WASHINGTON – Sen. James Inhofe,R-Okla.,is widely considered the Senate's biggest global warming skeptic. But he is focusing almost exclusively on economics,not environmental science,in his opposition to current cap and trade legislation,a deviation from past years of resistance.
In preparation for a cap and trade proposal,the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held its fourth hearing on the subject in nine days Thursday. A bill containing a cap and trade system,which the House passed 219-212 in June,would mandate an 80 percent reduction in the United States' greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The Senate has debated three prior cap and trade proposals in the past six years,and while economic concerns pervaded Republican resistance to those bills,there was also a healthy dose of skepticism about climate change itself.
Inhofe,the top-ranked Republican on the environment committee,has repeatedly called the concept of man-made climate change a “hoax” and a “big lie” in the past. Inhofe used most of his time debating previous cap and trade measures to argue against a connection between greenhouse gases and global warming.
During Senate debate on a cap and trade program in 2003,Inhofe cited “three groups of scientists,numbering over 20,000,who refute the science on which global warming is based.” In 2005,in debate on another measure,he said “the hysteria out there is not well-founded.” And in 2008,Inhofe said “the vast majority of scientists do not believe that man-made,anthropogenic gases … are a major contributor to climate change.”
Despite this,Inhofe's climate change skepticism has remained almost unspoken in the current round of hearings on cap and trade.
Like other Republicans on the environment committee,Inhofe has hammered away at Democrats on the economic ramifications of cap and trade. Democrats claim the plan would spur huge growth in green jobs and technologies,but Inhofe said it would cause prohibitive rises in electricity and fuel costs,especially in the Midwest,and “subsidize the coasts at the expense of the heartland.”
An hour into the first of two hearings Tuesday,Inhofe mentioned that he “doesn't believe that anthropogenic gases cause global warming.” But he breezed past that into another economic argument against cap and trade.
Environmental advocates have noticed this shift in tone and see it as a small victory. Terry Tamminen,director of the New America Foundation's climate policy program,said growing consensus on climate change has shifted the debate and forced Republicans to abandon skepticism.
“It is a white flag,” Tamminen said in an e-mail. “Opposition on scientific grounds is now simply off the table.”
Brad Johnson,a climate researcher at the Center for American Progress,said,”By the end of his term,even President Bush had stopped equivocating about the science. … The ship has sailed on that concept.”
The Republican shift to economic arguments is also a response to a redoubled Democratic effort to paint the environmental proposal as a jobs initiative.
“There's especially been a change in how the Democrats are approaching the issue,” Johnson said.”
However,a spokesman for Inhofe reasserted the senator's skepticism about climate change and said that he was just trying to fit what criticism he could into limited time.
“As much as he wants to talk about the science,Sen. Inhofe wants to talk about economic effects,and you've only got so much time,” said Matt Dempsey,the communications director for Republican members of the environment committee. “We want to emphasize how costly cap and trade would be.”
Dempsey predicted further comments from Inhofe on the science of climate change as the wrangling over cap and trade continues.
“The Senate debate hasn't really started,” Dempsey said. “It's a two-pronged approach. He continues to mention the scientists who speak out.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer,D-Calif.,the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee,said cap and trade would provoke massive job growth in the clean energy sector and discounted Inhofe's economic and environmental arguments.
“Even if you don't believe in global warming,this is a good thing,” Boxer said of investment in clean energy that would follow a carbon cap.