Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 9 News List

US Senate Republicans scramble to find a party line on climate change

In a vote last month, 15 Republican senators agreed that climate change is caused by human activity, but only three were ready to talk about how they would tackle it

by Suzanne Goldenberg  /  The Guardian, WASHINGTON

Illustration: YUSHA

It seemed like a simple idea at first: Ask US Republicans what they would do about climate change.

Late last month, some Republicans in the US Senate finally admitted climate change is real. A small minority of 15 Republican senators agreed with the rest of the world that it is caused by human activity.

So what were they going to do about it? The senators did not know, or they were not telling — yet.

“You are going to find people very hesitant to talk about this,” an aide to one Republican senator said. The aide was right.

Only three of the 15 Republicans came forward with ideas for climate solutions, when asked by the Guardian.

Those three Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Lamar Alexander — suggested a range of measures from building more nuclear power plants to promoting energy efficiency and encouraging investment in technological research.

Crucially, none of the Republicans proposed a target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions — which cause climate change.

And none of the Republicans backed US President Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

They argued Obama was going about fighting climate change all wrong.

“My disagreement with the Obama administration is over its wrongheaded approach to solving this problem by proposing to deliberately raise the price of energy and construct a complicated cap-and-trade system,” Alexander said in an e-mailed statement, which also affirmed that human activity was a driver of climate change.

His suggestion was to build 100 new nuclear reactors, to provide emissions-free power and double government-sponsored research.

Murkowski opposed building more reactors without first establishing a permanent repository for nuclear waste, a spokesman said.

He said she supported “responsible efforts” to reduce emissions.

“What Senator Murkowski has said is that we ought to have a no regrets policy that can reduce emissions, but also won’t have a negative impact on the American economy, competitiveness and the weekly budgets of American families,” the spokesman said.

She opposed a carbon tax.

Collins said the answer was in promoting domestic clean energy and efficiency.

“By promoting clean, domestic energy alternatives and efficiency, we can reduce pollution, advance the goal of energy independence for our nation and spur the creation of new manufacturing jobs in America,” the senator said in a statement.

“I’ve always maintained that it is a false choice to pit the environment versus the economy,” she added.

A fourth Republican, Senator John Hoeven, who proposed but eventually voted against one of the climate votes, supported carbon capture technology, a spokesman said.

All the other senators were no-shows, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have in the past sponsored bills to put economy-wide limits on carbon pollution through cap-and-trade measures. Both of those attempts ended in defeat.

However, there were signs that the Republican wall of denial about climate change was starting to fall apart, said Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat who put forward one of the climate change votes in the Senate last month.

Those votes — during the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline — for the first time in years saw Republicans abandoning denial to debate policies of climate change.

“We shouldn’t be Pollyannas about converting anyone from denier to activist, but I think we converted people from denier to non-denier,” Schatz said. “People are going to have to move in increments. You can’t expect people taking a position just about as extreme as you could find would suddenly agree with me on all energy matters.”

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