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).”
This article appears in the July 12, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.