Monday, September 19, 2016

Fossil Fuel Money to GOP Grows, and So Does Climate Divide

The stark partisan divide underscores how much is riding on the November election for U.S. and global climate policy.

By Marianne Lavelle, InsideClimate News
Lisa Song and Nicholas Kusnetz contributed to this report.
Sep 15, 2016

Political polarization on climate change has become so stark this election cycle that researchers say the gulf between Republicans and Democrats is wider than they have seen in more than 20 years of polling. The polarization has an equally startling financial corollary: an overwhelming 91 percent of fossil fuel industry campaign donations now flow to Republican candidates and 9 percent to Democrats.

As recently as 2000, when George W. Bush faced Al Gore for the presidency, the pot of fossil fuel spending was split almost evenly, with 60 percent going to Republicans, 40 percent to Democrats.

The deepening divide underscores how much of U.S. climate policy is riding on the November election. Donald Trump has promised to pull the country out of the Paris accord and Republican majorities in Congress are working to block environmental regulations. Hillary Clinton has vowed to support the global agreement to reduce carbon emissions and build on President Obama's climate initiatives.

An InsideClimate News analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that from the beginning of this election cycle in 2015 through the first six months of this year, fossil fuel industry political action committees and employees donated $37.2 million to Republicans running for federal office. In contrast, industry giving to Democrats totaled just $3.8 million.

The trend dovetails with new research that shows the partisan gap has increased in U.S. citizens' views on climate change science and the impacts of a warming planet. That research is published in the latest issue of the journal Environment.


Republicans became much better friends to those who oppose environmental action in Congress since 1970, according to Dunlap's analysis of the League of Conservation Voters' annual scorecards. On a scale where 100 signifies a "perfect" environmental voting record, the GOP average in the 1970s hovered between 30 and 40 percent, while the Democrats stayed mostly between 50 and 60 percent. Today, the GOP average has dropped to the single digits, while the Democrats' average is about 90 percent.


Dunlap said the increasing gap between the parties reflects that climate action opposition has become a "core identity issue" for Republicans, on a par with opposition to abortion or taxes. Anti-regulatory ideology may have made the party "fertile ground" for hardened opposition to climate action, he said.

But Dunlap said the GOP leadership helped encourage the divide, especially since 2008. For example, he said when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky), urged states last year to defy the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, it sent a signal that the party was aligned with opponents of the regulations, including the fossil fuel industry. Dunlap also said it sent an important cue to rank-and-file Republicans to put pressure on Republicans in Congress who might be inclined to favor action. That was the pressure that helped oust Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) in 2010, when he supported a price on carbon and saw his donations dry up and was unseated by a Tea Party challenger.

"They face both top-down and bottom-up pressure," said Dunlap.

Dunlap's research shows it will be difficult to reverse the trend. The partisan divide on climate change is just as wide regardless of education level—indicating that efforts to reach doubters through education and better communication of science may be fruitless. Dunlap said he believes only a fundamental shake-up in the GOP is likely to dislodge the deep-seated views. It's just one reason, he says, that this election—and what happens to the Republican party following it—may be crucial for the future of action on climate change.

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