The environment just got a boost from an unlikely source: Senate Republicans.
Four senators — Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — formed a Senate Energy and Environment Working Group this week that, according to Ayotte’s office, will “focus on ways we can protect our environment and climate while also bolstering clean energy innovation that helps drive job creation.” The group will meet semi-regularly to discuss environmental issues and talk about potential legislative ways to address them.
“The Energy and Environment Working Group will be a way for us to bring people together and start an ongoing conversation about these topics — like how we can best protect our environment and climate, pursue common sense and market-based reforms to grow our economy, and promote cleaner energy production,” Ayotte said in a statement.
The news of the group’s formation comes just a few days after Ayotte came out in support of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce emissions from power plants. Ayotte has acknowledged before that climate change is real — earlier this year, she voted for an amendment that stated that climate change was real and that human activity “significantly contributes” to it (her working group partners Alexander, Kirk, and Graham also voted in favor of that amendment). Ayotte’s environmental record hasn’t always been stellar, but in New Hampshire, which voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Ayotte’s more recent support of the administration’s environmental policies could help her get reelected.
Graham, for his part, is an unsurprising pick for this working group. Graham, who’s running for president, has been one of the few Republican candidates to openly talk about climate change, and has challenged his fellow Republicans on their denial of climate science.
“I’m not a scientist, and I’ve got the grades to prove it. But I’ve talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90 percent of them are telling me that the greenhouse gas effect is real. That we’re heating up the planet,” Graham said during the last debate.
Still — like Ayotte — Graham, Kirk, and Alexander all have very low scores from the League of Conservation Voters, meaning they haven’t used their time in Congress to vote with the environment in mind. Kirk, at 59 percent, has a higher lifetime score from the LCV than the rest of the group, and his office has told ThinkProgress that the senator thinks “climate change is real and human beings definitely play a role” — though he’s been less clear about this position in the past. Alexander has said as far back as 2009 that he thinks climate change is a human-caused problem, but he’s voted in favor of a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and in favor of a bill that would have prevented Congress from putting a price on carbon.
Still, Republican action around climate change has been heating up in recent months. In September, 11 House Republicans signed on to a resolution calling for action on climate change. And in June, conservative entrepreneur Jay Faison announced he’d be spending $175 million to persuade Republicans to talk about climate change and clean energy.