Back in June when Shawn Moody was vying for the Republican nomination to be Maine's next governor, the auto repair businessman stumbled when asked during a debate whether human activity is currently changing the climate in the state.
“It's mostly …” Moody began before pausing to collect his thoughts.
“It's no,” he finally responded.
But four months later when asked about climate change again — this time as GOP nominee — Moody did not hesitate to hedge his answer.
“Obviously human activity adds, or contributes, to climate change,” Moody said during a general-election debate against his Democratic opponent.
Moody is not alone in changing his tune. From Maine to California, Republican candidates up against strong challengers in swing states and districts have softened their stances, even if slightly, on the issue of global warming.
The GOP hopefuls are up against the dual head winds of a riled-up Democratic base angry, among other things, at the Trump administration's rollback of environmental rules and a burgeoning body of scientific research linking the increasingly intense wildfires and hurricanes affecting constituents to climate change.
The change in rhetoric — however scattered and slight among the full slate of GOP hopefuls in 2018 — is happening even as the leader of the Republican Party, President Trump, continues to dismiss evidence of man-made climate change presented to him by top scientists.
Among those Republicans is one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection, Dean Heller. Back in 2015, the senator from Nevada told Politico: “There always has been [climate change], there always will be,” adding that the impact from humans is “up for debate.”
Now in 2018, Heller tried to distance himself from that remark when a debate moderator brought it up.
“First of all, I said I'm not a denier of global warming. I'm not a denier of that,” he said while standing next to Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen last week.
His campaign spokeswoman, Gretchen Andersen, was even more emphatic by email about the candidate’s stance.
“Senator Heller believes the climate is changing and there’s no doubt that human activity is impacting these changes,” Andersen wrote, adding that Heller supported measures giving tax breaks to renewable energy companies and acknowledging the economic and security threats posed by climate change.
Sometimes it is a change in venue, rather than the passage of time, that may prompt a candidate to revise his or her tune on climate change.
During a gubernatorial debate in Michigan last week, Republican candidate Bill Schuette acknowledged that “climate change is real and the Earth is getting warmer.”
But in his role as the state’s attorney general, he signed onto an amicus brief in August with 11 other top state prosecutors in support of oil giant ExxonMobil, writing that the “debate concerning the scope and sources of climate change [is] still raging in scientific and public circles.”
Elsewhere in the country, recent extreme weather events may be pushing candidates to not dismiss climate change out of hand.
In 2014, when running to be a senator from North Carolina, Charlotte pastor Mark Harris had a one-word answer when asked whether climate change is a fact: “No.”
Since then, two hurricanes, Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018, brought catastrophic flooding to the coastal plains of eastern North Carolina.
Now Harris, vying to represent North Carolina’s 9th District, told a television debate audience that “there’s no question the Earth is getting warmer.”
Trump’s consistent dismissal of climate science suggests that voters, rather than party leadership, are demanding a different response from Republican candidates.
More than one in three Republicans in North Carolina, for example, believe global warming is “very likely” to negatively affect coastal communities there in the next 50 years, according to an Elon University survey taken after Florence hit.
That is nearly triple the number of Republicans who felt the same in 2017. Overall, more than 80 percent of North Carolinians worry climate change is likely to negatively affect their coast.
Among likely voters in battleground congressional districts across the country, 59 percent support increased federal efforts to combat climate change, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll released Thursday. Only 11 percent said the federal government should do less and 30 percent said the country is doing the right amount.
The League of Conservation Voters, which announced Thursday it is spending more than $80 million to elect a slate of mostly Democratic candidates in 2018, points out that a change in what the candidates say does not necessarily translate into a change in the way they will vote or govern in office.
“The conspiracy theories aren’t cutting it anymore — voters want climate action,” said Alyssa Roberts, a spokeswoman for the group. “But instead of supporting actual pro-environment policies, vulnerable Republicans are simply flipping their rhetoric.”
And Republicans running in swing districts are willing to go only so far, said Anthony Leiserowitz, who studies public perceptions of climate change at Yale.
“If they are whipping the base, they are throwing red meat and talking about climate change being a hoax,” Leiserowitz said. Republicans in tight races, he added, “will only go as far as they think they need to go to appeal to voters.”
That restraint is evident in the debates. Right after acknowledging the climate is changing, Harris added: “I do not necessarily buy into the fact that humans are responsible.”
And Moody, the Republican candidate for governor in Maine, offered a significant caveat to his answer during his debate against the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Janet Mills.
