A Natural Gap
Assistant Professor of Government and Environmental Studies
"I don't think the environment will be a huge issue in this presidential election partly because of the attention given to security issues, the Iraq war, terrorism, education reform. But on the other hand, things like climate change and energy policy are issues, particularly in states that are more aware of and more sensitive to those kinds of issues.
In the Northeast, the states themselves are much more proactive on climate policies. I expect in these states this will be more of an important question that the candidates have to address. Also, if Nader remains part of the race, then it could become even more important for Kerry to position himself on certain environmental issues.
On climate. George Bush has made his position very, very clear. He has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol; he has said that any action on that front is not in the interest of the U.S.
I think the two candidates have quite different positions on these issues; I don't think a lot of the voters understand the details of that. Kerry's position is likely to be framed more cautiously and to emphasize the opportunities in terms of efficiency, greater energy independence and less dependence on imported energy, and the creation of jobs as a result of a more proactive position on climate.
This may alienate some stakeholders in the process such as interests associated with coal, energy production, Midwestern states, but these are already aligned with the position of George W. Bush anyway so I don't think Kerry has anything to lose by alienating those kinds of constituencies. He has a lot to gain by projecting a more proactive position on energy issues, particularly in New England, New York, California.
The other environmental issue that I think may emerge,genetically modified organisms,will be much more difficult ground for Kerry to tread; pressure internationally, mostly from the European Union, makes it a very politically difficult issue. If you're a presidential candidate you wouldn't want to see yourself yielding to European pressure on GMOs, certainly not now.
And of course, air pollution standards. That has much better understood effects on health than, let's say, climate change. So it's a much easier issue for people to comprehend. There have been attempts to relax some of the standards on combustion sources by the current administration that would all play in the favor of the Democratic opponent of George W. Bush, if he wanted to use them. This issue is going to have less resonancy in Midwestern states that depend on coal and in the Northeast, New England and New York. There are a lot of industries that could be affected in different ways, and Congress is going to play a huge role.
The president is ultimately tied by the politics that is reflected in the voting on the Hill. For any climate treaty to be ratified by the U.S. it would have to have Congress on board. So a president wouldn't be able to do that singlehandedly, but a proactive position could make Congress more sympathetic to a reformed climate treaty or policies that could move the U.S. closer to a consistent climate policy.
Also the whole crisis in Iraq,I don't think people here see the linkage between energy, war and climate because that's not an easy linkage to make in the current climate. But there is a clear linkage, and the more people see the costs of interventions to secure energy resources, the more likely the support for energy efficiency in terms of policy and technological innovations. But again, somebody at a fairly high level will have to make that linkage explicit because it's not immediately clear.
These kinds of issues need to become more mainstream political issues rather than radical political issues in order for these kinds of politics to take hold."