Republicans Are Screaming for Action on Global Warming, But Only From the Stands

Retired GOP officials are pushing for action, but Capitol Hill Republicans aren’t buying it.

National Journal
Ben Geman
June 23, 2014, 10:46 a.m.

A cadre of Re­pub­lic­an former of­fi­cials are break­ing with their Cap­it­ol Hill col­leagues to push for ac­tion on cli­mate change.

Henry Paulson, who was Pres­id­ent George W. Bush’s Treas­ury sec­ret­ary, is the latest, writ­ing in a The New York Times opin­ion piece Sunday to warn of a loom­ing “cli­mate bubble” that poses “enorm­ous risks.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in fin­ance, gov­ern­ment, and con­ser­va­tion, it is to act be­fore prob­lems be­come too big to man­age,” he writes.

Paulson had a front-row seat for the burst­ing of the cred­it bubble that wreaked hav­oc on the eco­nomy in 2008, not­ing, “It’s fair to say that I know a little bit about risk.” This time he has a pro­pos­al to lessen the danger of the “cli­mate bubble”: A car­bon tax.

Ex­pect to hear more from Paulson on Tues­day when he, ex-New York May­or Mi­chael Bloomberg, and bil­lion­aire cli­mate act­iv­ist Tom Stey­er — who have a joint ini­ti­at­ive called Risky Busi­ness — re­lease a re­port on the eco­nom­ic per­ils of cli­mate change.

Paulson is part of a boom­let of GOP former of­fi­cials break­ing pub­licly with Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans on cli­mate change.

Last week, four former EPA chiefs who served un­der Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents test­i­fied be­fore a Sen­ate com­mit­tee on the need to ad­dress cli­mate change. Demo­crats, who called the the four as wit­nesses, are try­ing to polit­ic­ally isol­ate con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans who are skep­tic­al of cli­mate sci­ence and op­pose reg­u­la­tion or mar­ket-based pro­pos­als such as cap-and-trade or taxes.

And for the past couple of years, GOP former Rep. Bob Ing­lis of South Car­o­lina has been barn­storm­ing the cam­pus and news­pa­per ed­it­or­i­al board cir­cuit. He’s selling a “rev­en­ue neut­ral” car­bon tax, which means he wants to pair fees on car­bon emis­sions with equi­val­ent cuts in per­son­al tax rates.

But among Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans, nobody is buy­ing.

Op­pos­i­tion to car­bon reg­u­la­tions or car­bon pri­cing is, if any­thing, more power­ful than it was a few years ago, when Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham ne­go­ti­ated a cli­mate pro­pos­al with then-Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieber­man (al­though Gra­ham ul­ti­mately aban­doned the talks). Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Mc­Cain coau­thored cap-and-trade bills sev­er­al times dur­ing the 2000s, but he’s no longer push­ing the idea.

It’s too early to say wheth­er more GOP ex-of­fi­cials will speak up, or wheth­er they could have any sway on Cap­it­ol Hill. Lately, Re­pub­lic­ans are in­deed be­com­ing more en­gaged on cli­mate change, but not in the way that act­iv­ists might hope. In­stead, they’re launch­ing fresh ef­forts to scuttle newly pro­posed EPA reg­u­la­tions, al­leging that the rules would hurt the eco­nomy. It’s not the kind of op­pos­i­tion that Sen­ate hear­ings or New York Times op-eds will undo any­time soon.

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