WASHINGTON The U.S. fight against climate
change isn't just for Democrats any more.
Democrats used to own the environmental issue, grabbing
votes from party loyalists and independent voters when they
stressed their plans to curb global warming.
This could be the year Republicans, the party of President
George W. Bush, use climate change as a rallying cry at
It could also differentiate Republican presidential
contenders from Bush administration policies that have left the
United States isolated among the world's biggest developed
Climate change can draw support from outside the party
ranks, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken
Mehlman said. Republicans could use the help after losing
control of both houses of Congress in 2006.
"Republicans lost in 2006 because independents abandoned
our party," Mehlman said at a political discussion several
weeks before the February 5 "Super Tuesday" vote.
"How do we earn the confidence back of independents? This
(climate change) is an issue on which not only you can do it,
but it's an issue on which you can do it consistent with
conservative values," Mehlman said.
Economic conservatives, traditionally Republicans, view
technological solutions as a way to create wealth and jobs.
Some corporate leaders have backed a federal limit on carbon
emissions to prevent a patchwork of state laws.
Religious conservatives, often aligned with the
Republicans, embrace cutting carbon emissions as an aspect of
human stewardship of divine creation.
National security conservatives argue that reducing
dependence on foreign oil would cut off funding for anti-U.S.
elements in the Middle East and elsewhere.
This stance is at odds with the current administration,
which is alone among major industrialized countries in opposing
the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.
Bush has said the Kyoto plan, which expires in 2012, would
put the United States at a disadvantage if fast-growing
developing countries like China and India were exempt from its
Republican Sen. John Warner has taken the lead on Capitol
Hill, co-sponsoring a bill to cap the carbon dioxide emissions
that spur climate change. Arizona Sen. John McCain,
front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination,
sponsored an earlier climate change bill.
Former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained
Baptist minister now running for president, has been light on
specifics to combat climate change but has said that whatever
is causing it, humans must act to clean it up.
By contrast, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won last
month's Republican primary in Michigan -- where his father
served as governor and where the Big Three automakers are based
-- after taking aim at McCain's support for increased fuel
efficiency, saying this would hurt the U.S. auto industry.
In California, the biggest prize of "Super Tuesday,"
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has headed a campaign to
set tougher-than-federal emissions standards for cars, light
trucks and sport utility vehicles, and that plan has been taken
up by 16 other states.
To do this, the states need a waiver from the Environmental
Protection Agency, which has yet to be granted. McCain,
Huckabee and Romney said at a candidates' debate they supported
the waiver, though Romney later modified his answer.
In the presidential race, where "change" has become a
mantra for candidates in both major parties, Democrats Hillary
Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois have strongly
supported cap-and-trade plans to limit emissions of
"The clear bipartisan support for capping global warming
pollution should be a wake-up call for Congress," said Tony
Kreindler of the non-partisan group Environmental Defense.
Polls generally show voters rank climate change below the
top tier issues, such as the economy and the war in Iraq, a
finding disputed by David Sandretti of the League of
"Pollsters put the environment in this little box and
pretend that it doesn't bleed over into other issues,"
Sandretti said in a telephone interview. He noted, as Mehlman
did, that climate change is tied to national security, and
added that it was also linked to the U.S. energy future.
"You can't address global warming without dealing with the
energy issue, and the energy issue pervades all aspects of
America's political life," Sandretti said.
(Editing by Howard Goller)