Kelly’s Heroes

Usually, one has a better chance of being struck by lighting than hearing a Senate Republican praise one of President Obama’s policy initiatives. That’s why Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s (R-NH) recent thumbs-up to Obama’s Clean Power Plan to combat carbon pollution sent a few shockwaves through the Beltway:

New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte is at odds with GOP leadership and the vast majority of her Republican colleagues over climate-change policy heading into the 2016 elections.

Ayotte, who is girding for a difficult reelection fight, on Sunday became the first GOP senator to support President Obama’s sweeping regulation that mandates carbon-emissions cuts from the nation’s power plants.

Her announcement arrives as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other Republicans are ramping up their legislative and messaging battle against the EPA rules, which seek to cut nationwide pollution from power plants by 32 percent, relative to 2005 levels, by 2030.

One reason for Ayotte’s position: beer brewing. Ayotte cited the support of New Hampshire businesses for the plan, including Smuttynose Brewing Company, but also the apparel company Timberland, and Worthen Industries, which supplies adhesives and coatings to a various industries.

“It’s so important that we protect New Hampshire’s beautiful environment for our economy and for our future. After carefully reviewing this plan and talking with members of our business community, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, I have decided to support the Clean Power Plan to address climate change through clean-energy solutions that will protect our environment,” she said.

On the one hand, Ayotte ran for the Senate as an unapologetic climate denier in 2010, so naturally people will wonder if this is just sheer opportunism on the part of a Republican running for re-election against a very strong Democratic challenger in an increasingly blue state (in a presidential year, no less). On the other hand, anytime a Republican affirms the need to act on climate, it strengthens the overall case against right-wing denialism.

Of course, Ayotte isn’t the only Republican facing long re-election odds who recognizes that parroting Sen. James Inhofe on climate is a doomed strategy. In an unusually strong (by Republican standards) Miami Herald op-ed, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) declared that caring for our common home is a moral principle that should transcend partisanship:

Now more than ever, it is crucial that we acknowledge the reality that is the Earth’s changing climate. Without question, this is one of the major challenges of our time and directly threatens the communities of South Florida. If left unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely affect not only our families and neighbors, but the entire country.

To view climate change through partisan lenses only detracts from efforts to discover practical solutions. This debate should not devolve into a petty competition between Republicans and Democrats.

Instead, it should consist of a constructive dialogue focusing on the implementation of policies that encourage the growth and development of clean alternative energy sources that will complement traditional ones.

Rising sea levels and the erosion of our coastal communities have made it abundantly clear that South Florida is at the frontline of climate change. Florida’s obvious vulnerability to these effects should be enough to spur interest in the numerous benefits offered by increased investment in clean energy.

Unfortunately, Curbelo never acknowledges that it was the morally depraved fossil-fuel industry that made climate change a partisan issue by hiring right-wing lackeys to demonize Al Gore and others who called for action on carbon pollution in the late-1980s and early-1990s as job-killing Commies. However, let’s not lose sight of the larger picture. While red-state ideologues like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) continue their assault on climate science, Republicans in less wingnutty parts of the country are finally beginning to understand that if they align themselves with deniers, they could be denied a chance to be re-elected. In other words, the climate hawks are winning, slowly but surely.

UPDATE: Climate hawks would certainly appreciate it if Senator Ayotte attended the 2015 Citizens Climate Lobby Northeast Regional Conference scheduled to take place on November 14-15 in Nashua, New Hampshire; acclaimed climate scientist James Hansen, who warned the US Senate about the consequences of carbon pollution in 1988 and who has been a bold voice for climate action since, will be there. Plus, more from Think Progress, Lisa Hymas, Kate Sheppard, David Roberts, Chris Hayes, Thom Hartmann, the New Yorker and The Hill.

SECOND UPDATE: I was honored to join Ted McIntyre of the Massachusetts Climate Action Network yesterday to discuss Rep. Lamar Smith’s assault on climate science.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.