Capital Public Radio: Congressional Lawmakers Weigh in on EPA Move to Cut Carbon Emissions

News Article

By: Ami Bera
By: Ami Bera
Date: June 5, 2014

By: Matt Laslo

The latest White House Climate Assessment looks years into the future for a vision of how climate change will effect different regions of the country. California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer says the state is already feeling the heat.

"We've seen runaway fires. We're seeing slides, you know, mud slides," says Boxer. "We're seeing bad things -- heat impacting our air quality."

But some California politicians are brushing aside Boxer's concerns. Granite Bay Republican Tom McClintock doesn't believe climate change is manmade.

"Well, the planet has been warming on and off since the last ice age, and the climate has been changing for the last 4 billion years or so," says McClintock. "Whether we utterly destroy our economy passing measures like "cap and trade' or not, I think the planet's going to continue to warm and cool as it has for billions of years."

Boxer says she doesn't get the skepticism.

"It's hard for me to imagine," says Boxer. "It reminds me of the battle to make the connection between lung cancer and smoking. We had deniers then, too. And as a result of their denials it took us longer to take the action, and a lot of people died, and this is repeating."

The White House is no longer trying to convince unbelieving lawmakers that climate change is real and already bringing devastating consequences. That's why the Obama Administration is moving forward with a new EPA rule to cut carbon emissions from new power plants by 30 percent by 20-30.

Boxer says it's an important step.

"You know, all the improvements we've made in air quality could be tossed," she says. "If we have too much carbon in the air, it would lead to more smog and ozone. So this is a very serious thing we're facing for California but many other states from the ice melt and from the high temperatures."

And Elk Grove Democrat Ami Bera says confronting climate change has broad implications and could revolutionize the economy.

"Absolutely climate change is important," says Bera. "It's a national security threat. I think that the Department of Defense has for a long time acknowledged that climate and, you know, having renewable and alternative fuel sources is going to be incredibly important to them."

While California has a jump on many states with its aggressive efforts to cut emissions, lawmakers in other states fear electric rate increases with the new EPA rule. Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller supports renewable technologies, but he worries the EPA is moving too quickly.

"Short-term versus long-term," says Heller. "And I'm guessing in the short term we're going to see some spikes in utility costs, and I don't think that's good for the middle-class family in Nevada or anywhere else."

Still, Heller says his state may benefit from the rule.

"We have more geothermal sites in the state of Nevada than the rest of the country combined, so -- but we're already pushing that -- you now, that technology," he says. "Maybe this will be an opportunity to push it even further if we can get some -- if it helps. If it helps lower costs, obviously you'll see a lot of investments into all of those different areas."

Republicans hope to use energy policy to convince voters nationwide they should the GOP control of the Senate this fall. McClintock is predicting broad economic consequences if Republicans don't take control of the upper chamber.

"That's going to be -- a big issue in the upcoming election is this lousy economy six years into the Obama administration," says McClintock. "These have not been happy years for our country. And instead of reversing those policies, he's taking the worst of them and doubling down on them."

The new EPA rule is raising the political temperature on Capitol Hill…at least among the remaining deniers in Congress. That's expected to bubble over onto your TV screen as this year's congressional elections shift into full gear.