THE BLOG
01/16/2015 09:46 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2015

Lawmakers Who Back Big Polluters Risk Losing GOP Voters

Energy prices may be plummeting, but oil, gas, and coal companies are seeing a dramatic return on investment in one sector: the US Congress. The fossil fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections. And now the GOP majority has vowed to make life easier for polluters by gutting long-standing protections for clean air and water and blocking measures the fight climate change.

Last week, for instance, House Republicans voted to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Representatives who supported the Keystone XL bill received over 8.5 times more oil and gas money in 2014 than those who voted against it. Now the action moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raked in $608,000 from oil, gas, and coal companies in 2014.

These fossil-fuel favors may please donors, but new research shows that lawmakers risk painting themselves into a corner with Republican voters.

Because in order for GOP leadership to carry out the Big Polluter Agenda, they have to ignore the giant elephant in the room: climate change.

To push for Keystone XL, they have to discount the fact that tar sands oil generates 17 percent more climate change pollution than conventional crude. To block the Environmental Protection Agency's from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, they have to pretend that unchecked emissions won't make America's families, farms, coastal cities and local communities more vulnerable to extreme weather.

In other words, they have to reject the facts.

Many Republican lawmakers are comfortable with this arrangement. The Senate alone is now home to 38 climate deniers who received $28,152,466 from fossil fuel companies over the course of their careers, according to Climate Progress.

But Republican voters who notice the costly increase in drought, floods, and fires are starting to question the wisdom of denial.

New comprehensive analysis from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reveals a growing divide within the Republican Party over climate change.

Overall, 56 percent of GOP voters say they favor government action to reduce climate change pollution. A full 62 percent of moderate Republicans said climate change is a real and present threat, while 38 percent of conservative Republicans and only 29 percent of Tea Party Republicans recognize the reality of climate change.

GOP candidates would be wise to ponder these numbers. They may be able to win primaries by appealing to the most conservative base. They may even carry a few Congressional races by playing to the skeptics. But they cannot win the White House in 2016 by denying climate change.

Climate change has become an inescapable issue on the campaign trail. It emerged in every 2014 Senate race, with journalists, debate moderators, and voters demanding to know where candidates stood. The same will happen in the presidential election. And in a year where the geopolitical map favors Democrats, a GOP candidate can't afford to alienate Republican moderates who understand the steep cost of extreme weather and unchecked pollution.

By pushing the Big Polluter Agenda, GOP lawmakers risk collecting the cash but losing the people--including a chunk of their own voters.