Editorial: Ayotte must keep pushing GOP on climate

Last modified: 5/16/2014 12:27:47 AM
Yesterday, it seemed like humans were characters in a dark comedy produced for the amusement of Zeus, the Greek god of the sky; Aeolus, god of the winds; Poseidon, creator of storms on the sea; Zeus Eudora, the goddess of heavy rain; and the Daemones, the sons of the monster Typhoeus set loose on command to create violent storm winds.

In Washington, a bipartisan energy conservation bill sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was filibustered to death by Republicans. The gods laughed, and the Daemones rattled their chains.

Only three Republicans voted to end debate, leaving the Senate five short of the 60 required for cloture. To her credit, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, whose own contribution to the bill would have encouraged commercial building tenants to voluntarily increase energy efficiency measures, voted to end debate. She was joined by Portman and Susan Collins of Maine, senators who recognized with their vote their obligation to leave coming generations a more, not less, livable planet.

Shaheen’s bill was backed by environmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, and business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If the filibuster had been broken, the bill would have passed.

Most Republicans refused, however, because their attempts to attach numerous, counterproductive amendments to the bill were thwarted. One would have expanded natural gas exports and another block the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions; another backed building the Keystone pipeline to bring sludgy oil from Canadian tar sands south to American refineries. All three measures would lead to the rapid burning of more fossil fuels and hasten climate change.

The Senate failure came on the same day that two teams of scientists independently reported that the rapid melting of the vast West Antarctic ice sheet has accelerated and reached the point of no return.

Sea levels would rise higher and faster than scientists estimated just a few months ago, perhaps 4 feet by the end of this century and a dozen feet or more over coming centuries. Rising sea levels could make scores of coastal cities uninhabitable. Among them, a report done for Congress earlier this month said, is Portsmouth.

That report almost confirmed what a lot of soggy people already knew. When oceans warm, more water evaporates to fall as rain or snow. It rains harder than it used to, harder than the ground can absorb, in volumes culverts and sewer systems weren’t designed to handle and levees hold back. In the ancient Greek heavens, Zeus Eudora swelled with her awesome new power to create flash floods, landslides and torrential rains.

Had Shaheen’s bill passed, the nation would have taken another small step toward escaping a potentially frightening climate future. It would also have given her a major win and more of a national prominence as she heads into an election season where her mostly likely opponent is former Massachusetts Republican senator Scott Brown, a climate change skeptic who voted to curb the EPA’s power to regulate carbon emissions.

That meant that Ayotte, with her vote for cloture, broke with her party to do what scientists say we must if climate change is to be slowed – increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We applaud Ayotte for her vote and urge her to continue to help move her party away from an anti-science stance that began in the Reagan era. Climate change is real, and so is the need to mitigate it, not hasten it by burning the oil locked up in Canada’s tar sands.

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