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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, left

Rich Schultz, Associated Press

Republicans shift on climate change

  • Article by: DINA CAPPIELLO
  • Associated Press
  • May 29, 2011 - 11:35 PM

WASHINGTON - One thing that Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have in common: These GOP presidential contenders all are running away from their past positions on global warming, driven by their party's loud doubters who question the science and disdain government solutions.

All four have stepped back from previous stances on the issue, either apologizing outright or softening what they said earlier. And those who haven't fully recanted are under pressure to do so.

The latest sign of that pressure came Thursday when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he was pulling his state out of a regional agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, saying it won't work. While Christie, a rising GOP star, has said he's not running for president, some in the party continue to recruit him.

It's an indicator of a shift on the issue among conservative Republicans, who have an outsized influence in the party's presidential primary elections. Over the last few years, Gallup polling has shown a decline in the share of Americans saying that global warming's effects have already begun -- from a high of 61 percent in 2008 to 49 percent in March. The change is driven almost entirely by conservatives.

In 2008, 50 percent of conservatives said they believed global warming already is having effects; that figure dropped to 30 percent this year. By contrast, among liberals and moderates there's been relatively little movement, and broad majorities say warming is having an impact now.

Not all Republicans are happy with the party's trajectory on global warming. Former New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a 27-year veteran of Congress who was known as a staunch protector of the environment, said he has "never been so disappointed all my life in the pretenders to the throne from my party."

"Not one of them is being forthright in dealing with climate science," he said in an interview. "They are either trying to finesse it, or change previous positions to accommodate the far right. They are denying something that is as plain as the nose on your face."

But opposing mandated solutions to climate change has become party orthodoxy, forcing candidates to backtrack.

Gingrich, who once ran an environmental studies program at a Georgia college, now calls for the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency. He also said in a recent interview that he doubts there is a connection between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. "The planet used to be dramatically warmer when we had dinosaurs and no people," Gingrich told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph last week. "To the best of my knowledge the dinosaurs weren't driving cars."

Other GOP contenders also have switched on the issue of climate. Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman potentially come into the race with even more climate baggage, since each of them as governor supported a regional "cap-and-trade" program to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, like the one Christie bailed out of this week. All have since abandoned that stance.

It's a marked turnaround for a party that just three years ago gave its presidential nomination to Sen. John McCain, who long has supported cap and trade to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and who campaigned on the issue even though it put him on the same side as his opponent, Barack Obama.

In fact, the whole idea of a market to trade pollution credits came from the GOP. It emerged in the late 1980s under the administration of President George H.W. Bush as a free-market solution to the power plant pollution that was causing acid rain. It passed Congress nearly unanimously in 1990 as a way to control emissions of sulfur dioxide.

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