Democrat Bob Kerrey, who once argued that lawmakers had a “moral” duty to support an anti-pollution proposal known as cap and trade, says he's had a change of heart.
Kerrey says he came to realize over the past several months — after talking with Nebraska businesses and reading about Europe's troubled cap-and-trade program — that the controversial plan to limit carbon emissions was “not the answer.”
But, he says, he still believes climate change is real. And, unlike Republican Deb Fischer, he's convinced that it's man-made and that something needs to be done.
“I don't have the answer,” Kerrey said Friday. “(But) I've found over the course of my life, some of my most productive work begins right after I discover something I believed was wrong.”
Kerrey is running against Fischer for the Senate.
Fischer, who has repeatedly criticized Kerrey for supporting cap and trade, said she was “surprised” to learn he did not support the legislation. But, she also said she would not criticize Kerrey for changing his mind during a campaign.
“I take him at his word. I'm not going to question his word on that. I would just say, I've always been opposed to cap and trade. I've always understood the consequences and that it would be a tax on Americans,” she said.
Kerrey's past support for cap and trade has been an issue in his campaign from the start, with a super PAC founded by Karl Rove hammering him for supporting the measure backed by President Barack Obama. Fischer also repeatedly criticized Kerrey on the campaign trail, arguing it was a key issue that separated the two and underscored their different philosophies.
However, recently, Kerrey appeared to distance himself from the program. In his last debate, during a discussion on global warming, Kerrey said: “Let's stipulate that we won't do cap and trade.”
When asked to clarify his position Friday, Kerrey said he began to question the program's value over the last several months, after talking to Nebraska businesses and public utilities, including Tenaska Energy and the Nebraska Public Power District.
He also said he had read reports that a version of cap and trade in Europe has led to charges of corruption and fraud.
Kerrey said he came to realize that “cap and trade is not going to work.”
Cap and trade is a plan to reduce carbon pollution by imposing an emission cap, while allowing businesses and others to trade pollution credits on the open market. The plan has Republican roots. Former President George H.W. Bush once backed a cap-and-trade program to reduce acid rain.
However, it has become extraordinarily controversial, with Republicans and some key Democrats blocking Obama's cap-and-trade bid.
The measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
Kerrey's support for cap and trade extends back to at least 2009, when he served on the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization that was a key backer of the Obama legislation.
During a speech in 2009, Kerrey said he had been asked by the group to lobby U.S. senators on behalf of cap-and-trade legislation. He argued that if lawmakers believed greenhouse gases were causing climate change, then they had a “moral” obligation to support the bill.
“When I talk to members of the Senate, that's what I say. If you vote in the negative, you will likewise, the older you get, you will look back on that negative vote and you will be ashamed of that vote,” he said in a speech at The New School, where he served as president.
Kerrey said Friday that he never lobbied on behalf of the bill. He said he had been asked by the Natural Resources Defense Council to try to persuade about 10 lawmakers in the Senate to support the bill, but he never made those calls.
Contact the writer: