From ‘no’ to a ‘re­al­ity’: NC Repub­li­cans adopt dif­fer­ent pos­ture on cli­mate change

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY BRIAN MUR­PHY bmur­phy@mc­clatchydc.com Char­lotte Ob­server re­porter Jim Mor­rill con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Sen. Thom Til­lis and three other Repub­li­cans seek­ing the nom­i­na­tion for U.S. Se­nate in 2014 had a quick an­swer when asked if cli­mate change was a fact.

“No,” they all said. Four years and, per­haps not coin­ci­den­tally, two dev­as­tat­ing North Carolina hur­ri­canes later, some of the state’s Repub­li­can elected of­fi­cials have a slightly dif­fer­ent an­swer to ques­tions about cli­mate change.

“It is ob­vi­ous that hu­mans have some im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment,” said Rep. Ted Budd, a Davie County Repub­li­can, at a de­bate last week.

“I be­lieve the cli­mate is chang­ing,” said Rep. Ge­orge Hold­ing, a Raleigh Repub­li­can, at his de­bate last week. “I think hu­man ac­tiv­ity has all kinds of im­pacts on the en­vi­ron­ment.”

For­mer Char­lotte pas­tor Mark Har­ris, the GOP nom­i­nee in the 9th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict and one of the four Repub­li­cans on stage at the 2014 de­bate, said in a re­cent de­bate that “there’s no ques­tion the Earth is get­ting warmer.” But, he added, “I do not nec­es­sar­ily buy into the fact that hu­mans are re­spon­si­ble.”

Budd, Hold­ing and Har­ris face strong chal­lengers in No­vem­ber in seats Democrats hope to flip from GOP con­trol.

Til­lis, too, has moved his po­si­tion on cli­mate change since that 2014 de­bate. “We have to come up with sev­eral strate­gies to rec­og­nize re­al­ity that cli­mate changes. Some­times it changes just be­cause it has over the mil­len­nia and other times it changes be­cause of hu­man fac­tors,” he said in an Au­gust in­ter­view with Spec­trum News.

‘SMALL STEPS’

The mod­est changes in po­si­tion among elected Repub­li­can of­fi­cials is good news, said one for­mer Repub­li­can House mem­ber with a con­ser­va­tive, free mar­ket plan to com­bat cli­mate change.

“How could you pos­si­bly be en­cour­aged by such small steps? It is en­cour­ag­ing to see Repub­li­can can­di­dates be­gin mes­sag­ing this to the peo­ple they fear the most, which is party ac­tivists, the peo­ple who will de­stroy you in the next Repub­li­can pri­mary,” said Bob Inglis, who rep­re­sented an up­state South Carolina dis­trict for 12 years be­fore be­ing trounced by con­ser­va­tive Rep. Trey Gowdy in the 2010 GOP pri­mary.

Inglis cited South Carolina Repub­li­can Gov. Henry McMaster’s use of hu­mor to ad­dress the is­sue in a GOP pri­mary de­bate this year as one way Repub­li­cans are try­ing to move the de­bate. When asked about cli­mate change and its im­pacts on South Carolina’s coast, McMaster said: “The wa­ter’s com­ing up. There must be some­thing melt­ing some­where.”

Inglis, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of an eco-right group called Re­pub­licEN, said it’s not just elected of­fi­cials who have es­tab­lished po­si­tions on cer­tain is­sues, in­clud­ing cli­mate change. Inglis said a rev­enue-neu­tral, bor­der-ad­justable car­bon tax im­posed by the United State is the an­swer and would force China, In­dia and other na­tions to quickly adopt to our stan­dard.

“It’s rank-and-file mem­bers, party ac­tivists, precinct pres­i­dents, who also have a de­vel­oped world view and se­ri­ous po­si­tions on is­sues,” he said. “You’re see­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates lead to­ward a more fact-based dis­cus­sion on cli­mate change, away from out and out de­nial.”

A re­cent sur­vey of 60 North Carolina lead­ers — which in­cludes for­mer gov­er­nors, univer­sity pres- idents, cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives, non­profit lead­ers, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ers, phi­lan­thropists, chefs and au­thors — found that vast ma­jor­ity be­lieve cli­mate change is real and that hu­mans con­trib­ute to the prob­lem. Only one re­spon­dent said cli­mate change was a “hoax.”

More than 80 per­cent of North Carolini­ans be­lieve that cli­mate change is likely to neg­a­tively im­pact the state’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties in the next decade, ac­cord­ing to an Elon Poll con­ducted af­ter Hur­ri­cane Florence. The same poll found ma­jor­ity sup­port for us­ing cli­mate change find­ings for lo­cal plan­ning and or­di­nances (62 per­cent), for re­strict­ing realestate de­vel­op­ment in flood-prone ar­eas ( 76 per­cent) and for the be­lieve that hur­ri­canes are in­creas­ing in sever­ity (54 per­cent).

Hur­ri­cane Matthew, which had been a Cat­e­gory 5 hur­ri­cane, hit North Carolina in Septem­ber 2016, killing at least 28 peo­ple and caus­ing bil­lions in dam­ages, much of it from ex­ten­sive flood­ing. Hur­ri­cane Florence, which had been a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane, hit the state in Au­gust, bring­ing record-set­ting rain­fall and swelling rivers across much of the east­ern part of the state. Sci­en­tists con­cluded that cli­mate change led to Florence pro­duc­ing 50 per­cent more rain than it oth­er­wise would have.

“We’ve had dev­as­tat­ing loss of life and mas­sive prop­erty dam­age,” said Demo­crat Kathy Man­ning, Budd’s chal­lenger in the 13th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict. “It is long past time for us to take steps that we can take to start curb­ing the im­pact of cli­mate change.”

DIS­AGREE­MENTS RE­MAIN

If Repub­li­cans are mov­ing slightly on the is­sue, huge dis­agree­ments be­tween the par­ties re­main — par­tic­u­larly on what steps the gov­ern­ment should take to curb hu­man in­flu­ences on the en­vi­ron­ment. In 2017, Trump an­nounced the U.S. would be with­draw­ing from the Paris Agree­ment, a non-bind­ing global agree­ment to re­duce car­bon emis­sions.

“Even if you were to con­tend that hu­mans have some role in it, that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily make it bad ev­ery­where, that doesn’t mean that it’s a big­ger fac­tor than nat­u­ral cy­cles,” said Dal­las Wood­house, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the North Carolina GOP. “And I think vir­tu­ally all Repub­li­cans are weary of the re­volv­ing stan­dards that the left use to con­trol our en­ergy use and free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism.”

Budd and Hold­ing said any en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions must be weighed against its im­pact on eco­nomic growth, ad­vo­cat­ing for cost-ben­e­fit anal­y­sis that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has put in place.

ROBERT WILLETT rwil­lett@new­sob­server.com

A farm near Wal­lace is flooded by the Cape Fear River and the heavy rain from Hur­ri­cane Florence in Septem­ber. More than 80 per­cent of North Carolini­ans be­lieve that cli­mate change is likely to neg­a­tively af­fect the state’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties in the next decade, ac­cord­ing to an Elon Poll con­ducted af­ter that hur­ri­cane.

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