“The climate has been changing since the world was created,” Moody said. “You look at the continents were breaking off and drifting. There was an ice cap hundreds of feet thick, and all that. So, the climate’s been changing.”
To that, Mills retorted that the world’s top climate scientists, who recently reported to the United Nations that humans stand on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, were not worried about the breakup of a supercontinent from eons ago.
“They’re talking about the increase in temperatures right now and over the next 30 years,” she said.
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— White House concerned Zinke violated federal rules: According to two senior administration officials, Trump told his aides that he fears his interior secretary has broken federal rules, The Post's Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey and Lisa Rein report.
What happened that has Trump worried: The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General referred an inquiry into Zinke’s involvement in a Whitefish, Mont., land development deal backed by David J. Lesar, chairman of the oil services firm Halliburton, to the Justice Department to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.
What Trump may do next: The president, known to drag his feet with personnel decisions, "has not indicated whether he will fire the former Navy SEAL and congressman and has asked for more information," The Post reports.
Enjoyed speaking today at the South Texas Energy Cybersecurity Forum at @UTSA. Thank you @HurdOnTheHill for your powerful support of UTSA and the cybersecurity mission. Together we can protect our energy security and counter our adversaries. pic.twitter.com/Biaag9GUiV— Rick Perry (@SecretaryPerry) October 19, 2018
— Cabinet members go where Trump can’t: In districts where Trump is divisive, members of his Cabinet have been parachuting in in his stead leading up to the midterm elections. “From June 1 through Oct. 25, Cabinet members made more than 40 visits to GOP House districts and staged appearances with a handful of swing-state senators and candidates for governor, an analysis of their Twitter feeds and those of the lawmakers shows,” The Post’s Lisa Rein and Christine Loman report. “The stops represent the majority of their official appearances with lawmakers outside Washington this campaign season, the analysis shows." Those logging the most miles include Energy Secretary Rick Perry, acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler and Zinke.
— Speaking of Rick Perry: The energy secretary is set to visit Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to meet with government officials regarding nuclear energy, cybersecurity, coal and liquefied natural gas exports, the department said in a release. “The Trump administration is seeking foreign markets for coal as domestic consumption has dropped to the lowest level since 1983 due to closures of coal-fired power plants that are suffering from abundant, cheap supplies of natural gas,’ Reuters reports.
— Trump administration goes to bat for biomass: The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Energy and Agriculture departments, sent a letter to lawmakers to “encourage the use of biomass as an energy solution," Bloomberg News reports.
The administration is doubling down on a position the EPA took in April when it asserted the burning of biomass, like trees, for energy in many cases is "carbon neutral." As the agency's thinking goes, the plants burned for fuel will eventually regrow and remove the carbon emissions from the air. But that notion is contentious among scientists who say woods cleared for energy may never grow back.
— An echo of Flint in New Jersey: This month, officials in Newark acknowledged a widespread lead problem in their water system after denying it for nearly a year and a half. “Officials were finally compelled to act after an engineering study commissioned by the city found that measures to prevent lead from leaching into drinking water were failing at one of Newark’s two treatment plants,” the New York Times reports. “Concerns over lead in tap water have been heightened since the crisis in Flint."
— A "ghost page": According to a new report from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a group that tracks changes in government websites, an EPA climate change webpage that last year promised an "update" after Trump took office now simply states: “We want to help you find what you are looking for," reports The Guardian. Back in April 2017, when notice of an update first appeared, the agency said it would be changing its website to “reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt.”
— El Niño watch: Will an El Niño season surely mean heavy snowfall in the region? “With a weak-to-moderate El Niño now expected for the winter of 2018-19, seasonal outlooks from weather companies as well as television meteorologists all seem to be leaning snowy,” The Post’s Ian Livingston reports.
— Keystone XL builder is trying to find financing: Canadian pipeline operator TransCanada Corp. said it is looking into options that would help it finance the $8 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline, including joint ventures and sales of its assets, Reuters reports. The company said it plans to start construction on its 420-mile pipeline next year, but it did not say when it will make its final investment decision on the pipeline, according to the report.
- Bracewell's Policy Resolution Group hosts a post-election webinar on Nov. 7.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider FERC nominee Bernard McNamee, Rita Baranwal to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Raymond David Vela to be director of the National Park Service on Nov. 15.
— What the duck: "The male Mandarin duck, native to East Asia, should not be in the middle of Manhattan," the New York Times reports. "And yet, against all odds, he is here" in Central Park, to the delight of the city's birders.