Things may be getting a little weird in what’s traditionally been a cozy long-term relationship. A Republican state representative in North Dakota last week ripped electric company executives for being too liberal on climate action:

State Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said the companies have a responsibility to “tell the truth” about global warming.

“What I hear you saying is that, ‘It’s going to be a reality and we’re just going to play the game as best we can,'” Kasper told company officials Wednesday, at a conference sponsored by the Utility Shareholders of North Dakota. “For you to throw in the towel now, is really disheartening to hear.”

The issue was raised by Bill Brier, a vice president at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C. He said all three presidential candidates favor some sort of requirements dealing with climate change.

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“We can argue the science, which we did for years,” Brier said. “Now we are saying, ‘It’s going to happen. We want to be at the table.'”

What’s going on here? Aren’t Republicans and energy executives like peas and carrots? Is this just a lovers’ quarrel or a sign of a more serious problem?

Just like some corporations in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership are splitting from a traditional ally in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over climate action in Congress, it sounds like State Rep. Kasper and his utility allies are growing apart on this issue.

Why? It’s easy for legislators to demagogue climate change. As long as their constituents are listening to the climate lies of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, in the short term, it may even help get them re-elected.

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But energy companies can’t play politics forever. If they put ideals ahead of the bottom line, their shareholders won’t tolerate it for long. Carbon pricing will level the playing field for clean energy, and if utilities don’t prepare now, they could be left unprepared. Andrea Stromberg, a vice president for Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., put it bluntly: “The reality is, I’ve got to get [power] generation built.”

As the interests of global warming deniers and electric companies start to diverge on climate action, it could be a bitter divorce.

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