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Senate Democrats Aim to Shift Politics of Climate Change

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Boxer and members of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change hope to shift the cs of climate change back in favor of legislating a price on greenhouse gas pollution.

Senate Democrats launched a new effort Tuesday to reclaim the political initiative in the climate change debate and create a sense of urgency about mitigating the causes of the planet’s warming atmosphere.

The ultimate goal of Democrats on the Senate Climate Action Task Force is to shift the politics of climate change back in favor of legislating a price on greenhouse gas pollution — for the first time since legislation to cap carbon emissions collapsed in the Senate in late 2010.

Republicans, including a sizable group that rejects the scientific consensus that human activities are warming the planet, captured control of the House in midterm elections that year. Ever since, Democrats have been looking for a strategy to put climate change back on the congressional agenda.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a co-chairman of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, said the campaign will be coordinated with businesses, universities and other nongovernmental groups to counter fossil fuel industry opposition to taxing or capping carbon emissions.

“We’re very realistic politicians,” Boxer said Tuesday. “We understand that the makeup of Congress now is making it very difficult for us to pass climate change legislation, but we will not sit back and give up. ... We will raise the visibility of this issue with the intent of changing minds around here.”

The 18-member group plans to push back aggressively against climate change skeptics in Congress, citing polling that shows a majority of voters think those who reject the link between human activities and global warming are uninformed. A poll commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters last summer found that 74 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans younger than 35 would describe climate change deniers as “out of touch” or “crazy.”

“When you have a young demographic that sees this issue that way, clearly the denial strategy is doomed,” Whitehouse said. “And our job is to accelerate its collapse.”

The leading Senate global warming skeptic, Oklahoma Republican James M. Inhofe, took to the Senate floor last week as a polar vortex gripped most of the country, pointing to the unusual cold spell to rebut claims of global warming. Inhofe said a hiatus in warming over the past 15 years is evidence the earth is actually moving through a regular climatic cooling period and that models predicting catastrophic global warming are flawed.

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