Republicans tell Congress to act on climate

Republicans serving under Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Bush tell Congress to step up on climate action 

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By Sophie Yeo

Four top Republicans have told the US Congress that fighting climate change should be a government priority.

The four former EPA administrators served under Republican presidents Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan over four decades.

Testifying before the Senate today, they reinforced the importance of a tough US stance on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the face of the growing determination of China to act.

“We like to speak of American exceptionalism,” said William D. Ruckelshaus, who served as the first head of the EPA in 1970 after it was established by Nixon, and again in 1983 under Reagan.

“If we want to be truly exceptional then we should begin the difficult task of leading the world away from the unacceptable effects of our increasing appetites for fossil fuels before it is too late.”

An acrimonious debate on climate change in American politics has forced Congress to a standstill, with some Republicans still unwilling to accept the consensus on the science of global warming and accusing the Obama administration of waging a “war on coal”.

In May, even a bipartisan bill on energy efficiency failed, as it became embroiled in other arguments about the Keystone XL Pipeline and carbon regulations.

Obama announced last year that he would use his executive powers as president to bypass Congress and introduce climate policy through the EPA’s Clean Air Act.

Same planet

The testimony of four Republicans before Congress is “significant”, says Christina DeConcini, Director of Government Affairs at the World Resources Institute, as it indicates that there are those from America’s right-wing party who see an urgent need to act, even though it remains “politically difficult” to do so.

“The EPA actually got started under a Republican administration and some of the best leadership we’ve had on the environment has come from Republicans throughout our history until recently,” she told RTCC.

“There’s no need to make this issue partisan. We all live on the same planet. We have to breathe the same air.”

While the US has faced criticism for its failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol under George Bush, Republicans have been responsible also for some of the country’s more positive moves, including the ratification of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 under the first President Bush.

Nixon created the EPA, while Republican Senator John McCain tried to pass a cap-and-trade system to regulate pollution.

Big tent

In an interview with RTCC, Robert Dixon, who has served under four Republican administrations, said that it wasn’t fair to label Americans as “dragging their feet” on climate change, as leadership and investment had been evident across both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“Political parties are big tents, so there’s room for everybody to operate on those platforms,” he said. “I think we can cite examples where there has been Republican and Democratic leadership both.”

And as the science has become clearer, so has the need for international and decisive action, said William K. Reilly, EPA administrator under George H. W. Bush. The UN hopes to sign a new climate change deal in 2015 to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

This time around it will apply to all countries, unlike the Kyoto agreement, under which only developed countries were obliged to reduce their emissions.

In Congress today, Reilly said: “Action by the United States, if not sufficient, is nonetheless absolutely necessary if we are to have the credibility to negotiate with other countries.”

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