “That’s where the conversation’s going back home.”

It’s a line that has been taken repeatedly by other Republicans, and not just those who lean toward the center. 

“What we in Congress ought to focus on is the economic impact of the president’s plan,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). “We know that his regulations on energy sources have cost the American consumer hard-earned dollars, and it’s cost the country jobs.” 

Freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who leads a loose coalition of 11 House Republicans who say they believe that human activity is changing the climate, went even further.

He said efforts such as Cruz’s climate denial hearing and Smith’s investigation into climate research at a federal agency are a waste of time.

“I think it’s likely a poor investment,” he said. “We should instead invest resources and time into coming up with conservative, market-driven solutions for the challenges posed by climate change.”

Mike McKenna, a Republican energy industry consultant, said most Republicans don’t want to concede the science on climate change, because they fear it will inevitably lead to policies that make fossil fuels more expensive.

“If you concede that the other side is right on the characterization of the problem, then you’re done,” McKenna said. “If you concede the frame, you’re toast.” 

McKenna said climate change is extremely low on voters’ lists of priorities, so it can do little to hurt Republicans if they fight the science.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said rejecting climate science can be a dangerous game for Republicans, depending on their goals.

“In Congress, because you know your district, if you want to stay all-out skeptical, that’s fine,” he said. “But if you’re in a swing district, or if you’re running for president, you’re far better off talking about it in terms of its relationship to jobs and the economy.”

O’Connell said Democrats are nearly certain to make climate change an issue in the presidential race, something the GOP nominee will have to be prepared for.

“The only person who’s going to really have to in any way plausibly be concerned about solutions is whoever the Republican nominee is, because that’s something that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats want to make an issue,” he said.

Democrats and environmentalists, for their part, say they are hopeful the GOP will eventually come around on the issue.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he’d welcome debate about conservative ways to fight global warming.

“It’s not mandatory that everyone takes the Democratic position on climate, but it’s becoming a test of whether or not you’re a serious politician if you’re going to simply ignore that the problem exists,” he said.

Schatz said he sees the GOP moving away from skepticism. 

“There are many members who realize that it’s a loser for them in terms of being on the right side of history and on the right side of the voters,” he said. “Members are moving from outright denial to merely being critical of the solution set that’s being put forward by this president. And that gives us space to negotiate.”

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jeff Sessions Jim Inhofe Ted Cruz

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