Retired Republicans Push GOP to Confront Climate Change

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When two major oil companies, Tesoro and Valero, bankrolled last year's campaign to overturn California's cap-and-trade law, Shultz said his response was, "We're not just going to beat these guys, we're going to beat the hell out of them. We conducted a vigorous campaign. It was a lot of fun."

A pair of former Republican congressmen also are getting into the act.

Retired New York Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a former chairman of the House Science Committee, now works with the Accord Group and lobbies his former colleagues in an effort to keep them from passing laws that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency.

Former South Carolina GOP Rep. Bob Inglis, who lost his primary race last year in part because of his acknowledgment of the problem of climate change, is now giving speeches and lectures across the country about the need for conservatives to acknowledge the problem of climate change and work on solutions. He warns that the Republican Party will be branded "anti-science" if it doesn't. He is bringing his message to conservative strongholds such as Federalist clubs and conferences of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"There are conservative voices that will hopefully show the way back to conservatism and away from a populist rejection of science," Inglis told National Journal.

A leading GOP strategist who advises congressional leadership on energy issues was dismissive of the former officeholders' efforts.

"If you're Bob Inglis and really believe that, the way that we work these things out is that you run for office," said Republican strategist Mike McKenna. "These retired guys, they say they think this, that, and the other. But if you really want to change it, you have to be on the inside. If you care about this stuff, you run for office. They have been unable to convince anybody that they're right. The working party thinks one thing; these retirees think another. If you want to make a difference, get off the porch and work with the rest of us."

But Paul Bledsoe, a senior advisor with the Bipartisan Policy Center, an influential think tank that works with many prominent retired former lawmakers and advises Congress on everything from energy to healthcare, disagreed, pointing out that Shultz's involvement in the California climate campaign helped lead to its victory.

"They have a significant impact. They are voices of experience and thought leaders, which is a uniquely powerful combination. There is schism in the GOP on this issue. The recent concern over the Republican Party being labeled 'anti-science' has brought it to a head," Bledsoe said. "Wise figures within the party realize that this has come about partly because of their inability to develop an effective policy approach to the issue. That is what the graybeards of a party do. They recognize a structural and philosophical problem in their party and try to work it through."

Image credit: Richard A. Bloom/National Journal

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Coral Davenport is an energy and environment correspondent for National Journal.

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