Action on warming likely in short term, some Republicans say

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2014

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. — Action on climate is more likely in Washington, D.C., as people and businesses begin to demand change and the military cites risks, two Republicans said here yesterday.

Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of U.S. EPA under President George W. Bush, and Bob Inglis, former congressman from South Carolina, said they see the politics of climate change beginning to shift.”The two things that really drive Republicans are fiscal growth, economic growth and national security,” Whitman said at the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference, a gathering of businesses, environmentalists and state and federal officials. “Climate change runs smack headlong into both of those.”The military has been doing exercises, Whitman said, looking at how their missions will change because of instability around the world in places like sub-Saharan Africa because of droughts and people unable to earn a living because of climate change.

“You have the joint chiefs stating things about the national security imperative of climate change,” Whitman said.

Whitman, Inglis and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, spoke on a panel titled “How can corporate America help build a bipartisan movement to price carbon emissions before it’s too late?”

Many companies are asking for regulation, Whitman said. Multinational companies already deal with rules in other countries and “need to harmonize,” she said.

“They feel very strongly that it’s coming at some point,” Whitman said. “They say, just do it now so we know what the rules are.”

As well, she said, a national energy policy might help companies avoid having to deal with 50 different state regulations.

Extreme weather events like the drought and the recent brush fires in California also are persuading the public that warming has changed the climate, Whitman said.

‘Talking solutions rather than scapegoats’

Inglis, who lost his re-election bid in a 2010 Republican primary after saying he thought climate change is real, said the recession that started in 2008 gave birth to the tea party and led to a populist rejection of many things, including science.

As that recession lifts, he said, and when President Obama leaves the White House, there will be changes in attitudes.

“Republicans really will need to be talking solution rather than scapegoats,” Inglis said. “So I expect the politics here to change and rather quickly — probably by January” heading into the 2016 presidential election cycle.”

“It will become apparent that you must move toward a solution here,” he said, adding, “The country will take unsustainable over unoffered. … There will be a felt need on climate. The question for us as conservatives is will we be there with a solution?”

Krupp said that he is happy with recent events including Obama’s move to have EPA regulate emissions from existing power plants.

With that action, Krupp said, there will be oversight of 40 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions.

If the nation’s fleet of power plants were a foreign country “it would rank second in the world for emissions behind only China,” Krupp said. “This is huge, and it’s happening now. I think in a lot of ways the world is moving forward.”

Moderator Brian Dumaine, Fortune‘s senior editor at large and co-chairman of Brainstorm GREEN, asked given that the Obama administration action on climate is happening through EPA, “What’s to keep a Republican president from dismantling” it in the future?

Krupp said that polls show that among voters under 30 years old, 85 percent want controls on carbon. If a political party wants to have a future, he said, leaders would see numbers like that and know they need to make changes.

But Whitman said that she is a “little less sanguine” about change via the administration.

Any time EPA promulgates regulations, there is a lawsuit, she said, and that can take years to resolve. Having the agency act on climate also puts a “bigger and bigger target on the agency.”

Congress “can starve EPA,” Whitman said. “They can make it very hard for EPA to do the work it needs to do.”