Op-eds by 2 Republicans say White House report should sway GOP

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yesterday’s sweeping federal report on climate change’s toll on the United States should spur the GOP to offer its own ideas for how to combat the problem, according to two moderate Republicans.

Former Utah governor and GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and Reagan-era EPA Administrator Lee Thomas both wrote op-eds yesterday arguing that the third National Climate Assessment should change Republicans’ minds.Huntsman — who was the only member of the 2012 Republican primary field to maintain that man-made climate change is an established scientific fact — said again that Republicans would pay for making climate skepticism a party litmus test.

“So obtuse has become the party’s dialogue on climate change that it’s now been reduced to believing or not believing, as if it were a religious mantra,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

This was on display last month when the four top contenders in North Carolina’s Senate primary dismissed global warming in a debate “as if they had been asked about their belief in the Tooth Fairy,” he said.

The White House report by 300 scientists and other experts said climate change is already occurring. And Huntsman said that as Americans continue to see changes in established weather patterns, they will lose confidence in a party that is not seen to acknowledge those facts.

Huntsman proposed that Republicans adopt a position that is “neither denial nor extremism.”

It should embrace the science, he said, but it should also insist that environmentalists recognize economic realities they are reluctant to face.

“This may mean accepting that natural gas or nuclear energy are part of our shorter-term horizon, rather than fighting those approaches,” he said.

Thomas, meanwhile, warned readers of the Tampa Bay Times that “climate change is coming ashore in Florida, and that’s a fact.”

The federal climate report details many of the impacts that Florida is already experiencing, especially those stemming from sea-level rise along its vast coastlines. Higher seas are making storms more destructive and are infiltrating the porous soil of the southeastern part of the state, threatening its drinking water supply and drainage systems. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are making the oceans more acidic, threatening coral reefs.

“Whether Democrat or Republican, Florida residents cannot afford to ignore the evidence of climate change,” Thomas wrote. “It’s time to follow the facts and take a sensible approach to address this urgent problem.”

David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, said that Huntsman and Lee would find receptive audiences among Republicans at the local level who are more open to the idea of man-made climate change than the party’s positions would seem to indicate, but who may not feel strongly enough about it yet to make it an issue.

“I think you’ll see much more impact on people on the right at that level than you will in the upper echelons of the Republican Party at the moment,” Jenkins said.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed that about half of Republicans believe in climate change, a survey Huntsman referenced in his op-ed.

“There’s a disconnect,” Jenkins said. GOP lawmakers tend to think their supporters in their districts are skeptical of climate change and oppose action to confront it because the most vocal members of their base hold those views, he said. Economic concerns and other issues are more important to the Republican voters that may have more mixed views.

But Jenkins said that that would change as constituents of all political stripes continue to see changes in the weather conditions occurring all around them — including the more frequent and severe storms, droughts and other weather events cataloged in yesterday’s report.

“As rank-and-file voters start caring about this — start seeing it impact them in their daily lives — they’re going to start ranking it higher in terms of the priority of issue it is in their whole scheme of things,” he said. When enough Republicans and independents make climate change a priority, it will start influencing elections, he predicted — first in swing districts and then eventually in more solidly Republican ones.