Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
You could call it a climate change on climate change.
Many Republican candidates running for governor this year are expressing doubts about the scientific research that says the Earth is getting warmer and that humans' activities are the reason why. The result is that the class of 37 governors elected this year could be far more skeptical of limiting greenhouse gas emissions than the governors they're replacing, especially if Republicans win key races.
Over the last few years, Republican governors have been as active as anyone at combating climate change. Former New York Republican Gov. George Pataki was an architect of the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the country's first operational cap-and-trade system. California's Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, legislation that many environmental experts consider the toughest greenhouse gas emissions limitations in the country. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman angered their states' conservative legislatures by sounding the alarm on the climate.
By January, many of these same states could have Republican governors who take a strikingly different view. Crist could be replaced by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who once sent the governor a documentary titled, The Great Global Warming Swindle. Schwarzenegger might be replaced by former eBay executive Meg Whitman, who has promised to stall implementation of AB 32. "I do think the scientists say that the Earth is getting warmer," Whitman said at a debate this spring. "Whether it is man-made or not, I don't know. I'm not a scientist." Republican candidates in several other states have expressed skepticism, including Illinois, Minnesota and Utah.
These Republican gubernatorial aspirants are reflecting a shift in public opinion. A March Gallup Poll showed that more Americans say the threat of global warming is exaggerated than in 2008, and that fewer Americans believe that global warming already is occurring.
Even if many of the Republican skeptics win, the policy implications won't necessarily be clear cut. The skeptics, of course, aren't likely to favor policies explicitly to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But they are supporting some of the same environmental strategies as candidates concerned about global warming, albeit for different reasons. Most candidates, regardless of their views on global warming, are speaking in favor of things like greater energy efficiency and more development of alternative fuels. Some argue for these measures to fight global warming, but others support them as economic development tools or to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.
The policy implications of the newfound Republican skepticism are murky for another reason too. Candidates often change their views once they win. "When Schwarzenegger, Huntsman and Crist were running for office, I don't think they were saying much about the climate," says Patrick Hogan, regional policy coordinator for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "It wasn't really an issue. Things can change very quickly."