I’ve long advanced the belief that climate mitigation policy is political poison. Multiple lines of evidence converge on this point, including:
- On June 6, 2008, in the immediate wake of the Senate’s rejection of the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill, which had been extensively reworked by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), 10 Senate Democrats—about 20 percent of the caucus—sent Sen. Boxer a letter explaining that they voted or would have voted against her cap-and-trade because it would cause “undue hardship” for their constituents.
- On June 26, 2009, forty Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a cap-and-trade energy rationing bill co-written by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).
- During the 2010 summer, Senate Democrats held weekly caucus meetings to build support for a Senate companion bill to the American Clean Energy and Security Act. They failed (spectacularly), because few Democratic Senators were willing to vote for an energy tax during a recession.
- In 2010, South Carolina Republican Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) lost a primary battle by 70%-29% after expressing support for a carbon tax. As my colleague Myron Ebell noted on Nightline, only incumbent politicians who are in jail lose this badly in primaries. Inglis himself blamed the lopsided defeat on his support for a carbon tax.
- As John Podesta said in the Wikileaks emails: “We have done extensive polling on carbon tax. It all sucks.” Clinton campaign senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan soon replied to Podesta: “I was afraid of that. I showed HRC the numbers on the rebate. Top quartile takes a real hit on increased energy costs and the rebate wouldn't cover it. Hard to see how that would be popular!”
- During his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama wouldn’t touch climate policy with a ten-foot pole. Indeed, he tried to flank Romney’s right on energy policy. It was only upon gaining a second term and no longer facing electoral accountability that Obama pivoted hard to climate policy as a legacy issue.
- During the 2016 campaign, voters elected Trump, who consistently denigrated Obama’s climate policies and who labeled climate change to be a “hoax.” Notably, Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election partly attributed Hilary Clinton’s loss in the rust belt to Obama’s unpopular climate polices.
The latest line of evidence comes from Hilary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, which serves as her account of how she lost the election. I’ve not read the book, but ClimateWire’s Robin Bravender has, and she reports ($) that Clinton distributes at least some of the blame to the Obama administration’s rollout of the Clean Power Plan. According to Bravender:
Clinton didn’t like the way Obama unveiled his landmark climate change rule, the Clean Power Plan.
When the Obama team was getting ready to announce the rule, “which was seen as the most anti-coal policy yet, I thought the President should consider making the announcement in Coal Country and couple it with a big effort to help miners and their families by attracting new investments and jobs,” Clinton wrote. “That might have softened the blow a little.”
Instead, Obama announced the rule in the White House, flanked by his then-EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy. “That was seen by many folks in West Virginia as another signal that Democrats didn’t care about them,” Clinton wrote. “Once that perception takes hold, it’s hard to dislodge.”
More broadly, Clinton said she thinks the Obama administration was “slow to take on” the narrative about Democrats’ “so-called war on coal.” But Democrats’ problems with working-class voters “started long before Obama and go far beyond coal,” she wrote.
Now, if you only listen to professional environmentalists, or if you only read non-trade publication news (and Vox in particular) on energy and environment policy, you might labor under the misapprehension that climate policy is supported by all Democrats and the overwhelming American public, and that it is only opposed by meanie Republicans in cahoots with evil industry. The inconvenient truth is climate change policy is opposed by healthy bipartisan majorities, which is the only explanation for the above evidence.