Political Correction

Americans for Prosperity Takes Credit for Bullying GOP Lawmakers Into Climate Denial

December 06, 2011 5:05 pm ET - by Emilee Pierce

The cover story of this week's National Journal takes a deeper dive into a question we've explored before: What happened to the Republican consensus on climate change?

Three years ago, prominent Republicans including Mitt RomneyNewt Gingrich, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Tim Pawlenty, and Sarah Palin all expressed belief in human-caused climate change. Several even voiced strong support for policies to cap and reduce carbon pollution. Today, all six of these leaders have joined the rest of the Republican Party in a sudden and near-unified retreat to silence or denial.

When contacted by the National Journal, only 65 out of all 289 GOP lawmakers in Congress would agree to be interviewed on the topic. Of those interviewed, only 19 said they believed that human activities are at least partly responsible for climate change. Of the 19, only five (or fewer than 2 percent of GOP lawmakers) attributed a "significant amount" of climate change to human activity.

So, what happened?

It's not the science that has changed — it's only gotten stronger. As Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, said: The level of scientific certainty that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change is comparable to the strength of our understanding that vaccines prevent measles and polio. 

What have changed, according to the National Journal, are the types and relative strengths of pressures on GOP lawmakers. Namely, "the rise of the Tea Party, its crusade against regulations, and the influx of vast sums of money into electoral politics from energy companies and sympathetic interest groups."

Among those groups is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is backed by fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, Inc. Several reports have highlighted AFP's role in promoting fossil-fuel-friendly candidates and policies. Others have accused the organization of "astroturfing."

Surprisingly, AFP isn't shy about discussing its influence on electoral politics. In fact, in the National Journal article, AFP's president, Tim Phillips, openly takes credit for bullying — literally threatening — GOP lawmakers with "political peril" should they chose to "play footsie" on climate change and clean energy:

"If you look where the situation was three years ago and where it is today, there's been a dramatic turnaround. ... We've made great headway. What it means for the candidates on the Republican side, is if you ... buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril. ... And that's our influence. Groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it."

A sudden and unified flip flop by almost an entire political party, from acceptance of climate change to silence and outright rejection, is suspect on its own. (Especially given that, to date, no scientific body of national or international standing has offered a dissenting opinion on the fundamentals of manmade warming).  But here we have the president of a fossil-fuel-funded interest group flaunting his role in sparking and enforcing the GOP's about-face on climate change and clean energy.

One has to wonder: At what point will we stop hearing about serial climate change flip flopping and start hearing about a party-wide bow to industry demands?

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