- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Democratic U.S. senator from Rhode Island was in Iowa Tuesday - not to run for president or any other political office - but to push for federal climate change laws.

While Iowa is already attracting presidential hopefuls in advance of the 2016 election, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said he turned his attention to Iowa to capitalize on the fact it draws those candidates and national attention because of its first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Whitehouse, who insists he’s not interested in running and will support Hillary Clinton if she does, said he wants to see Congress pass legislation imposing a carbon fee on industries that emit carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

“In two years, as an Iowan said to me, Iowa becomes the political epicenter of the universe so I want to lay the groundwork so when Iowa is political epicenter of the universe in 2015 we’re putting the candidates on the spot and Iowa is contributing toward the success of solving this problem,” he said.

Whitehouse has long pushed for a carbon tax “that matches the cost of carbon to the world.” He said carbon polluters - industries that rely heavily on coal and oil and emit carbon into the atmosphere - have long transferred the environmental and ecological cost of pollution to fishermen, farmers and foresters.

Others who study the issue contend the evidence isn’t clear global warming is as much of a threat as predicted and said placing a carbon restrictive economic tax on carbon is not a good solution.

“I think perhaps it would be trying to do too much too soon without adequately assessing the net impacts from an increase in carbon dioxide,” said Michael Stroup, an economics professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and a senior fellow at the National Center For Policy Analysis, a research group based in Dallas.

A former federal prosecutor and state attorney general, Whitehouse was elected to Congress in 2006. He has spoken on the Senate floor 60 times on climate change and last week worked with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to organize 15 hours of debate on the topic in the Senate.

In Des Moines on Tuesday, Whitehouse’s speech at the Capitol attracted more than 250 people crowded into a meeting room where he said the tide is turning as the environmental changes convince more U.S. voters that climate change is real.

He also planned to attend a business forum, another public presentation on Tuesday night, and a tour of BioProcess Algae in Shenandoah on Wednesday. The company is developing processes to turn algae into animal feed additives and renewable motor fuel.

Whitehouse has scheduled a public event in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday.