The extent to which a green platform could hurt a candidate is still difficult gauge, however, and few major publication besides the Post have even broached the possibility. The next logical step for reporters hunting for more concrete answers would be to leave aside the campaigns and engage the public. We know there is a large part of society that does not think the cost of reversing global warming is worth it, but are more or fewer voters beginning to think this way? The Post article doesn’t say, but it’s worth asking, especially in the context of various election scenarios-Clinton/Giuliani, Edwards/McCain, etc.-for which there is ample polling data.


Another way for journalists to assess the relative strength or weakness of pro-environment agendas is to look at the current politics on Capitol Hill. The Senate recently introduced the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions around 60 percent below current levels by 2050. No doubt, this is a significant step for Congress, but few publications have analyzed the import of this legislation in terms of the presidential campaign. This is too bad, because there is something to be learned from the accompanying debate. Among news outlets and politicians alike, there is a difficult-to-decipher brew of enthusiasm, grudging support, and opposition.


A lot of newspapers covered the climate bill by way of an editorial stance. Like many environmental groups, they have given it cautious support, often arguing that it could be bolder, but also calling it a good start. Indeed, the Senate defeated a number of amendments to make the legislation stronger before sending it to committee. In the end, the Great Falls Tribune in Montana, a politically androgynous-enough state, calls the Climate Security Act “a reasonable compromise,” and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that it “could probably use some tweaking,” but “deserves to become law.” The Gazette in Colorado Springs, however, worries that legislation “would negatively affect a large part of the economy.” The Washington Post supports the bill, but would prefer a carbon tax to a cap-and-trade system.


Among the candidates, Chris Dodd would agree that a carbon tax is better. On the other hand, John Edwards (as well as his supporters at Friends of the Earth, an environmental group) has rejected the Climate Security Act despite his support for cap-and-trade. He released a little-noticed statement on his campaign Web site stating, “The critical question is simple: are we going to do everything climate science says is needed to save our planet? The Lieberman-Warner bill says no.” Most of the other candidates haven’t really weighed in on the legislation, according to E&E News, an environmental wire service that was perhaps the only outlet that devoted an article to asking for the candidates’ positions on the bill. Hillary Clinton drew a fair number of headlines this week when she reiterated her energy and environment platform at a campaign stop in Iowa, a major ethanol producer. Again, however, few except E&E News thought to point out that Clinton sits on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, which will debate the Lieberman-Warner bill this week. Clinton is still silent on how she will vote. Regardless, however, the Climate Security Act will face many challenges on its way to the Senate floor, if it makes it at all.


The press should use this legislation to engage the question of whether or not the various anti-warming agendas could hinder presidential aspirations. The bill, and the uncertainty surrounding its future, is a good gauge of the extent to which candidates feel they need to compromise, keep to a more ambitious environmental course, or simply stay quiet until a better understanding of public attitude emerges.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.