Climate

These House Representatives Just Did Something Amazing On Climate

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/THINK PROGRESS

A bipartisan caucus in the U.S House of Representatives — on climate change?

Yes, this is really happening.

Two congressmen — Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) and Rep. Theodore Deutch (D), both of Florida, filed paperwork this week to create the Climate Solutions Caucus.

The group plans to look at options to address climate change and will serve “to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply, and public safety,” according to the petition filed with the Committee on House Administration, which oversees caucuses — formal groups of legislators who meet regularly to advance specific legislative agendas.

“This is music to our ears,” Steve Valk, a spokesperson for Citizen’s Climate Lobby, told ThinkProgress. “This is what we’ve kind of been waiting for.”

Over the past two decades, climate change has moved from being a bipartisan concern to a hotly-contested, highly-politicized issue in Washington. None of the current Republican presidential candidates accept — or admit that they accept — mainstream climate science. The chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is perhaps best known for using the existence of a snowball to doubt the existence of climate change.

This political climate — no pun intended — can be incredibly difficult for Republican representatives who are worried about their districts being washed away by the rising oceans or any of the other scary scenarios rising global temperatures portend.

Last fall, though, 11 House Republicans signed on to a resolution calling for action on climate, signaling a potential breakthrough in the majority’s lockstep position.

The move certainly got attention — much of it positive. And that was critical to moving the issue forward, Valk said.

“We have to create the space that makes it safe for Republicans to step up and lead on this issue,” he said. Volunteers from his group wrote letters to the editor and op-eds to help create that space.

It is a different world for Democrats and Republicans. In fact, there already is a Safe Climate Caucus in the House — but all 60 members are from just one side of the aisle. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) chairs that caucus, and he said he welcomed the addition of a bipartisan group to tackle climate change.

“Although the issue of climate change is still deeply divisive in Congress, I think there are some areas where we can make bipartisan progress,” Lowenthal told ThinkProgress via email. He specifically referenced clean energy, energy efficiency, and resiliency as areas that have broader appeal.

It should come as no surprise that Lowenthal’s colleagues who started the bipartisan effort are from Florida. Despite the state’s restrictive laws on solar energy and pro-fracking initiatives, residents there are well-positioned to see the dire impacts of climate change. Sea-level rise, storm surges, and increasingly violent hurricanes are already impacting the state — and could spell doom for low-lying South Florida, which a quarter of Florida’s population calls home.

Environmentalists working in Washington welcomed the new House caucus.

“We’re encouraged by the formation of a Climate Solutions Caucus, and we’re eager to work with them on real solutions,” David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Think Progress. “It is not surprising that the founding members are from Florida — ground zero for the devastating effects of climate change. The coasts of Florida are undergoing frequent flooding that is related to sea level rise.”

But there are still questions about what, exactly, the caucus will address. There is a lot of room for Congress to advance climate legislation. Generally speaking, there seems to be more of an appetite for addressing climate change risks than addressing climate change causes. And there is even more room for action if no one actually says “climate change,” Washington insiders say.

Take Rep. Matt Cartwright’s (D-PA) bipartisan PREPARE Act, targeting federal preparedness for extreme weather. There is no mention of climate change in the bill. Instead, it looks at “the risks associated with extreme weather incidents.” The bill didn’t get to the House floor in the last session, but at least it’s something.

Then, in December, Congress authorized a new flood standard as part of the budget bill. It was the only climate-related legislation that passed last year, InsideClimate reported, but it could prove critical, as more and more of the country experiences flooding driven by climate change.

On the other hand, cap-and-trade legislation notoriously died in Congress in 2010. That led to the Clean Power Plan, an executive branch attempt to curb emissions, which was finalized in August. Congressmembers in both chambers passed a resolution to get rid of it.

Doniger pointed out that Curbelo voted in favor of that resolution, which was eventually vetoed by President Obama.

“We hope the caucus gets behind real climate solutions like the Clean Power Plan and doesn’t just become a vehicle for lip service,” Doniger said.

Rep. Lowenthal took it a step further. “At the end of the day, we aren’t going to get the emissions reductions needed to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius with what we’re currently doing,” he said. “We need to also have the conversations about what an economy-wide price on carbon that has bipartisan support could be.”