The news is now official. The Obama administration has proposed new rules that will reduce carbon emissions significantly, with coal-producing power plants clearly the big loser.
The question is: Who will be the winner?
OK, if you trust the science, the human race basically stands to come out slightly ahead — and maybe better than that if American action spurs other action around the world. But we're not talking only about climate change. We're talking about the possibility of political change.
And let's face it, the most obvious truth in the great climate-change debate is that it's not really about climate change at all. It's mostly about politics, which is why the proposal is so controversial.
It took only a few hours for Senate Republicans, generally described as gleeful, to announce they would launch robo-calls in four states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents, including Colorado. I think you could guess the script. Toss in something about a "radical" plan, a prediction that electricity bills would "skyrocket" and, of course, the certainly that, like all Obama plans, this "radical" plan would be a job-killer.
This got some reaction. In Kentucky, for example, Democratic Secretary of State Alison Grimes issued a statement opposing the proposed rules. In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was against the rules well before they were announced.
In Colorado, the idea is to link U.S. Sen. Mark Udall — who vigorously supports the proposal — with President Barack Obama as a pair of overreaching, coal-hating, environmental activists.
There's one problem. Actually, there are a few problems. But the one big problem is that, in Colorado anyway, I'm guessing the Republicans are the ones overreaching. Colorado is not Kentucky. The state Legislature already passed a law in 2010 that was not unlike the new proposed rules on coal-powered plants. The EPA rules give the states flexibility, and Colorado already has its own ideas at work.
In fact, we're already well on our way to meeting the would-be federal standards, which still have to survive the court challenges that are certain to come. Jobs have not been killed. Prices have not skyrocketed.
And then there are the results of an ABC News-Washington Post poll released Monday, which may not make Rep. Cory Gardner gleeful.
The poll, taken before the announcement, shows that Americans overwhelmingly want the government to do something about climate change — and, get this, that Americans would be willing (again, overwhelmingly) to pay more to see it happen.
That's Democratic Americans. Independent Americans. Even Republican Americans.
That's coal-heavy states. And states not so coal heavy.
Here are some numbers to consider: 70 percent of those polled said they wanted the government to require power plants to cut emissions; 70 percent said they agreed that states should be required to limit greenhouse gases within their borders; 63 percent said they would approve of a plan even if it raised their energy prices $20 per month.
These are huge numbers. And that last bit about a willingness to pay more is stunning. And then there's this: More people want the government to do something about global warming than actually say they "believe" climate change — or “global warming”; the poll used both — is very serious.
This is not complicated. One easily identified group that doesn't think climate change is a problem is tea party Republicans. A recent Pew poll put the tea party number at only 25 percent. That means, of course, that House Republicans similarly are opposed.
Which brings us back to Colorado. If Republicans are sending out robo-calls to Colorado independents, Udall is spending his time blasting Cory Gardner for being anti-science. Actually, we don't know what Gardner thinks. He hasn't said. In 2010, he said, "I think the climate is changing, but I don't believe humans are causing that change to the extent that's been in the news." And that's about it.
That sounded a lot like what Marco Rubio said recently in semi-announcing his plans to runs for president. Rubio then said he was being misinterpreted and that he's not anti-science. You can see the problem for Gardner, who, it would seem, has to say something now.
There was a time when the politics were different. In 1970, the Clean Air Act passed through Congress nearly unanimously. As recently as 2008, John McCain was saying that global warming was our greatest environmental challenge and was in favor of cap and trade — yes, both of them. According to a piece in Vox on how Republicans have moved right on climate change, even Sarah Palin, back when she was McCain's running mate, favored cap and trade.
Obama clearly has taken a political risk in going the regulation route in bypassing the Republican House. He didn't have any choice. If he wanted to move ahead on climate change, this was his only chance.
For Udall, though, it's a different matter. His real problem is not coal regulations, but the probability of a local-control fracking initiative, which has caused a rare split in Colorado Democratic politics. Gov. John Hickenlooper has called for a special state legislative session to resolve the issue. My guess is that Udall must be happy to see the conversation change.
I wonder if Gardner can say the same.