Van Hollen moving climate change with 2016 leverage

01:39 - Source: CNN
2014 was hottest year on record
Washington CNN —  

With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, the odds of passing a climate change bill this year are virtually non-existent. But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, plans to reintroduce legislation to cap carbon emissions this week, anyway, due in part to the impact it could have on the 2016 election.

“Our goal is to keep attention focused on this issue as we head into this congressional session, and also into the presidential election in 2016,” Van Hollen told CNN, explaining the bill serves as a vehicle for discussion.

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Van Hollen’s objective is to force Republicans to address the issue, and he believes they’re slowly coming to the negotiating table. Think Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and her crusade against income inequality to push Hillary Clinton toward embracing a populist mission as she forms an economic platform for her likely presidential bid.

“Republicans understand that the costs of inaction are huge,” Van Hollen said, adding that at least privately, some GOP lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge to him their interest in taking up the issue.

There was GOP movement in this direction back in 2009, the last time a major climate change bill was up for a vote. Eight House Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, which included so-called cap-and-trade – inspiring primary challenges from the right flank.

Heading into the 2012 presidential election four Republicans eyeing presidential bids who had once supported cap-and-trade turned against it, including Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee.

Van Hollen argues his newer approach is more palatable to the GOP because it is market-based and returns the funds collected from the sale of permits directly to American taxpayers.

The thrust of the bill “caps carbon pollution and reduces CO2 emissions gradually but steadily, auctions carbon pollution permits to the first sellers of oil, coal and natural gas into the U.S. market, and returns 100% of the auction proceeds electronically each quarter to every American with a valid Social Security number,” he said.

The direct benefit to American citizens is a newer concept, but the approach doesn’t change the cost to industries throughout the Rust Belt and coal country. Van Hollen conceded that challenge, but vowed to work with those interested parties. He pointed out that his legislation includes a protection for American industries by rebating costs for exports while imposing tariffs on foreign imports.

He also believes there’s renewed public interest in tackling climate change thanks to increasing awareness of the problem in the wake of a series of extreme weather events. Add to that droughts and forest fires disrupting communities across the country, and the recent statistic that 2014 was the warmest year on record.

To that end, Van Hollen argues the public is ahead of Republicans. A CNN/ORC poll conducted in late December of last year found half of respondents believe global warming is a reality attributed to pollutants like cars and industrial facilities. But when asked if global warming would pose a serious threat in their lifetimes, 57% said no.

Still, as polling moves gradually in favor of addressing climate change, Van Hollen says Republican presidential candidates risk hurting their chances in 2016 if they don’t agree to do something. He realizes the crop of Republican presidential hopefuls are in a tough position because they could risk damage in a primary by speaking out, but that they’ll have to address the issue in a general election.

Just one more carrot Van Hollen is pitching to Republicans: To those who are dismissive of 1,000-page tomes the Marylander is dropping a bill just 30 pages.

The real challenge, of course, stems from getting Republican leadership to bring the legislation to the House floor for a vote. And already Republicans are skeptical.

Jeff Holmstead, an assistant administrator at the EPA during George W. Bush’s presidency, predicted the only kind of climate change discussion that will occur in the House will center on what Republicans propose to roll back from President Barack Obama’s announcement last June that he would broadly interpret the Clean Air Act of 1970 to mandate lower emissions.