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June 27 — Recent high-profile Republican calls for action to address climate change are helpful because they frame the issue in terms of the economic costs of inaction, several senators who have worked on climate issues told Bloomberg BNA June 26.
However, those calls are unlikely to have altered the prospects for legislation among current lawmakers, multiple senators said.
Democratic senators who advocate for action on climate change and several Republicans with a history of working on climate issues told Bloomberg BNA the recent calls for action from former Environmental Protection Agency administrators and other high-profile Republicans were helpful to the debate.
“I have long been concerned about the impact of climate change on the economy as well as our environment,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who announced a draft bill to cut climate pollutants June 26, told Bloomberg BNA. “I think the increased attention paid to the economic arguments is very important, because often times this dispute over the EPA regulations is posited as the economy versus the environment, and I don't think that's accurate.”
Four former EPA administrators who served under Republican presidents told a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee June 18 that they support immediate action on climate change and urged Republican opponents of action to stop efforts to derail actions.
Then, a June 24 bipartisan report from high-profile political leaders warned that climate change could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses by the end of this century without action. Participants in the report included former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); Henry Paulson, treasury secretary during the administration of former President George W. Bush; and George Shultz, secretary of state during the administration for former President Ronald Reagan.
Several Senate leaders pushing for action on climate change said the emergence of Republican leadership on the issue shows public opinion has firmly shifted on the issue.
“I think what's happening is a part of the Republican leadership is beginning to understand that climate change is a huge issue, the science is clear and the science can't be rejected,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told Bloomberg BNA. “I think you are going to see the beginning of the Republican rejection of science beginning to crumble, and I hope that means we're going to be able to make some progress.”
The message from the former EPA administrators was particularly strong, Sanders said, because they told Senate Republicans they could no longer deny the scientific consensus that human activity is largely responsible for climate change.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another longtime supporter of action on climate change, said the support from former Republican leaders is “very important” because public opinion on the issue appeared to be nearing a tipping point.
“This is a body that responds to public interest,” Cardin told Bloomberg BNA. “I think what [these Republicans] are doing raises the intensity level, which has an impact on us.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who previously authored legislation placing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, called the recent surge of Republican calls for action on climate change based on economic reasons “very helpful,” but he said any debate on the issue remains unlikely this Congress.
“[It's] always helpful to make an economic argument, since one of the arguments against [action on climate] is that the cost—for example, to the coal producing states—would be extremely high,” McCain told Bloomberg BNA.
Other Republican senators said the calls for action didn't change their view that President Barack Obama's actions to address climate change were incorrect and would have devastating effects on the economy.
The Obama administration has unveiled a plan to address climate change, the centerpiece of which is an EPA proposed rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
“I don't think anybody is denying that we need to be good, responsible stewards and ensure we're doing everything can to reduce emissions,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, told Bloomberg BNA. “I'm willing to look at the science. I'm willing to look at the data. I think we need to base our conclusions on that and not on somebody's notion of how the world ought to be.”
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told Bloomberg BNA that the calls for action from some Republicans probably wouldn't change the minds of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“The actions that should be taken are to empower investment rather than blocking it with all these regulations,” Hoeven said. “When you deploy those new technologies, you get more energy and better environmental stewardship.”
With assistance from Dean Scott in Washington
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