WASHINGTON— House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s plan to rebrand the Republican Party neglected a priority for the Obama administration and also many Americans — climate change.
After a dip in 2009, public acceptance of climate change as a reality is growing. According to a Pew Research Center survey, the percentage of Americans who believe in global warming increased from 57 percent in 2009 to 67 percent last year. More of those polled also think it is caused by human activity — up from 36 percent in 2009 to 42 percent in 2012.
Republicans seem to be trailing Democrats in addressing the issue. But some in the GOP are pushing for market-based solutions, drawn from Republican principles.
According to the Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the GOP-led House voted against environmental protection 317 times during the 112th Congress. The votes covered a range of issues defined by Democrats as environmental protection – from blocking anti-pollution measures to advocating for more off-shore drilling.
At an Energy and Commerce hearing last week, Democrats urged the panel to spend more time considering the science of climate changes during deliberations in the 113th Congress.
At the meeting, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said he didn’t see the necessity of changing the committee’s game plan for oversight in 2013. In the previous Congress, he said, the committee heard from more than 30 climate change witnesses.
Whitfield said he was “quite confident” that climate change witnesses would appear at every hearing on the issue this year.
Two attempts last week to force the committee to schedule hearings on scientific findings pointing to climate change failed.
“I am disappointed that the primary energy committee has come to this point of denying the science,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in a statement last Wednesday. “House Republicans have buried their heads in the sand.
ConservAmerica President Rob Sisson said most Republican officials understand the science of climate change, but are stuck politically “between a rock and a hard place.” If they speak out on the issue, more conservative or libertarian party members will criticize them, Sisson said.
Sisson, who leads the conservative grassroots organization, said in the last Congress, members aligned with Tea Party interests often voted against environmental issues, health care reform and abortion rights as part of a political strategy. However, the strategy to discredit Democrats and President Barack Obama backfired in November, he said.
“The party needs to go back to our platform from 2008, which acknowledged climate change and exercised conservative values to try to address it,” Sisson said.
In the 2012 election, Sisson said the GOP’s platform strayed from its “once-great conservation tradition.” He said the changing environmental dialogue requires Republicans in Congress to change their political strategy.
“We have to actually offer concrete solutions that make people’s lives better,” Sisson said. “If we don’t do that, we’ll be part of that minority in Congress.”
Much of the GOP’s rebranding is focused on immigration reform to appeal to the Latino electorate, but Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said Latinos also strongly support clean energy initiatives.
A Sierra Club and National Council of La Raza survey released in August indicated 77 percent of Latino voters believe global warming is already under way, and another 15 percent think it will occur in the future.
“It’s quite possible that after this big ticket item of immigration is addressed, [the GOP] will realize they have to go through the whole broad range of issues that are of concern to Latinos,” Pierce said.
The Pew Research Center study said belief in climate change is more prevalent among political liberals and young voters. Pierce said Obama’s position on slowing climate change attracted young voters in 2008, and they will be pushing for action in his second term.
Obama mentioned climate change as one of his priorities for his second term in his inaugural speech.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he said in his inauguration last month.
The Sierra Club’s Melinda Pierce said voters’ tolerance for people who do not believe in climate change is wearing thin.
Rob Sisson said by 2016, voters under 30 will not seriously consider candidates who deny evidence of global warming.
“The younger generation is actually lobbying their parents and grandparents on environmental issues,” Sisson said. “That will only exasperate the problem that Republicans will be facing electorally.”
Alex Bozmoski, director of strategy and operations at the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, said the growing discussion on climate change presents an opportunity for conservatives to lead with their own solutions. The E&EI launched in July at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. It is led by former Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., as a vehicle to promote conservative solutions to environmental problems.
Bozmoski said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., married conservative principles with the reality of America’s changing circumstances in his recent take on immigration reform. There is a similar path in the future for conservatives on climate change, he said.
“No one expects a hard flip on any orthodoxy in the [Repubican] party currently,” Bozmoski said, “but orthodoxy definitely changes over time.”
Bozmoski said in past years, liberals have used environmental catastrophe as a pretense for pro-government programs, while Republicans reacted by denying the danger.
“Eventually we’re going to have to deal with this problem, and I sure hope that it’s conservative policy that’s enacted,” he said.