Climate Change & Election Season

May 22, 2014

Republicans say a new Environmental Protection Agency rule will kill jobs in Virginia and they see it as a way to win November's election.

A new White House assessment on climate change paints a dire picture for coastal states like Virginia. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says the writing is on the wall.

"Being vulnerable to sea level rises. That plus agricultural and forestry effects is every reason why we should be very concerned."

Kaine says this latest report isn’t the first alarm to sound.   "You know, I'm very nervous about it. Not about this report but just the accumulating weight of these reports combined with the real life, you know, weather extremities that we're seeing it makes me very, very nervous."

Kaine says Congress can send a signal around the globe by acting aggressively to curb pollution. "There's no one thing you're gonna do that's going to take care of this significant climate problem, but we need to show people that we think it's a problem and we believe in the science and we're willing to take reasonable measures to arrest the greenhouse gas pollution."

Still many Republicans brush the report aside and deny humans are making the planet warmer. The White House has given up trying to convince skeptical lawmakers. The EPA is readying a rule to drastically limit the amount of carbon new coal burning fire plants can emit.

From his perch in Virginia coal country Republican Morgan Griffith says it feels like the administration doesn't care about his constituents. "The administration likes to say there is no war on coal but as one of my heroes Patrick Henry was oft to say 'Peace, Peace! - but there is no peace!' You can say there is no war on coal, but ask anybody who lives in the coal-producing regions of Southwest Virginia and they'll tell you there's a war on coal. And they're the victims of it. They're the casualties."

Griffith would support Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie against Democratic Senator Mark Warner anyway, but he and other Republicans are using energy policy to try and convince voters nationwide they should give Republicans control of the Senate this fall. "If we have enough sensible folks on the other side of the aisle in both the House and the Senate we can stop it."

Griffith predicts broad economic consequences if the G-O-P doesn’t regain control of the Senate."It will hurt industry - not just the coal industry but industry in general. It will make electric rates go up and it hurts the American middle class."

But Northern Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says the GOP argument is a losing strategy. He says the EPA is doing more than cutting carbon.

"And the EPA is doing its job in protecting the health and welfare of American citizens and it has been doing a great job of that since it was founded in 1970. And we can owe improvements to clean air and clean water throughout America - including right here in the Capital region - to the diligence of the EPA's willingness to stick to its mission."

Connolly says the American people are waking up and realize clean – and cooler – air is more important than keeping coal companies in business. "Some of my Republican friends, when they criticize the EPA for being too active, what they really mean is they wish the EPA would go away."

The EPA doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, but its new policies could be pushing some Democrats out of office – that is, if Republicans win this latest energy fight.