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Climate Change Deniers Face Growing Rift in GOP | Commentary

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency’s historic Clean Power Plan has been finalized and officially printed in the Federal Register, big polluters and their allies in Congress are moving beyond their “sky is falling” campaign to active legal and legislative maneuvers to stall state implementation of the CPP.

They are now ready and able to use lawsuits, the Congressional Review Act, appropriation riders and other means to get in the way of state implementation. Republican congressional leaders had already tried to convince states and the public that action on climate change requires a choice between our health and our economy. Republican attorneys general are doing the same in the courts, many in opposition to even their own governors and states, which are moving forward with the development of state plans. However, most Americans know this is a false choice. Many within the Republican Party and industry are starting to acknowledge that false choice too. In fact, momentum has started to turn against deniers in the GOP.

Just this past weekend, GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire publicly declared her support for the Clean Power Plan — signaling a growing rift in the heretofore universal opposition to climate action among congressional Republicans. Ayotte’s leadership on climate change and clean air may still be uncommon among her congressional GOP colleagues, but it’s becoming far more common for Republicans generally to support climate action.

Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently joined his Senate colleague in walking away from GOP orthodoxy on climate change. He differentiated himself from a field of Republican climate deniers by challenging his rivals to tell voters why they don’t believe in the science. Challenging them further, he said, “When 90 percent of climatologists tell you that it’s real, who am I to tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about?”

Major utilities such as Virginia’s Dominion Resources and Houston, Texas-based Dynegy are also getting into the act, citing improving economic forces and market conditions for clean energy as reasons these power producers are moving from dirty fuels to renewable energy sources. “Everybody is moving in this direction anyway,” Dominion CEO Tom Farrell recently told The Wall Street Journal.

Let’s not forget that recent polling also showed that support for climate action among Republican voters jumped to 59 percent, a clear and strong majority.

What they and most other Americans know is that we not only have an obligation to deal with the reality of the climate crisis, but can do so while protecting both our economy and public health. More to the point, we have protected both while implementing every other EPA pollution limit in the agency’s nearly 45-year history, doubling gross domestic product as the EPA and as Clean Air Act regulations significantly decreased carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution.

The Clean Power Plan is no different, setting first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, that will help us avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days, while lowering electricity bills through energy efficiency investments. That doesn’t sound like calamity. That sounds like a win-win proposition.

What those who govern know, which perhaps some leaders in Congress don’t, is that states tackle countless compliance challenges of this sort all the time without economic calamity and while keeping the lights on. They also know the CPP provides the necessary flexibility to comply with mandated carbon pollution reductions in a tailored way that not only meets their states’ needs, but positions them to actually be more competitive economically.

The bottom line is that most states and their governors have signaled their intent to comply with the Clean Power Plan anyway. As many as 41 at last count. States are starting to look at what the Clean Power Plan offers: opportunity. States such as Colorado, Michigan and Utah are saying yes to opportunity and are positioning themselves to submit state implementation plans and meet EPA carbon pollution reduction targets.

It’s time for all of our congressional leaders to stop saying no and to start saying yes to opportunity, like Ayotte, Graham and most GOP voters have, not to mention most states. It’s in the best interest of all Americans, our health and our economy.

Heather Zichal is former deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, and one of the architects of President Barack Obama’s National Climate Action Plan.

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