The New Political Climate
Air Date: Week of November 5, 2010
Co-hosts Steve Curwood and Bruce Gellerman explore how the mid-term elections changed the playing field for climate change and energy policy. President Obama says he sees potential bipartisan common ground in energy issues. And Rep. Charlie Bass says he’s willing to listen. The New Hampshire Republican rode the electoral wave back into Congress. He tells Steve Curwood how Republicans and Democrats might make progress on clean energy. But a number of the newly elected deny the science supporting man-made climate change. LOE’s Jeff Young reports on the anti-science sentiment among the Republican freshman class, and the fight that’s brewing over the regulation of greenhouse gases.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.
CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood. The Republican take-over of the House of Representatives changes the political landscape. But, President Obama believes that – at least on energy and climate- the two parties can work together.
OBAMA: I think the smartest thing for us to do, is to see if we can get Democrats and Republicans in a room who are serious about energy independence, and are serious about keeping our air clean and our water clean and dealing with the issue of greenhouse gases, and seeing are there ways that we can make progress in the short term and invest in technologies in the long term that start giving us the tools to reduce greenhouse gases and solve this problem.
GELLERMAN: But the new GOP Majority leadership in the House is skeptical of climate change science. And Republicans want to limit the Administration’s power to regulate greenhouse gases through the Environmental Protection Agency. On this, the President wasn’t budging.
OBAMA: The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that fall under their jurisdiction. And I think, you know, one - one of the things that's very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don't hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that in fact may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs that -- and that put us in a competitive posture around the world.
CURWOOD: If the President is in a mood to reach across the aisle to collaborate on energy, one hand that might reach back is that of a re-minted Republican Congressman from New Hampshire – Charlie Bass. Representative Bass lost his second District seat in 2006 after six terms in office. He now returns to Washington to reclaim his seat and his seniority, which pretty much allows him to pick his committee assignments.
He’s an advocate of renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to obtain a percentage of their power from renewables – standards adopted by more than half of the states. Charlie Bass calls himself a moderate Republican. He finds the science of climate change credible, but does not support the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the Democratically controlled House to cap and trade greenhouse gases. Welcome to Living on Earth, sir!
BASS: Glad to be with you!
CURWOOD: So tell me, what’s possible now on energy and climate change? The President in his post-election press conference made a point of saying energy was an area of possible bipartisan compromise. What do you see happening here?
BASS: Well, energy by definition, is not partisan, it’s really regional. You know the northeast, the southwest, Alaska-- it’s domestic vs. international. Unfortunately, the Waxman-Markey bill became a real political football. And so, I think the concept of cap and trade Waxman-Markey style is really not viable. However, the nexus between the development of renewable energy capabilities and carbon sequestration is very close.
So, my suggestion or concept is that we start approaching the issue of carbon neutrality by trying to put together an energy bill rather than an environmental bill that would achieve a certain level of energy independence, i.e. renewable energy production- a national thermal and electric portfolio standard, for example. The net result might be that we would have the same outcome, or a similar outcome to a cap and trade bill, and we might use the tools of cap and trade but the concept and the mechanisms for achieving those objectives would be quite different.
CURWOOD: Who among the Republican leadership do you see as being willing to meet the President part way on his call for bipartisan compromise on energy?
BASS: Well, of course, I’m not sure outside of John Bayner, who the Republican leaders are going to be. On Energy Commerce Committee, where I plan to serve, the only member of Congress that really will be unwilling to work with me on this kind of an approach will be somebody, first of all, who doesn’t like any kind of alternative energy, and secondly, thinks that the earth is getting cooler rather than warmer, and that the combustion of hydrocarbons has no impact on the environment. If that’s the case, there’s no way to start.
But if most members of Congress support alternative energy development- the question is how can you tie that to a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that reaches the same type of goal as Waxman-Markey, but in a different direction. And my concept at least is to start with the renewable portfolio standard, which is not particularly popular amongst Republicans. But it’s a lot more popular than cap and trade.
CURWOOD: What do you make of the number of Republican candidates who had platforms in the last elections that rejects the scientific findings on human caused climate change?
BASS: Yeah, that’s a problem. As you said earlier, the solution to this problem has got to be bipartisan, and it may be very difficult to get a plan out of the Commerce Committee with Republicans in charge, because if a majority of them don’t like any action on climate change, then it’s going to be difficult. But, it’s something I feel strongly about and I’m willing to work with, even though I don’t exactly know how I will succeed. I think there are a handful of Republicans on the committee now who are willing to work on this problem.
CURWOOD: Now, to what degree do you expect Republicans to focus on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act, and where do you stand on that?
