By Tiffany Germain, Guest Contributor and Ryan Koronowski on July 1, 2014
Climate denial runs rampant in the halls of Congress, with over 58 percent of congressional Republicans refusing to accept the reality of basic climate science. A new analysis from the CAP Action War Room reveals that half of America’s Republican governors agree with the anti-science caucus of Congress.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has made it clear through countless meetings with governors and state figures that the only way the new Clean Air Act regulations targeting carbon pollution will work is if the nation’s governors are on board.
Indeed, much of the progress that has already been made to address climate change and begin the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy started in the states. California has been busily implementing its cap-and-trade law, doubly approved by voters in 2010. It’s been going so well that recent auctions have sold out of permits, and its governor, Jerry Brown, is implementing the rest of the law fairly smoothly. California is so far ahead of the rest of the country that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act, it granted special authority to the Golden State so it could adopt even stronger fuel efficiency standards.
RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) is the cap-and-trade program adopted by nine states in the northeast. Though it stalled at first, a simple correction last year lowered the cap and its last two auctions have been quite successful. This means that as those states seek to comply with the Clean Air Act regulations on power plant carbon pollution once they are finalized, it will be that much easier because their economies have already started to build in a cost of emitting carbon dioxide through RGGI. Most of their governors have taken additional steps to invest in energy efficiency and renewable power sources, but one of them, Maine Governor Paul LePage has denied the reality of climate change and stood in the way of clean energy development. Chris Christie actually pulled his state out of RGGI, and has rejected recent suggestions that rejoining the pact would be the easiest way for businesses to comply with the Clean Air Act carbon rule.
Governors who deny the science behind climate change can do significant damage to our nation’s environmental and public health protections. LePage has claimed that “scientists are divided on the subject,” when in actuality, less than 0.2 percent of published researchers reject global warming. During LePage’s tenure, he has argued that Maine could potentially benefit from the effects of climate change, vetoed legislation that would help the state prepare for extreme weather, and has attempted to dramatically reduce the states renewable energy standards to benefit large corporations. He also tried to sneak through a proposal that would exempt the state from certain anti-smog regulations, undoing protections that have been in place for almost 25 years. These views are wildly unpopular among his constituents –- a 2013 poll found that 85 percent of residents believe climate change is happening and 75 percent believe it’s the government’s responsibility to take action.
Meanwhile, Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) has reiterated time and again that he’s “not afraid” to call himself a climate change denier. Yet his home state has suffered more climate-fueled disasters than any other, with an astounding 58 climate-fueled disaster declarations since just 2011. The ongoing severe and widespread drought has directly impacted the agriculture industry, which is one of the largest in Texas. 2011 was the driest year in state history, causing a record $7.62 billion in agricultural losses.
When asked if he believes in climate change, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) replied “No.” “I have not been convinced.” Yet Florida is one of the first states that will feel the very severe impacts of climate change, as sea-level rise and severe storms threaten to wipe away popular tourist destinations along the coast. In fact, Rolling Stone reported that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has listed Miami as the number-one most vulnerable city worldwide in terms of property damage, with more than $416 billion in assets at risk to storm-related flooding and sea-level rise.
Fossil fuel interests have been funneling millions to Republican governors who are willing to block regulations that could potentially hurt their bottom line. In total, the fifteen governors who have denied climate change have taken $15,013,754 in campaign contributions from oil and gas over the course of their careers, with a large majority of that going to Gov. Perry. Republican governors who haven’t denied climate change have taken only $3,019,123. In contrast, all Democratic governors have taken a total of $1,403,940. That means that over 77 percent of all oil and gas contributions are being funneled to governors who are outspoken about their disbelief in climate science. On average, climate deniers have taken $1,072,397, while the remainder of governors have only taken an average of $126,373.
While the oil and gas industry is able to reap the benefits, local communities and taxpayers are suffering the dire long-term consequences. Combined, the states who are represented by climate deniers have suffered from 167 climate-fueled extreme weather events that required a presidential disaster declaration in 2011 and 2012. This has cost the federal government, and therefore taxpayers, almost $17 billion in cleanup costs.
Now, more than ever, governors will play a critical role in combating the impacts of climate change. While Congress has refused to move forward on any climate action plan, even voting 109 times last year alone to undermine environmental protections, some governors have pushed forward on their own. “Governors see the impacts of climate change first hand, and have a real understanding of the costs related to health, infrastructure, and their state’s economy,” said Ted Strickland, President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and former governor of Ohio.
“If the U.S. is serious about being a leader in addressing climate change and taking advantage of the economic opportunity in clean energy and energy efficiency, it is going to be because states and governors lead the way. The only way the Clean Power Plan is successful is with governors getting on board, as many already have.”
Still, many governors will not be guiding their states to lower greenhouse gas emissions because they aren’t convinced carbon pollution is a bad thing, while actively discouraging strong renewable energy industries in their states.