February 01, 2011

The Freshman Class of the 112th Congress: The Climate Divide

The new class on the Hill has been less vocal on their climate policies than they have about energy. It is clear that the new Members do not view climate change to be a very important issue, if they believe it is an issue at all. In a survey of the incoming class, Think Progress found 50 percent of the new members denied that manmade climate change was real, while an overwhelming 86 percent were opposed to “cap and trade” legislation. This view was also summed up in Clause 2 of the Republican Party’s campaign manifesto “Contract for America.”  Appropriately titled “reject cap and trade,” Clause 2 reads: “Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation's global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.”

Some have taken this to heart more so than others. For instance, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who has been assigned to the House Oversight and Government Reform and the Natural Resource Committees, wants not only to do away with many of the EPA’s environmental regulations, but also hopes to overturn ones levied by state and local governments.

Other freshmen are concerned first and foremost with where public opinion stands on the issue. For example, in his original unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2008, Rep. Steve Strivers (R-OH) supported enacting a carbon emission tax. Of course, at that time, candidate Obama actively touted this policy while winning Striver’s district decisively, taking 53 percent of the vote compared to McCain’s 44 percent. Now that the political winds have shifted on climate change, however, so too have the opinions of those Congressional hopefuls like Rep. Strivers, whose campaign website this time around stated: “Congress has been working to pass their version of an energy plan (cap and trade), but the American people should not be fooled. What Congress has passed amounts to another tax on families and another job killer in our communities.”

And of course, these sentiments about climate change and/or cap and trade are not limited to the Republican Party. For example, in one of his first acts after getting elected to the Senate, Joe Manchin (D-WV) claimed to have obtained a pledge from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the Senate would not have cap and trade on the agenda this term. In Manchin’s own words, "I have a deep commitment and a personal commitment from him [Harry Reid] that cap-and-trade is dead."

The Strivers example demonstrates just how contingent progress on climate change is on public opinion. As an intern on Capitol Hill when it was considering H.R. 2454 on carbon emissions, I witnessed firsthand just how resistant the many in the populace were to the fact that man-made climate change existed, let alone having the government take action to forestall its effects.  In the run-up to the vote on the bill, our office was bombarded by constituents opposing the bill.

While resistance to climate change may make concrete government action unlikely, it will not prevent any of the security issues that we discuss on this blog. In fact, the less action the government takes, the more urgent it is that we must fully comprehend the challenges it will pose to our national security.