- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — For Republican presidential contenders who once supported combating global warming, the race is heating up. Faced with an activist right wing that questions the science linking pollution to changes in the Earth’s climate and also disdains big government, most of the GOP contenders have stepped back from their previous positions on global warming. Some have apologized outright for past support of proposals to reduce heat-trapping pollution. And those who haven’t fully recanted are under pressure to do so.

The latest sign of that pressure came Thursday when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he was pulling his state out of a regional agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, saying it won’t work. While Christie, a rising GOP star, has said he won’t run for his party’s presidential nomination, some in the party continue to recruit him.

“Republican presidential hopefuls can believe in man-made global warming as long as they never talk about it, and oppose all the so-called solutions,” said Marc Morano, a former aide to Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, one of the most vocal climate skeptics in Congress.

Morano now runs a website called Climate Depot where he attacks anyone who buys into the scientific consensus on climate change. Enemy No. 1 for Morano these days is Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who in 2008 shared a couch with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a TV ad backed by climate change guru Al Gore.


In it Gingrich says, “We do agree that our country must take action on climate change.”

Since that appearance, Gingrich, who once ran an environmental studies program at a Georgia college, has called for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency. He’s also spoken out against a Democratic bill that passed the House in 2009 that would have limited emissions of greenhouse gases and created a market for pollution permits to be bought and sold.

But that hasn’t been enough to satisfy conservative critics. Gingrich, who in 2007 told The New York Times that it was conceivable human beings were playing a role in global warming, went further in a recent interview when he said he doubted there was a connection between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels.

“The planet used to be dramatically warmer when we had dinosaurs and no people,” Gingrich told The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph last week. “To the best of my knowledge the dinosaurs weren’t driving cars.”

Where Gingrich has waffled, other GOP contenders have conceded on the issue of climate. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman potentially come into the race with even more climate baggage, since all three supported as governors regional “cap-and-trade” programs to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. All have since abandoned that stance.

“Everybody is instantly suspect about these guys,” said Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist working with GOP leaders in Congress who want to prevent the EPA from taking steps to curb global warming. And it’s not because the candidates once thought global warming was legitimate, McKenna says. “That just makes people question their judgment. It’s that they all bought into a big government program. That makes people question their character.”

It’s a marked turnaround for a party that just three years ago nominated Republican Sen. John McCain, who long has supported cap and trade to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and who campaigned on the issue even though it put him on the same side as his opponent, Barack Obama.

In fact, the whole idea of a market to trade pollution credits came from the Republican Party. It emerged in the late 1980s under the administration of President George H.W. Bush as a free-market solution to the power plant pollution that was causing acid rain. It passed Congress nearly unanimously in 1990 as a way to control emissions of sulfur dioxide.

But now it has become synonymous with partisanship and political risk. Legislation to use the pollution credits approach to curb global warming passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2009, with the support of Obama. It died in the Senate after Republicans labeled it a “cap-and-tax” plan that would raise energy prices and after House Democrats who voted for it were attacked at town hall meetings back home.

Many of those Democrats lost their seats in last November’s elections and with the House now under Republican control, Obama has said he no longer would pursue it.

The current field of Republican presidential hopefuls is working to shed what McCain’s former environmental adviser calls the “toxic political veneer” of that policy.

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