BASS: Well, that’s a very difficult issue. Obviously, having the command and control rulemaking of the EPA exerting pressure on the Congress to move on climate change is not very popular amongst Republicans. I haven’t made up my mind yet as to whether or not I think that authority should be overruled. I would only point out that it was Republicans that gave the agency that authority to begin with, back in the early 90’s and so, I think we ought to be very careful about repealing it because it’s really our- I believe it’s our party that put it in place to begin with.
CURWOOD: Where do you think this election tells us about where your party, the Republicans, are now on the questions of climate change, energy, on the environment?
BASS: Well I think there’s a significant level of support for developing alternative energy resources. The problem is that Republicans generally aren’t too specific about how to go about that. And so, I would seek, I think, to identify colleagues who have similar districts that don’t have oil, gas and coal but do have the potential for significant new economies in, for example, from biomass, from wood, from energy cane or miscanthus or from agricultural waste, and so forth, and try to educate these members as to what their priorities should be. I think that there are Republicans that feel that alternative energy and climate change may potentially be good economic policy, rather than bad.
CURWOOD: Former Congressman and, now, Congressman-elect, Charles Bass, Republican from New Hampshire, thank you so much, sir.
BASS: Thank you very much.
GELLERMAN: For a look now at the new political climate on Capitol Hill, we turn to LOE’s Jeff Young. So, Jeff, how does Congressman Charlie Bass fit in?
YOUNG: Well, I’d say Congressman Bass has some interesting ideas there, but I don’t think that he’ll have much company amongst his fellow Republicans heading to Congress. Probably the most striking thing about how this issue played in this election was the strong anti-science sentiment. We heard Republican candidates not just rejecting, say, a particular proposal on climate, like cap and trade, but rejecting outright or casting doubt on the well founded science that says climate change is largely caused by us, by the greenhouse gases from human activity.
GELLERMAN: So climate deniers. How many? Give us some examples.
YOUNG: By my count, it’s a rough count, we’re gong to have about three-dozen new members of the House and Senate who essentially reject climate science. Here’s one example, this is Senator-elect Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.
JOHNSON: No, I absolutely do not believe the science of man-caused climate change is proven, not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity or something in geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.
YOUNG: And, remember Bruce, that the message from science is clear: The National Academy says climate change is, quote, “caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks.” And what’s more, some Republicans who agree with the science paid a political price. I spoke with Bob Ingliss, he’s represented South Carolina’s fourth district for 12 years but he lost in the Republican primary. And Congressman Ingliss told me he lost mostly because he spoke out about the reality of climate change.
INGLISS: The received orthodoxy at the moment is, you know, to just say that climate change is a bunch of hooey we don’t need to do anything. But if you come along and you say, ‘No, it’s a matter of stewardship, let’s take action here,’ unfortunately way too many republicans are looking at me like I’ve grown an extra head or something.
YOUNG: You know, when a six-term congressman like Bob Ingliss gets the boot for basically talking about global warming as a reality, other politicians pay attention. And I would argue that this trend toward a denial of climate science is a serious setback for those who have been working to build a coalition for bipartisan action on climate change.
GELLERMAN: And, what about the Republicans who control the House and its important committees, what do we know about their agenda on energy and climate?
YOUNG: Well Representative John Boehner of Ohio, is expected to become speaker,
last year in an interview he said, quote, it was “almost comical” to think that carbon dioxide is harmful. Several members angling for chairmanships of important committees have pledged to use those committees to investigate climate scientists. This is already causing a stir in the science community.
It’s pretty clear that House Republicans will attack EPA for its attempt to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. California congressman Darrell Issa will likely take over the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Here’s what he told us on election night:
ISSA: EPA has been skipping steps in its their rulemaking and in their public notice. Those are areas where we want to make sure EPA is neutral. We just want them to play by the rules, and do what they are mandated to do.
GELLERMAN: That sure sounds like the Republicans are playing hardball.
YOUNG: You know, I think there’s going to be some tension between those Republican members who do want to look for some common ground— say like we heard from Congressman Bass— and others who don’t. And, the Republican strategy, which paid off on Election Day, has largely been to deny the Democratic president any cooperation or success.
And, now that they have their eyes on the presidential election just two years away, I don’t see a whole lot of incentive to give him a victory on a high-profile issue like energy.
GELLERMAN: Yeah, so where does this leave us in terms of an energy bill, or a climate bill?
YOUNG: Broad scale efforts to cap or price carbon are pretty much dead for the foreseeable future. A more piecemeal approach, something like what we heard the President and Representative Bass talk about—eh, possible.
All of this places a lot more importance on the two things that are happening now, and that’s the regulatory authority of EPA to cut CO2 emissions, that’s shaping up as a really big fight, one that’s going to pick up some democratic support, along with Republicans. And, two: the state and regional efforts that are underway to address climate change. And, interestingly those regional efforts did pretty well in this election season.
GELLERMAN: Well, that’s a good place to end, because that’s what we’ll be talking about next. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young, thanks a lot.
YOUNG: Thank you.
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