- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

President Obama appears intent on baiting Republicans into a politically charged debate on climate change, using Earth Day to taunt Florida Gov. Rick Scott and launch attacks on the GOP presidential field in Democrats’ latest effort to shape the 2016 conversation.

In a speech at Florida’s Everglades National Park, the president mocked Republicans and suggested they’re either willfully ignorant to the real-world consequences of climate change or unable to muster the courage to do something about it. In conjunction with Mr. Obama’s speech — in which he promoted his controversial global warming agenda, centered on restricting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — White House officials and Democratic party arms took direct aim at Mr. Scott and Republican presidential contenders such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The highly coordinated political attack surely is a precursor to the 2016 election cycle, in which Democrats are likely to make climate change more of an election issue than it has ever been before. Some specialists say climate change may be more of a priority for voters by the time the 2016 election season kicks into high gear, though polls consistently show the issue far behind the economy, terrorism and other matters when Americans are asked what they most care about.

SEE ALSO: Bill Nye’s Earth Day trip with Obama on Air Force One skewered after tweet

Mr. Obama clearly wants to drive the national climate change debate in the hopes his party reaps the benefits come November 2016, and he’s casting Republicans as not only out of touch with science but also with environmentally rational GOP leaders of years past.

“Teddy Roosevelt, he’s a Republican [who] started our National Park system. Richard Nixon started the EPA. George H.W. Bush was the first president globally to acknowledge the impacts of climate change and that we needed to do something about it. This is not something that historically should be a partisan issue,” Mr. Obama said in his Earth Day speech. “We know that, in our own lives, if you’ve got a coming storm, you don’t stick your head in the sand, you prepare for the storm.”

The president’s challenge to Republicans came in conjunction with political assaults by other White House officials and the Democratic National Committee. The DNC, for example, sent out an email Wednesday with the subject line “Happy Earth Day from Scott Walker,” highlighting a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on how nearly 60 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources workers may be laid off due to cuts in Mr. Walker’s budget.

White House officials also took direct aim at Mr. Scott for allegedly banning state employees from using the words “climate change,” though the governor has denied that claim.

“The president’s commitment to the Everglades and fighting climate change stacks up very well against Gov. Scott, particularly when you consider Gov. Scott has outlawed employees in the state of Florida from even uttering the words ‘climate change,’” Mr. Earnest said on a conference call with reporters.

The jab at Mr. Scott came after the governor made specific requests from the administration for federal funding to maintain the Everglades.

“President Obama needs to live up to his commitment on the Everglades and find a way to fund the $58 million in backlog funding Everglades National Park hasn’t received from the federal government. This has caused critical maintenance delays in the Everglades to linger for over a year,” the governor said in a statement. “Our environment is too important to neglect, and it’s time for the federal government to focus on real solutions and live up to their promises.”

White House officials didn’t directly address Mr. Scott’s specific funding questions and instead focused on the politics, with Mr. Earnest calling the governor’s words “a little rich.”

Mr. Earnest also said Republicans who downplay climate change do so “to the detriment of the people they’re elected to represent,” an apparent shot at Mr. Bush, Mr. Rubio and others.

Mr. Bush said recently he is concerned about climate change but also described himself as a “skeptic,” and said the issue is simply not as important as the economy, among other things.

Mr. Rubio recently said that man’s activities are not driving climate change in the way Mr. Obama and his environmental supporters would have the public believe.

Analysts say that while Mr. Obama has taken dramatic action to limit carbon pollution and otherwise address climate change, he must continue to work to bring the issue to center stage.

“The president’s behind-the-scenes accomplishments on climate change over the past two years are impressive, although he hasn’t yet succeeded in raising the public profile of the issue,” said Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University. “In the last few weeks, he seems to have increased his efforts to make the case for climate action to the public and to others. If he sustains his communications efforts … it may well heighten public engagement in the issue over the remainder of this year.”

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