WASHINGTON, April 1, 2015 – Preparing for the U.N. climate treaty talks in Paris in December, the Obama administration has committed the U.S. to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2025 through measures such as its proposed Clean Power Plan to limit coal power plant emissions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., responded to the administration’s pledge by charging that “Even if the job-killing and likely illegal Clean Power Plan were fully implemented, the United States could not meet the targets laid out in this proposed new plan.” McConnell warned that with 13 states already challenging the administration’s plan to limit coal plant emissions, “our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, promised that Obama’s pledge “will not see the light of day” in the current Congress. “When a treaty comes before the Senate, I fully expect for a majority of my colleagues to stand with the rest of Americans who want affordable energy and more economic opportunity, neither of which will be obtainable with the president’s current climate deal.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson also expressed concern with the plan – over what it was missing.  He noted that the president’s plan excluded the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and other ways that agriculture and rural communities could help reduce GHG emissions.

“The RFS offers America a cleaner, more environmentally friendly fuel sector with its support for biofuels,” said Johnson. “The president is ignoring agriculture’s great potential to help the country cut GHG emissions and mitigate climate change by excluding the RFS from his plan.”

While there is strong GOP resistance to the president’s plan, Republicans aren’t totally opposed to addressing climate change. Speaking on the Senate floor in January, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he’s “convinced that man-made emissions are causing the problem and contribute to the overall warming of the planet,” adding, “I embrace the fact that a lower carbon economy will be beneficial over time.”

A potential sign of some shifting GOP views came in last week’s marathon Senate voting on the Republican budget plan. Seven GOP senators (Graham, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Susan Collins, Nevada’s Dean Heller, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Ohio’s Rob Portman) joined all 44 Democrats and the chambers two independents in supporting an amendment authorizing funds to respond to “the economic and national security threats posed by human-induced climate change.” The measure was approved in a 53-47 vote.

That vote was significant because the amendment acknowledging threats from “human-induced climate change” was co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who represent states where coal and oil interests are major factors.

However, there were also strong signals that any thaw on climate change isn’t happening soon. The Senate voted 57-43 in favor of prohibiting the administration from withholding highway funds from states that refuse to submit plans for reducing carbon emissions from electric utilities under the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana, along with energy-state senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, crossed party lines to support the amendment.

(EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at a Politico event Monday that her agency doesn’t have the authority to withhold highway funding anyway. She also said she expects the plan to be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.)

A separate vote showed that there’s little Republican support for doing anything to address climate change. A Democratic amendment that narrowly failed, 49-50, called for recognizing that “climate change is real and caused by human activity and that Congress needs to take action to cut carbon pollution.” Three Republicans voted for the measure, while Heitkamp and Manchin voted against it.

One senator working hard to win support from Republicans and from fossil-fuel states for federal policies to address climate change is Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. He expects that Graham’s science-based attitude toward climate change will gain ground among Republicans as the 2016 elections move closer.

Whitehouse has voiced his concerns about climate change in a series of 95 weekly statements from the Senate floor. Just as rising sea levels continue to erode the Rhode Island coastline, Whitehouse’s “Time to Wake Up” climate change speeches appear to be gathering attention, momentum and converts.

Whitehouse’s spokesman Seth Larson tells Agri-Pulse that the senator is convinced that “Republicans are increasingly at odds with the public on the issue of climate change and he thinks that the 2016 presidential campaign can be a catalyst to really force Republican politicians to recognize how far off-base they are with the American public.”

Larson expects that during the primaries, GOP contenders from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will continue rejecting the need to address global warming because “their primary voters are certainly the last vestige of folks who really don’t believe that climate change is a problem.” He predicts that “at some point the Republicans are going to start thinking about the general election and fielding a candidate who could win. It’s just not realistic, given where the public is on climate change, that the Republican party is going to be able to put a climate change denier in the White House.”

Many Republicans beg to disagree. And regardless of their stance on climate change, GOP candidates will keep a close eye on jobs and basic pocket-book issues.

Little wonder then that, in his State of the State address in January, Gov. Walker warned that under the administration’s plan to limit coal plant emissions, “we could lose tens of thousands of jobs in our region, and ratepayers could see an increase of up to 29 percent.”

Another likely candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, said in the recent interview that the earth goes through periods of time when the climate changes, but he's "not sure anybody exactly knows why."

Whitehouse is hopeful that corporate America will back up its impressive environmental policies by lobbying Congress on climate change issues. After his Senate speech urging companies to lobby for federal climate policies, Whitehouse was encouraged when Sen. Johnny Isakson R-Ga., explained that he has already been briefed by Coca-Cola on its environmental initiatives and the need to address climate change.

Cargill spokesperson Carl Peterson tells Agri-Pulse that, as well as moving aggressively to reduce its environmental impact, Cargill has been an active participant in the “Risky Business” project to calculate and publicize the risks posed by climate change. He says the project has launched “a robust discussion on these risks” and shows “what a more volatile climate may mean for U.S. farmers and their ability to help feed a growing global population.”

As part of the Risky Business initiative, Peterson says Cargill executives “have been talking with a lot of different people, farm groups, farmers, and elected officials.” He says the goal is to “encourage business and political leaders to think long-term about the actions we can take today to prepare for a range of climate uncertainties. The goal is to start a strong dialogue, recognizing that people will disagree on some of the particulars.”


For more information go to www.agri-pulse.com.