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Climate is changing, politically

New attention shows that global warming is not just the Democrats' issue anymore.

January 31, 2007|Janet Hook and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — All of a sudden, global warming is hot.

After years of languishing on Capitol Hill, efforts to curb global warming have picked up momentum, powered by a growing bipartisan belief that climate change can no longer be ignored.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has declared it a top priority for the House. Presidential candidates from both parties call it one of the biggest issues faced by the next occupant of the White House. Even President Bush, long a skeptic, is sounding the alarm.

That's an abrupt break from the past, when many politicians shrugged off the issue. Especially among Republicans, it was regarded as an untested theory or an alarmist fantasy.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 07, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Global warming: A chart on carbon dioxide emissions that ran with an article on global warming in Section A on Jan. 31 included incorrect information for China. The chart showed that China emitted 0.44 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 1980 and 1.25 billion tons in 2003; those figures were for emissions of carbon. China's carbon dioxide emissions were 1.63 billion tons in 1980 and 4.57 billion tons in 2003.

Polls show that most Americans believe the studies that show pollution is a cause of climate change. And politicians now are scrambling to keep up with science and public opinion.

Legislation to curb global warming is still a long shot in Congress, because there is no consensus on a solution. But almost all of the candidates who want to succeed Bush -- including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) -- are far ahead of him in proposing ways to reduce carbon emissions.

"There has been a sea change in this issue over the last year," said Cathy Duvall, the Sierra Club's national political director. "It went from a back-burner issue to something people understand is a problem. Now they are looking for leaders to take action."

The U.S. is the leading emitter of carbon dioxide, responsible for about one-quarter of the worldwide total. About 80% comes from fossil fuels, with power plants and vehicles as the leading culprits.

Presidential politics and legislative debate came together Tuesday when McCain and several other candidates discussed their climate-change legislation at a Senate hearing.

"The number of individuals in Washington who reject the clear evidence of global warming appears to be shrinking as its dramatic manifestations mount," McCain said. "We are no longer just talking about how climate change will affect our children's and grandchildren's lives, as we did just a few years ago, but we now are talking about how it is already impacting the world."

McCain, considered a front-runner for his party's presidential nomination, has introduced a bill to impose mandatory limits on the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. His cosponsors include two leading Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

Other candidates have their own proposals. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, touts his efforts to get his state to generate more electricity from cleaner sources, such as solar and wind power. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) recently introduced a resolution calling for the U.S. to return to international negotiations on climate change that Bush spurned.

Edwards, who ranks global warming as one of his top three issues, recently pointed out that he had given up his sport utility vehicle for a hybrid one. Even the very conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) mentioned the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in announcing his candidacy.

The issue's prominence is rising for a variety of reasons.

There is mounting scientific evidence that pollution plays a significant role in global warming. Climate scientists who advise the United Nations are meeting in Paris this week and are expected to issue a report on how warming is likely to affect sea levels.

The Oscar-nominated documentary featuring Al Gore, "An Inconvenient Truth," that raised awareness of the issue, vividly depicting the consequences of a warmer planet.

Some states, including California, are acting on their own, causing influential business leaders to call for federal regulation to avoid a patchwork of state and local laws.

Most important, Democrats who want action on the issue now control the House and the Senate, and the party's leaders have moved it to center stage.

Pelosi has asked committees to produce legislation by July 4 and has moved to establish a special global warming committee to bypass Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), an auto industry ally who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is seen as a potential obstacle to legislation, including new limits on tailpipe emissions.

Among those leading the Senate's efforts is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has called climate change "the greatest challenge of our generation." Boxer inherited the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee from Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who bowed out with a hearing that showcased his belief that human-caused climate change was a hoax.

Despite signs that Congress might shift from talking to legislating, advocates of limits on greenhouse gases warn against high expectations, noting that any measure must make it through the narrowly divided Senate and past Bush's veto.

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