With the Obama administration today set to roll out ambitious new rules on carbon emissions from existing power plants, multiple news organizations are already noting that the new push could create political problems for vulnerable Dems in 2014.
So it’s worth noting that Democrats see this as a much longer battle that will likely continue through the 2016 presidential race and beyond — posing long term risks to Republicans, too.
It’s true that some vulnerable Dems, particularly in coal states, will likely distance themselves from the new regulations. But as Politico reports today, Dems actually see the short term politics of this as “manageable.” Similarly, Dem strategists told me recently that Dems in tough races will have to deal with the issue but for a number of reasons the risks will largely turn out to be hyped.
But the long game may matter a whole lot more. To understand how some Dems see this, look back at this Pew poll from last fall. It shows that the very voter groups who could continue giving Dems a demographic edge in national elections — the same groups that Republicans must broaden their appeal among — overwhelmingly believe there is solid evidence of global warming:
* 73% of those aged 18-29 believe it’s happening.
* 76 percent of nonwhites believe it’s happening.
* 67 percent of college educated whites believe its happening.
Meanwhile, far more Republicans remain skeptical of global warming, but this is largely driven by Tea Party Republicans. While 61 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans believe there is solid evidence of global warming, only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans believe this.
Dems think the demographics of public opinion on climate could resonate beyond 2014, pigeonholing the GOP as the anti-science party among young voters, who matter more in national elections.
“There’s a generational impact here — younger voters are very aware of the harmful impacts of climate change and the economic opportunities in addressing these challenges,” Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a top party strategist, tells me. “This will be an issue in the 2016 presidential race.”
While it’s often justifiably argued that climate change isn’t a big motivating issue for voters, there are factors that will keep it alive for years, potentially magnifying its importance. Implementation of the EPA rules will unfold over years, and they could pave the way for a new international climate change treaty, to be negotiated next year, just as the presidential race is kicking in. Presuming GOP presidential candidates will be courting climate-skeptical Tea Party voters, you could see it becoming an issue forcing them to the right — even as the groups among whom the GOP needs to broaden its appeal are overwhelmingly convinced global warming is real.
Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine that, during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, we may see a raise-your-hands moment similar to the one in 2012, in which every GOP candidate raised his or her hand, pledging not to raise taxes one penny in exchange for 10 times as much in spending cuts. Show of hands: Do you believe the science claiming humans are the cause of global warming is overstated?
* WHAT OBAMA WILL PROPOSE ON CLIMATE: The Post’s Juliet Eilperin has the details on what’s coming today:
The Environmental Protection Agency will propose a regulation Monday that would cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, according to individuals who have been briefed on the plan.
Under the draft rule, the EPA would analyze four options that states and utilities would have to meet the new standard, with different approaches to energy efficiency, shifting from coal to natural gas, investing in renewable energy and making power plant upgrades, according to those who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it has not been formally announced.
The move is one of the most ambitious steps ever taken by the federal government to curb carbon emissions. The goal is to allow states and companies flexibility to pursue a range of measures to meet the reduction target. It is likely that this point will be elided in GOP attacks on the new rules, however.
* WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN TODAY’S CLIMATE ANNOUNCEMENT: Jonathan Cohn has a useful guide to how to evaluate today’s announcement. The key thing to watch:
By historical standards, the regulations that EPA proposes on Monday would represent a significant step towards slowing climate change. But the Administration has said its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to meet targets that President Obama set in 2009…Unless I’m missing something — which is entirely possible — the targets that the media outlets are reporting would fall short of that goal.
As Cohn notes, the reaction of industry won’t tell us anything, because they will oppose the new rules no matter what. The reaction from environmental groups who have waiting for this moment for a long time will tell us far more.
* OBAMA FRAMES COMING EPA BATTLE: In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama provided a preview of how the White House hopes to frame the coming war over the new EPA rules. They will be framed as a public health imperative and an opportunity to speed the transition to a clean-energy economy that minimizes waste and spurs innovation that creates new jobs.
Of course, with Republicans gearing up to paint the rules as more Obama rule by fiat and job crushing big government, it’s likely Dems in coal-producing and coal-dependent states will be reluctant to embrace this strategy.
* OBAMA MOVING TO RECLAIM CLIMATE CHANGE LEADERSHIP: The New York Times has a good piece explaining the White House’s real long term goal in the new EPA push, and why the stakes for it are so high:
Mr. Obama’s effort is aimed not just at charting a new course inside the United States, but at reclaiming for the country the mantle of international leadership in battling climate change. If the policy coaxes more ambitious goals from other countries, experts say it could be a turning point. The test of that will come soon, as world leaders meet in New York in September seeking to make headway on a new global climate treaty. The leaders are supposed to pledge ambitious new emissions targets for their countries by next spring, with a final treaty due in late 2015.
This is another reason why the new EPA rules may matter more than anything else to Obama’s legacy — for a long time to come. It’s also another reason why failure could have far-reaching consequences, too.
* REPUBLICANS HAVE MOVED RIGHT ON ENVIRONMENT: Jaime Fuller has a useful look back at the historical context for the coming EPA fight, documenting that the 1970 Clean Air Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and that previous GOP presidential candidates ran on the environment or on doing something about climate change. But now virtually all Republican lawmakers will oppose the new rules, even as large percentages of Tea Party Republicans doubt climate science.
Some Dems, such as Chris Van Hollen, are urging an aggressive response in the EPA fight that points out Republicans used to support the Clean Air Act, and that they are now attacking Obama for enforcing it.
* BATTLE OVER RELEASED POW IS JOINED: The Hill has a useful overview of how the political battle over the swap of Bowe Bergdhal for five Taliban members dominated the Sunday shows and pushed the VA scandal out of the news.
Where Republicans are headed next, methinks: “Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero.”
* QUESTIONS ARISE ABOUT LEGALITY OF BERGDHAL MOVE: As Jonathan Capehart points out, Obama’s use of a signing statement to elide the notification requirement on the release of Taliban members from Guantanamo raises legitimate questions:
During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama railed against the practice used liberally by President George W. Bush on any number of laws. “We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress,” he said then. That he has grown comfortable with “doing an end-run around Congress” doesn’t have as much to do with trying to short circuit the power of recalcitrant congressional Republicans as it does with his willingness to use the power of the executive to protect the growing prerogatives of the presidency.
I expect Obama will be asked directly about this soon enough.