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November 29, 2015

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The Policy Racket

Salazar: Colorado River issue could push conservatives to face climate change


Sam Morris / Sun file photo

Discoloration around the banks of Lake Mead shows how much the water level has declined over the years.

Click to enlarge photo

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar speaks about a Nevada Test Site solar power development zone during a news conference at UNLV's Greenspun Hall Thursday, July 8, 2010.

WASHINGTON - Could Western conservatives push the GOP toward adopting a more friendly stance on climate change?

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar certainly seems to think so.

In comments he delivered at a symposium hosted by the progressive Center for American Progress Thursday morning, Salazar said the worsening situation with the Colorado River -- where the water level has dropped about 20 percent in the last decade -- is serving as a powerful wake-up call to conservatives to do something about climate change.

“The seven states ... are a bastion of conservatism. They recognize ... that the water supplies of the Colorado River are directly related to the changing of the climate,” Salazar said. “You further reduce that by 20 percent, what’s that going to mean for the cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas?”

“They get it,” Salazar continued. “And so what they’re saying to us is ‘we support, understand, the changes climate change is going to bring to our communities and our states, and we want to get ahead of it.’ ”

The Western states that feed off the Colorado River -- California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming -- are not all conservative-leaning; in fact, in the last presidential election, four of the seven went Democrat. But as a bloc, the West does have a higher complement of conservative voters and representatives than most regions of the country -- and also has an especially close dependency on the environment.

But Salazar’s suppositions aside, it doesn’t seem like mounting concern for the fate of the Colorado River has been translating into a rush of proactive moves when it comes to combating climate change. In fact, earlier this month, two of the region’s most powerful Republican senators, Orrin Hatch of Utah and John Barrasso of Wyoming, introduced legislation to limit President Obama’s ability to take steps to combat global warming.

The measure is intended to prevent federal agencies from introducing carbon-dioxide emissions limits without authorization from Congress, and according to a press release, “prevent any legal action from being taken against greenhouse gas emitters for their contribution to climate change.”

Their legislation would take regulation of greenhouse gases out from under the Environmental Protection Agency purview and put it in the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation. It would also limit the administration’s ability to implement the Clean Air Act -- which Congress has passed and amended several times -- to pollutants that have shown to cause a direct effect to human beings, not those which may indirectly harm humans based on the theory that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.

Nevada’s conservatives are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to climate change. Both Rep. Dean Heller and Sen. John Ensign have opposed efforts to enforce carbon dioxide emissions limits, or require global warming considerations be part of federal project planning.

But Ensign has introduced legislation to broaden the use of renewable energy sources, and voted for creating tax incentives to support the sort of renewable energy projects that are breaking ground in Nevada. He’s also voted against subsidies for the oil and gas industries, which have no foothold in the state. Heller has taken the opposite position, voting in favor of oil and gas subsidies, and against tax incentives for renewable energy projects, although more recently he’s been speaking in favor of facilitating investment in those areas.

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