Environmental groups and clean energy activists are taking names and planning action against the Republicans who voted for a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax code that includes provisions to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling and continues massive subsidies for fossil fuel production.
Members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus — a group formed in early 2016 to bring Republicans and Democrats together to advance meaningful climate change legislation — who voted for the tax bill are expected to attract the ire of groups that have been fighting for decades to protect ANWR and taking steps to prevent the onset of catastrophic climate change.
The vast majority of the Republican climate caucus members joined their fellow GOP lawmakers to vote for a tax bill that, as League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski explained Wednesday, “will turn one of our last remaining wild places into an industrial oilfield.”
The House on Wednesday gave its final approval to the Republican plan in a 224-to-201 vote, clearing the tax bill’s final hurdle in Congress and sending it to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
The House Climate Solutions Caucus currently has 62 members, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. Out of the 31 Republican members, 24 voted for the Republican tax bill. All 31 Democratic members of the caucus voted against it. Even one of the co-founders of the caucus, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), gave his blessing to the tax bill.
“Caucus Chair Carlos Curbelo has talked a good game about wanting to protect his Miami constituents from rising seas, but with today’s vote he’s proven he cares more about his campaign contributors’ rising profits,” Climate Hawks Vote, a grassroots-funded group that supports candidates and elected officials whom it identifies as making climate change a top priority, said Tuesday in a news release.
R.L. Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, sees no reason to continue supporting Republican members of the caucus who vote for bills that will harm the environment and exacerbate climate change. “We’ve been concerned that the Republican members of the Climate Solutions Caucus are less climate hawks than climate peacocks, posing and strutting with false concern to protect them from constituent anger,” Miller said in a statement Tuesday.
The only Republican caucus members who voted against the tax bill are from California, New Jersey, and New York: Reps. Darrell Issa (CA), Leonard Lance (NJ), Lee Zeldin (NY), Peter King (NY), John Faso (NY), and Elise Stefanik (NY).
On November 30, nine Republican members of the caucus and three other GOP lawmakers sent a letter to Republican leaders in the House and the Senate asking them to protect ANWR. However, five of the Republican caucus members who signed the letter — Curbelo along with Reps. Dave Reichert (WA), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Ryan Costello (PA), and Patrick Meehan (PA) — voted for the House tax bill.
“The Republicans on the Climate Solutions Caucus have given climate-conscious voters an inch, and now environmental groups are trying to take a mile,” Citizens’ Climate Lobby spokesperson Flannery Winchester said in statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “Some groups are demanding that these Republicans buck party leadership on issues other than climate change, which simply isn’t fair to ask of them.”
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which helped initiate the caucus, is pushing for Congress to pass legislation that creates a market-based, carbon fee-and-dividend system that would place a steadily rising price on carbon.
The Democratic co-chairman of the caucus, Rep. Ted Deutch (FL), voted against the tax bill and is hoping that his Republican colleagues on the caucus can find the courage to do the right thing on future legislation that ultimately will make climate change even worse. “It’s one thing for members to say they joined a caucus. It shows a real commitment to the issue when they start to sign on to climate change legislation. That’s going to be the real push going forward,” Deutch said in an interview with ThinkProgress prior to the House vote on the tax bill.
After Tuesday’s vote, Deutch issued a statement accusing House Republicans of bending the tax code “in favor of lobbyists, donors, and corporate executives.”
Along with opening a portion of ANWR to drilling, the tax bill retained deductions of so-called intangible drilling costs and preserves a measure that lets oil and gas producers reduce taxable income to reflect the depreciation of reserves. The intangible drilling provision is viewed as “the Holy Grail” of exploration and production tax breaks because it allows companies to deduct most of the costs of drilling new wells in the United States.
In response to Tuesday’s House vote on the tax bill, Climate Hawks Vote called on the Climate Solution Caucus to disband because it views the caucus as a way to give political cover to Republicans who don’t really believe in fighting climate change. According to the group, Democratic members of the caucus are providing political cover for Republicans who consistently vote against climate action.
Climate Hawks Vote said it plans to endorse climate-friendly Democrats and other candidates that run against Republican members on the caucus who do not show support for climate legislation and initiatives. The group said it has already endorsed Kara Eastman, a Democrat who is running against Republican caucus member Don Bacon (NE). According to Climate Hawks Vote, Bacon, even prior to his vote for the tax bill, voted against disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey survivors and voted for “corporate welfare for the polluters fueling these climate disasters.”
It's time for the Climate Solutions Caucus to vet its members — or disband, after today's shameful vote for Arctic drilling and Exxon giveaways. Our statement https://t.co/eG9BjWbln7 pic.twitter.com/UTJsTVsz2O
— Climate Hawks Vote (@ClimateHawkVote) December 20, 2017
The purpose of the Climate Solutions Caucus was called into question as soon as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) joined, according to Janet Redman, policy director at Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization focused on calculating the costs of fossil fuels. In February, Gaetz introduced a bill that would “terminate” the Environmental Protection on December 31, 2018.
“No lawmaker who is serious about acting on solutions to avert a climate crisis would stay in a club that let him in,” Redman said in an email to ThinkProgress. “The fact that 24 of its members voted for a bill that opens the Arctic Refuge to drilling and transfers billions of dollars of wealth from American families to fossil fuel corporations only confirms that membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus is merely green cover for Republicans afraid of being tossed out of office in 2018.”
Winchester countered that membership in the caucus is simply the “first rung” up a ladder of leadership on climate change. “Our focus should be on supporting them to grab the next rung on that ladder. That support needs to come from their constituents, and that’s exactly what our volunteers are providing all across the country,” she said.
Calling for the caucus to disband “does a disservice to our democracy and is counterproductive to the ultimate goal of effective, lasting climate legislation,” Winchester added.
Deutch remains optimistic about the ability of the caucus to expand its influence in the coming years, even if the caucus fails to vote as a block on issues that impact the climate. “There are Republican members of Congress who go home to their districts and find constituents who cannot believe that President Trump announced that he is pulling us out of the Paris agreement, making our country the only country in the world refusing to participate in this historic and vitally important effort,” he said.
Looking back on 2017, the caucus was able to assert its influence on certain issues. When a Republican House member introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have struck references to climate change, the Climate Solutions Caucus “came together and all but one member voted against that amendment,” Deutch said. President Trump ended up signing the nearly $700 billion annual defense policy bill last week, even though it contained the climate change language.
“That’s an example of the kind of things we can do to affect the outcome of legislation. But there’s a whole lot more we need to do,” Deutch said. “Over the coming year, as we head into an election season, my hope is that we’ll be able to start to identify pieces of legislation so that we can show a real bipartisan effort to affecting change.”
Ultimately, though, Deutch said the caucus wants to do more than “just sit around and talk.”
“Joining the Climate Solutions Caucus is important, but actually working on legislation, co-sponsoring legislation, and voting like the world depends upon on it is what’s really necessary,” he said. “We’re well past the time where anybody think it’s funny or acceptable for a senator to bring a snowball onto the Senate floor to try to debunk climate change.”
This article was updated at 4:30 p.m. ET on December 20, 2017, to include comments from a spokesperson for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.