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Christine Todd WhitmanOn Wednesday, four Republicans went to Congress to ask their party to set aside their politics and acknowledge climate change. All four had served as the head of the EPA under a Republican president.

The former cabinet members testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, convened to discuss the new EPA standards for reducing carbon emissions. Among them:

  • Christine Todd Whitman (EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, 2001-2003)
  • William K. Reilly (EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush, 1989-1992)
  • Lee M. Thomas (EPA Administrator under President Ronald Reagan, 1985-1989)
  • William D. Ruckelshaus (EPA Administrator under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, 1970-1973 and 1983-1985)

Whereas the Republican party is opposed to President Obama using his executive authority to mandate carbon reductions for existing power plants, and Whitman agreed that Congress was the “preferable vehicle by which to make things happen,” she nonetheless lauded the president for moving forward on the issue. The four former EPA chiefs then added that, despite Republican opposition, states are already factoring climate change into their future infrastructure plans.

“There are a lot of Republicans that do believe that the climate is changing and humans play a role in that,” said Whitman. “They just need some cover. And if they hear from the public that this is an issue of importance to them…you’re going to find more and more of them speaking out.”

Speaking to reporters after giving their testimony, Whitman and the others cited the recent NBC/WSJ poll that places 67 percent of Americans in favor of Obama’s EPA rule.

“When all of these environmental issues have been addressed successfully in the past, it’s where there’s strong public support for action,” said Ruckelshaus. “That [poll] is indicative of what seems to be a shift in public opinion on that, and if that turns into a demand for action, something will happen.”

During the testimony, Ruckelshaus distinguished between legitimate and illegitimate climate debate. “We believe there is legitimate scientific debate over the pace and effects of climate change,” he said, “but no legitimate debate over the facts of the earth’s warming or over man’s contribution.”

But sitting Republicans were not moved. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who has previously dismissed climate change evidence as “ridiculous pseudo-science garbage,” said the new EPA rules would not adversely affect the climate but would have “serious economic consequences for the country.” Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said the EPA was trying to “force Americans to live out the president’s green dream.” Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said carbon dioxide was “plant food. It’s not a pollutant in any normal definition.”

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