It might be getting hotter in Washington and across the United States, but the extreme weather won’t do much to heat up congressional action on the issue of climate change next year, most of National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders say.
Nearly 85 percent of Insiders said that although July 2011 to June 2012 was the warmest year on record according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate data, that still won’t spur Congress to act.
“Stop dreaming,” one Insider said bluntly.
The controversial issue has been pushed to the back burner, mostly because of economic and political concerns. And it won’t regain prominence until those issues are resolved, Insiders say.
“Climate change will not be a top-level issue in Washington, D.C., until after the economy recovers,” said one Insider. “Right now, the debate is focused on energy and how much it is going to cost the average American to run their [air conditioner] on these hot days.”
“In spite of the significant majority of Americans thinking that climate change is happening and is therefore real, they aren’t yet placing this issue at the top of their electoral demands—or political support,” added another Insider.
Politically, the issue is particularly tricky for moderate Democrats.
“Several House members lost their seats in 2010 due to their support of Waxman-Markey,” noted one Insider, referring to the sweeping climate-change bill that cleared the House but not the Senate. “The public’s opinion has not changed substantially since then.”
Some lawmakers in both chambers will be vulnerable not only this fall, but also leading into the 2014 elections—making any further action on climate legislation a hard sell, another Insider said.
“The climate-change issue is toxic for moderate Democrats from energy-intensive states. And with a number of these members on the ballot in 2014, their leaders will do everything they can to protect them from taking tough votes.”
Still, Insiders argued that although extreme weather events may not push lawmakers toward acting on climate change, other factors can still play a role.
“The recent court decisions giving [the Environmental Protection Agency] a clear green light to regulate greenhouse gases will likely stir action in Congress more than recent weather events,” said one Insider.
“European enforcement of aviation-emissions obligations is more likely to produce a climate-policy response in Washington. So might EPA stationary-source NSPS [new source performance standard] rules,” another argued, speaking of efforts by European countries to regulate airline emissions and EPA’s regulation of power plants. “But cherry-picking 12-month stretches of hot days ain’t gonna do it,” the Insider said.
The outcome of the November election will also have a big effect on the future of climate legislation, several Insiders added.
In that regard, 80 percent of Insiders said that the issue, which has been largely absent from campaign rhetoric so far, won't gain any traction leading into 2012.
"This election is about one thing — the economy. Climate change is about as relevant a topic now as legwarmers are to today's fashion," joked one Insider.
"There's a clear difference between Obama and Romney (and for that matter, the McCain of 2008 and Romney) on climate, but economic issues will trump just about everything else this year, including climate,” said another.
Still, some said that the issue could come up to haunt the administration, with Republicans hounding Obama's policies.
“Republicans at all levels will make this administration's embrace of a back-door national energy tax an issue," said one Insider. "Democrats will have a tough time explaining cap and tax and GHG regs in states like OH, PA, WI, IN, NC, VA, IA, and WV.”
According to a report released by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center on Monday, the 12-month period from July 2011 to June 2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States since record keeping began in 1895. Will such extreme weather events stir action on climate change in Congress next year?
- Yes 16%
- No 84%
“Yes, if by "action" you mean "discussion" and not actual legislative movement. Given the budget situation and the looming budget cliff, there's no way Congress can avoid talking about a potential price on carbon as a revenue raiser. But it's hard to see the talks resulting in concrete action in 2013.”
“It's all about jobs, not climate.”
“The fact of a struggling economy will continue to trump any facts about climate change's impacts.”
“Any action on climate change will depend on the outcome of the November elections, not the rising temperatures in the U.S.”
“Weather events will play a supporting role in the public consciousness, but EPA's climate authority will be the key driver. As EPA's authority becomes settled law, it will become apparent that only Congress can devise a more appropriate climate regime consistent with effective energy and environment policy.”
“It will take more than warm days to spur action. It will take a few more Alaskan villages displaced by melting permafrost, some more gigantic wildfires in the West associated with persistent droughts, several Category 5 hurricanes in the Northeast, killer tornadoes in the Southeast and South consistently over four or five years. Only problem is inconsistency is a major outcome of climate change.”
“The recent court decisions giving EPA a clear green light to regulate greenhouse gases will likely stir action in Congress more than recent weather events.”
“Using weather events to drive a political agenda is a failed strategy. The climate-change issue is toxic for moderate Democrats from energy-intensive states and with a number of these members on the ballot in 2014 their leaders will do everything they can to protect them from taking tough votes.”
“In spite of the significant majority of Americans thinking that climate change is happening and is therefore real, they aren't yet placing this issue at the top of their electoral demands — or political support. They are understandably cranky about the economy — consistent with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maybe a series of consecutive "worst weather on record" years will place climate change into a lower place on Maslow's triangle (in the "safety" tier, with concerns over resources, health, property, along with employment).”
In the 2008 election, both candidates took a stance on the issue of climate change, talking about joining international climate-change efforts and working on greenhouse-gas reductions. Will the issue gain traction on the campaign trail leading into the November election this time around?
- Yes 20%
- No 80%
“I believe that climate change issues will come into play as part of the broader issues involved with a cleaner/greener energy policy for the U.S.”
“Too hot for it not to. And Obama can clearly differentiate here, since Romney thinks we should wait 50 years for scientists to tell us if it's a problem.”
“But unfortunately it is now on the list of litmus issues like abortion and drilling in ANWR. Positions will be based on coal-state votes more than an acceptance that action is needed.”
“ ... although Obama needs to learn the lesson Gore did in 2000, and run toward climate-change realities, not dance around them. Like on health care, Romney has utterly caved to the Far Right rhetorically so it's open ground to cover.”
“With the economy still shaky, voters won't reward candidates that emphasize environmental issues.”
“With Europe increasing their consumption of coal, international agreements on climate change will take a back seat. More importantly, the issue does not play well in battleground states.”
“Climate change will not be an election issue, other than lobbing some political grenades by Republicans in coal and oil regions which might attract votes.”
“Historically, environmental issues are only important in presidential elections when there are no "guns and butter" issues. The "butter" issues this year push climate change off the radar screen. It does not help that environmental groups have become part of the Democratic Party — they are taken for granted by Democrats and have no appeal to Republicans, and that is a poor foundation for significant legislative change. Obvious strategic error, assuming these groups are actually interested in change, not fundraising.”
“There's a clear difference between Obama and Romney (and for that matter, the McCain of 2008 and Romney) on climate, but economic issues will trump just about everything else this year, including climate.”
“We've come a long way — or rather, we've taken a lot of steps backward — since 2008. It's amazing to think about how much more polarizing an issue climate change is today than it was during that election. No way will it be a major issue, though energy security and domestic production surely will.”
“The political scars of Waxman/Markey and Kerry/Lieberman/Graham are too deep — both sides will continue to avoid climate change in the campaign as much as possible.”
“Sen. McCain had a long, public history of urging action on climate change. Since that time, the opposite has become a litmus test for whether one is a true Republican.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Andrew J. Black, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, Pat Bousliman, Michael Bromwich, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Neil Chatterjee, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, David Di Martino, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Tom Dower, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Fritz Hirst, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O’Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Linda Stuntz, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the July 12, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.