Hurricane Sandy May Force Pols to Discuss Climate Change

The issue has become a political loser for Democrats and Republicans alike, but Sandy may change things.

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While scientific research continues to indicate the frequency of megastorms and hurricanes like Sandy are on the rise as a result of climate change and global warming, politicians from both sides of the aisle have been loathe to discuss the issue in recent years. On the presidential campaign trail, it's been virtually ignored by both President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Global warming skeptics on the Republican side have pushed many candidates to disagree with the notion that climate change is occurring or that humans have contributed to it. Democrats, who tried and failed to pass so-called cap-and-trade legislation aimed at reducing the carbon emissions thought to cause global warming, have seen no electoral benefit in bringing up the issue, particularly in the face of the floundering economy.

[OPINION: Was Hurricane Sandy Caused by Global Warming?]

"I think pollsters and others are telling the candidates this is a tricky issue with the electorate," says Angela Ledford Anderson, director of the climate and energy program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "So there's a fear factor associated with talking about climate and it's bad because like all big, complex problems whoever is elected is going to need a real mandate to tackle this problem."

Anderson says politicians need to catch up with voters again, who are beginning to connect extreme weather events with climate change, according to recent polling.

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A parking lot full of yellow cabs is flooded as a result of superstorm Sandy in Hoboken, NJ.

[RELATED: Global Warming Linked to More Severe, Frequent Hurricanes]

While the initial reaction to Hurricane Sandy should focus on relief efforts, Anderson says it also provides a catalyst for discussing the effect she feels climate change is having.

"As the days and the weeks go by, it's very important that we take advantage of this moment to analyze the global warming influences that contributed to this storm and begin a national conversation about how we begin to reduce the causes of global warming," she says. "The reality of the new climate that we're in means that we need a series of policies at the national, state and local level to reduce emissions, to use energy more efficiently, to make better use of our renewable energy."

[JOIN US: The Superstorm Sandy U.S. News Live Blog]

Though none of the three presidential debates featured questions on the issue, both Obama and Romney have weighed in on the topic throughout the course of their campaigns.

During his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention this year, Obama said, "Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods are not a joke. They are a threat to our children's future."

Romney, attending a Consol Energy Center event last year, said, "We don't know what's causing climate change on this planet."

[POLL: Half of Republicans Believe in Global Warming]

Maura Cowley, executive director of Energy Action Coalition, says the resistance to talking about climate change by politicians is because they rely on campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry to fund their campaigns.

"Right now the fossil fuel companies run D.C. and the candidates are getting millions of dollars from oil and gas and coal," she says. "As long as that continues, there's going to be a real hesitancy to actually force the industry to change."

According to campaign finance reports analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has received about $2.2 million in contributions from those working in the energy and natural resources industry, compared to $8.6 million collected by Romney.

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  • Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.