Sunday, June 15, 2014

Why Cantor’s Defeat Is Terrible for the Climate — and the Country

Eric Cantor (Credit: Gage Skidmore) Click to enlarge.
On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was ousted with a decisive loss, 56 percent to 44 percent, in his party’s primary.

Cantor’s defeat is a terrible omen for any sort of policy progress or competent governance.

Far-right Republicans will feel emboldened, sane Republicans will feel even more of a need to pander to their base, and no Republican will want to work across the aisle to make deals.  As another Democrat close to Pelosi emailed Politico’s Mike Allen, “We all know that this will only lead to more Republicans being scared of bipartisan issues, which will only lead to further gridlock.”

This is bad news for every liberal priority, but especially environmental issues, and most especially climate change.  The Tea Party movement, and its pressure groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, harbor a special animus for environmental regulation.Democrats will, of course, have to play defense, just like on Obamacare.  As long as Obama stays firm and promises to veto any budget that removes his biggest weapon in fighting climate change, it won’t come to pass — at least until 2017 when we might have a Republican president.  But he might be inclined to give in to some of the Republicans’ less extreme demands just to avert a government shutdown.  Any concessions Republicans can get will have serious consequences. 

Regulating methane leaks from fracking and pipelines in the booming natural gas sector is essential to meeting our climate change mitigation goals, so letting Congress block EPA action on this would be devastating.  And even just agreeing to further cuts to the EPA’s enforcement budget would damage the quality of our air and water.

And what about actually making progress on combating climate change?  Obviously, passing a freestanding cap-and-trade or carbon-tax bill through the Republican-led House was already a nonstarter.  But there was one glimmer of hope some held out: that a big, bipartisan tax reform package could include a carbon tax.  It was always a bit of a pipe dream, but it made a certain sense:  Republicans hate income taxes, which they say punish work, and they often argue for consumption taxes instead.

This is what happens when you have gerrymandered districts and low voter turnout: Only the most extreme Republicans set the agenda for their whole party, and they can subject the whole country to their whims.

Why Cantor’s Defeat Is Terrible for the Climate — and the Country

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