Republicans shift strategy on climate change

Climate change science might just have become the new third rail in American politics.

One day after President Barack Obama unveiled a broad blueprint for reining in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions and adapting U.S. infrastructure for more droughts and floods, Republicans are taking aim at the plan’s economic costs — not the science underpinning it.

It’s a remarkable change for a political party with high-profile leaders who have declared climate change a hoax and held congressional hearings designed to amplify doubts about whether human behavior contributes to the phenomenon.

It also may be a pragmatic one. As attitudes and beliefs about climate change have shifted — and the nation’s economic woes have come to the forefront — casting Obama’s plan as a job killer and “backdoor energy tax” may be a better strategy. Those were the overwhelming messages from Republican lawmakers criticizing Obama’s climate change plan on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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“Our argument with the president right now is that he’s picking energy winners and losers, he’s harming innovation and there’s going to be a direct assault on jobs,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Wednesday. “There are direct economic and policy challenges to what the president decides net. There will be ramifications that will be lifelong.”

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Obama’s approach amounted to unilaterally imposing a “national energy tax” and a “war on jobs, our economy, affordable energy, American families and small businesses.”

Asked repeatedly Wednesday to address the science of the issue, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters that while “we all want to make energy as clean as we can, as fast as we can,” Obama’s plan is nothing more than “a national energy tax.”

“The costs are real,” he said. “The benefits are unknown.”

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During his speech at Georgetown University, Obama took aim at climate change skeptics. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society,” Obama said.

But Barrasso quipped Wednesday that the president should take time to talk about the “flat economy.”

Of course, Republicans aren’t the only ones carefully crafting a political message on the issue.

Ahead of Obama’s speech Tuesday, environmentalists advised likely allies on Capitol Hill to avoid talking about the costs of the plan or referencing changes in “regulation.”