Global warming reversals
In 2009, Sen. Mark Kirk (R--Ill.), then a congressman,
voted for a bill that would have regulated greenhouse gases--a bill that died in the Senate. Kirk later did an about-face
on global warming. In January he explained that "the consensus behind the
climate change bill collapsed and then further deteriorated with the personal
and political collapse of [former] Vice President Gore."
A few days later, Sen. James Inhofe (R--Ok.) defended his
new bill to stonewall the Environmental Protection Agency's research into greenhouse
gases' negative health effects, bemoaning his former position: "I have to
admit--and, you know, confession is good for the soul...I, too, once thought
that catastrophic global warming was caused by anthropogenic gases--because
everyone said it was."
Such mawkish and insubstantial explanations--pious
confession rhetoric, ad hominem attacks on Al Gore--demonstrate a cavalier
attitude toward the environment. Fortunately, while the House voted last week to block the EPA from
enforcing its Supreme Court-backed regulation of greenhouse gases, senators
opposed to EPA regulation couldn't come up with the votes--and attempts
to include such a provision in the budget deal failed.
But they're likely to try again.
Barack Obama's election restored buoyancy to
environmental groups. But after the Climategate scandal
of 2009--a scandal based on allegations discredited by three separate
investigations--elected officials like Kirk and Inhofe took the opportunity to
change their views on global warming. Their flimsy explanations for this often
echo the standard global-warming denier's talking point: "There's nothing
conclusive about the evidence." This phrase has become the Republicans' go-to
antiphon, their response to whatever argument someone gives them.
Opponents of greenhouse-gas regulation are focusing on
its potential economic effects. But while nobody pretends that carbon emission
caps and efficiency upgrades won't cost anything, the EPA recognizes that
short-term corporate budget strains aren't the whole picture--and that the
benefits outweigh the costs.
For instance, in response to Rep. John Carter's
attempt to block efforts to cut cement plant emissions, the EPA provided
data demonstrating that the regulation would produce public health benefits seven
to 19 times greater than its economic costs. Or take Representative Ed
Whitfield's (R.--Ken.) objection that new fuel economy standards would add $948
to the cost of each car by 2016. The EPA countered with a study showing that
over time, consumers would save more than that on gas-about $3,000
over the lifetime of a 2016 vehicle.
Job creation estimates favor green policy as well.
Ceres--a national coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public
interest organizations addressing sustainability challenges--issued a report in
February showing that the EPA's new power plant regulations would generate hundreds
of thousands of jobs over five years.
In all, the EPA estimates $240 billion in benefits,
compared to $52
billion in costs. These pro-environment policies are hard to dismiss even
in a debate focused only on the economy. What's more, voters may decide that
public health concerns should trump party loyalty and political maneuvering. Then
Kirk and Inhofe will have to find new explanations for their about-faces on