Wyo. Lawmakers Reject New Climate Change Report

May 16, 2014

Credit www.hsdl.org

The White House is painting a dire picture for every region in the nation - including here at home - if action isn’t taken to combat climate change. But Matt Laslo reports from Washington that Wyoming’s Republican senators still aren’t buying it.

MATT LASLO: Things aren’t going to be looking pretty in Wyoming and the surrounding states if the latest White House Climate Assessment is right. You can expect intensified floods, droughts, and winter - or spring - storms. Julian Boggs of Environment America says the White House report paints a full picture of a nation rapidly changing due to rising temperatures. 

JULIAN BOGGS:  "Well, these are things that folks are experiencing every, every day. And the National Climate Assessment is also unique not only in the specificity of the impacts but it's unique in that it shows region by region how folks are experiencing this. So in the mountain-west more extreme mountain fires." 

LASLO: But those predictions are being brushed aside by Wyoming’s policy makers here in the nation's capital. The state’s senior senator, Mike Enzi, says the dire predictions in the report don’t mesh up with facts on the ground.

MIKE ENZI "I barely made it back here because of a May snowstorm in Wyoming. They got 18 inches in Cheyenne. It's a little hard to convince Wyoming people there's global warming. We have 186% of normal snow pack. That's global warming?"

LASLO: As for the science behind man-made climate change and the overwhelming number of scientists who say its fact, not fiction, Enzi says he think the debate has become a waste of money on both sides. 

ENZI "Well we're paying about $5 billion a year to prove that there's climate change and $5 billion a year to prove there isn't climate change. I'd rather have us put $10 billion a year into ideas that would solve climate.”

LASLO: One of the loudest voices in the Senate calling for action to combat global warming is Rhode Island's Sheldon White House. He says lawmakers from Wyoming and surrounding states aren't dumb - he just thinks they've been bought by the oil and gas industry. 

WHITEHOUSE "I think it's less of a mindset towards science than it is a mindset towards the fossil fuel industry and the big polluters."

LASLO: Enzi says the shoe is actually on the other foot. From his perch, President Obama is less concerned about nature than he is with appeasing his environmental supporters. 

ENZI  "I don't see him as trying to control pollution. I see him trying to put business out of business. I don't think they figured out where tax dollars come from yet."

LASLO: And the debate has become a "jobs" debate on both sides of the political spectrum. The White House climate report argues the economy will lose jobs in the future if something drastic isn't done quickly to combat climate change. Wyoming junior, Senator John Barrasso, calls that claim misguided in the short term. 

JOHN BARRASSO: "It seems to me that the president's efforts on the environment actually are bad for the jobs climate in America, bad for the climate of families who realize the cost of energy is going to go up as a result of his proposals."

LASLO:  The White House has given up on trying to convince lawmakers like Enzi and Barrasso that climate change is real, happening and bringing devastating consequences with it. Administration officials are pushing through a new EPA rule in the coming weeks that will drastically curb emissions from the new power plants. In spite of a Supreme Court ruling that says Congress gave the EPA that authority under the Clean Air Act, Barrasso maintains the president is usurping American voters because he couldn't muster a 60 vote, filibuster-proof majority when he had 60 Democrats in the Senate. 

BARRASSO: "Well, once again the president seems to want to go around Congress, go beyond the original intent at legislation, and even when he had complete control of the House and the Senate - then it was 60 Senators - he wasn't able to get what he wants to do passed through Congress and he shouldn't go around Congress."

LASLO: And even though Barrasso opposes the president's climate agenda, he says it wouldn't change the weather even if the president got all he wanted. 

BARRASSO:  "No matter what the United States does, if Russia, India, China continue in what they're doing, emissions are going to continue to go up. Before Barack Obama became president, U.S. emissions had been dropping. But not around the world. So it seems that there is a significant cost to our economy, to our jobs, to our own country's competitiveness globally if we do what Barack Obama wants to do. And I don't think it's good for America."

LASLO: But Julian Boggs - that environmentalist from earlier - says Barrasso's attitude represents a strange new form of American defeatism. 

BOGGS:  "It's interesting to see folks who say that America can't lead, that America shouldn't be the leader. When has America wanted to take a back seat and not a leading role in solving the climate crisis? First off, we should be leading on this issue. Second off,the United States is a huge emitter of carbon. We are the second largest carbon emitter in the world. What we do has a huge impact on the amount of carbon globally."

LASLO:  In the coming weeks the EPA will unleash its new carbon rule and that's expected to raise the temperature on Capitol Hill.... at least when it comes to the Wyoming delegation. 

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.