After being eclipsed by other issues for a couple of years climate change is now back in the spotlight on Capitol Hill.
Republicans control the U-S House and many oppose taking action to address climate change. In his State of the Union address President Obama opened the door for lawmakers to work with him on the issue but he also laid a line in the sand.
“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take now and in the future to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Republicans didn’t like the sound of that.
“I think that was a provocative statement," said Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Rigell. He says the climate is surely getting warmer, but he’s still not sure what if anything the U-S government can do to change the weather. “I do believe that the precision with which some say that we can quantify this, and shape the direction, I still believe that that part of it, our ability to shape where we head with respect to where the climate goes, I think reasonable people can disagree on that, too.”
And Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith – who represents the state’s western coal fields – says the president and Congress may have to take the fight to the courts.
“We’ll see whether he has the legal authority to do so, but we’ll just have to be very aggressive in making sure he does not overstep his authority," said Griffith.
And Griffith says the president and Democrats risk doing harm if they move too quickly.
“You want to move the country in the right direction. Everybody wants clean air and clean water, but when you do it and you do it in a fast manner and you do it with regulations that aren’t based on science or that don’t make common sense, then what you end up with is damaging the economy for no gain in the environment.”
Even some Democrats are wary of the president’s plan. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine says he’d rather have Congress take on the issue than cede power to the executive. “It’s still my hope that we wrestle with it as a Congress rather than just leaving it up to regulatory authority,” said Kaine, who believes there should be some common ground on the issue, especially when it comes to revitalizing U-S manufacturing.
But Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says he’s not holding his breath while waiting for Republicans to get serious about global warming. And he says Congress already gave the president broad authority under the Clean Air Act.
"This President needs to make sure the United States is protected from global climate change, and needs to act. And if the Republicans are still mired in the denial of the science itself, I think the President is absolutely correct in using what powers he has to make sure the United States is protected and we act against the threat," said Connolly.
Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran says if Republicans stay on the sideline they risk missing a great opportunity for the state.
“We could power the entire commonwealth of Virginia with the wind that is available off the coast of Virginia," said Moran.
The reemergence of climate change leaves this divided Congress with another wedge issue that’s already raising the temperature in Washington.