Eyes and ears around the world were on climate change this September during the United Nations Climate Summit. As President Obama spoke of the United States’ progress toward the reduction of carbon emissions by 2020, he promised to meet the target to cut emissions to at least 17 percent below 2005 levels. However, it seems that few Americans paid any attention to these promises and goals. Those that did pay attention certainly forgot as midterm elections rolled around in early November. Republicans across the country saw huge wins on November 4th, even taking back control of the Senate. Where does this leave us with respect to climate change policy? We moved one step forward and two steps backward with the help of Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and their friends.
Come January, Senator McConnell will be the new Senate majority leader, and he is certainly not an ally in the fight against climate change. In fact, he has never made clear where he stands or if he even accepts climate science. He has stated that he is “not a scientist” and constantly deflects questions on the issue of man-made climate change. He used his reelection campaign to remind his constituents that “Mitch is a friend of coal, and that’s who we need in Washington, D.C.” while also attempting to discredit President Obama’s action plan by painting him as a villain against the best interests of Kentucky coal miners. Senator McConnell has pointed to China as an example the United States should follow, since they are continuing to build coal plants, and warns that cutting emissions will be fruitless if the rest of the international community does not follow. However, McConnell seems to be unaware of the fact that the Chinese are critical leaders in efforts to reduce its own carbon emissions and have invested in new and alternative energy sources. Not surprisingly, McConnell is not a fan of the recent climate change pact Obama made with Chinese President Xi Jingping.
Senator Lisa Murkowski will now head the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Murkowski has at least acknowledged that warming is happening, though she remains unsure of the cause, and on election night she placed part of the blame on a volcano in Iceland. Murkowski is the same leader who introduced the Disapproval Resolution (S.J.Res.26) in 2010 to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from monitoring the release of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act of 1963.
Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) will be leading the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Committee on Science and Technology, respectively. Both have publicly shared opinions denying man-made climate change, and one mustn’t forget Senator Inhofe’s 2012 book, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”
It’s no surprise that the calls to end EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (what McConnell calls the Obama Administration’s “War on Coal”) and green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline are two of the Republicans’ main energy agendas. McConnell’s fight to end this “war” will conflict with both the President’s promises made during the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 to reduce the United States’ emissions footprint and his hopes of securing stronger and more ambitious goals and cooperation at the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21). While it is extremely unlikely that Obama will allow himself to be embarrassed in front of global climate change players, we cannot forget that it was a Republican-majority Senate that chose not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997 with the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. It is likely that the GOP will try to use the Keystone XL as a means of compromise on climate change goals.
Even Tom Steyer, the California-based hedge fund manager and environmentalist, and his pet PAC project NextGen Climate, with its $57 million raised and spent on increasing voter awareness of climate change issues in seven states, must feel discouraged after the results of the midterm elections.
The future of climate change policy is at the hands of all the wrong people, and by the time of the 2016 elections, who knows what irreversible damage could be done.
Barbara is a part-time student in her first year of Wagner’s Master of Urban Planning program as she continues to work in the NYCEDC’s Asset Management division. Before coming to Wagner, she worked as a Legal Assistant at Sidley Austin and completed her BA in International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Her previous experience includes internships with Congressman Sarbanes on Capitol Hill and the Council of the Americas in Washington, DC. She currently lives in the Lower East Side.