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Sandy Elevates Climate Change on Political Agenda

Global climate change is shaping up to be a front-burner legislative issue in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the Northeast coastline last week with such fury that it destroyed homes and buildings, and left millions in the dark (see related story).

In what was probably the most significant political development in the wake of the hurricane, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent and a longtime critic of President Obama, Thursday endorsed the president for a second term, citing his leadership on the issue of climate change. New York City sustained major flooding, while the New Jersey coastline was virtually destroyed.

"Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week's devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action," Bloomberg wrote in an op-ed piece on Bloomberg View.

Retiring Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), in what may be his swan song from Congress, last Wednesday said he plans to introduce climate change legislation when Congress returns after the elections. The bill would propose to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million from its current level of 394 parts per million. "Science has determined that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 before the industrial revolution was 275 parts per million," considerably below what it is now, Kucinich said.

"While we may already be past a tipping point, if we set a limit on concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, there is a chance we can soften the negative effects of global climate change," Kucinich said.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a strong advocate of attacking climate change, as well as Rep. Bobby L. Rush of Illinois, ranking member of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, sent a letter last Wednesday asking Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) to schedule a hearing on Sandy during the post-election lame duck session.

"For two years, the House of Representatives has pretended that climate change is not happening and that the consequences can be dismissed without concern. With the election behind us, we will have an opportunity to begin again and give this matter the attention it deserves," wrote Waxman and Rush.

Climate change was a major issue on Capitol Hill in 2009 and 2010. In June 2009, the House -- then controlled by Democrats -- voted out by a narrow margin legislation that sought to cap heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming (see NGI, June 29, 2009). The bill (HR 2454), authored by Waxman, had the potential to substantially change the direction of the energy industry from conventional oil and natural gas to renewable fuels. The measure never made it out of the Senate.

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