Climate activists aren’t the only ones waiting for members of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus to propose meaningful climate change legislation. A senator, who has become a prominent climate action advocate, is taking the caucus to task for failing to bring Democrats and Republicans together to craft significant climate legislation.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), speaking Wednesday at a renewable energy policy forum sponsored by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) in Washington, referred to the House Climate Solutions Caucus as the “do-nothing caucus” for its inability to propose any form of climate legislation. Whitehouse’s comments mark one of the few times that a member of Congress has criticized the caucus.
“I do think that it is important on all of us that we not grade the House so-called climate caucus on too much of curve. At some point, they really need to do something,” Whitehouse said in response to a question from a member of the audience about the caucus. “Resolutions are nice, but this is an actual, physical problem in the chemistry and atmospheric science of our planet. And resolutions don’t affect any of that.”
Whitehouse and fellow Democrat, Sen. Brian Schatz (HI), for example, have been promoting their American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act as a proposal Republicans should be able to get behind due to its simplicity and the fact that the revenues would go back to taxpayers. The proposal would set a $49 per ton fee, increasing annually, on carbon dioxide emissions, charged at the point of a fossil fuel’s extraction or importation.
“At some point, we need to make sure these people don’t get to dine out on being just members of a do-nothing caucus that has the right nameplate on it,” Whitehouse said Wednesday. “There’s actually got to be a product.”
The Climate Solutions Caucus was formed after a volunteer with the advocacy group Citizens’ Climate Lobby approached Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) about establishing a bipartisan group to develop climate solutions. Deutch eventually teamed up with Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) to co-found the caucus. Since the start of 2017, the caucus has gone through a big growth spurt, growing from 12 members in January 2017 to 70 members today.
Bucking party orthodoxy, Republican members of the caucus have introduced a resolution that supports the need for taking action to address climate change. But the resolution is not legislation — it is a House resolution that doesn’t become law and will not mandate the implementation of measures that could result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
R.L. Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a grassroots-funded group that supports candidates and elected officials it identifies as making climate change a top priority, said Whitehouse “nailed the problem at the core” of the House Climate Solutions Caucus.
“Carlos Curbelo seems to have been too busy promoting the tax scam/drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to write a bill that actually reduces global warming,” Miller said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “He’s created a meaningless caucus being used as political cover by vulnerable Republicans like Mimi Walters and Scott Taylor. If he truly wants to stand for solutions, he’ll listen to us and terminate the caucus.”
Rep. Walters (R-CA), who joined the caucus last fall, has a League of Conservation Voters scorecard of only 5 percent. She is considered one of the most vulnerable House Republicans up for reelection this fall as is Rep. Taylor (R-VA), who also joined the caucus in 2017.
As part of the caucus’s accomplishments, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who assumed a leadership role on the caucus in 2017, authored a Republican Climate Change Resolution that acknowledged the negative impacts of climate change “that are expected to worsen in every region of the United States” and called upon the House to work on solutions for mitigation and adaptation efforts. The resolution was introduced into the House of Representatives by Stefanik, along with 16 other Republican members of the caucus.
The caucus’ most significant accomplishment occurred last July when 46 House Republicans, including almost all of the GOP members of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, joined Democrats to defeat a bill amendment that would have prevented the Department of Defense from analyzing and addressing climate change.
As part of its evolution, Curbelo has spoken of the Climate Solutions Caucus having three phases: awareness and growth, blocking bad climate legislation, and then introducing climate legislation of their own. “It seems the caucus is starting to enter that third phase,” Citizens’ Climate Lobby spokesperson Flannery Winchester told ThinkProgress.
Last month, Climate Solutions Caucus members Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Rep. John Faso (R-NY) introduced the bipartisan Challenges and Prizes for Climate Act of 2018, with four additional caucus colleagues.
“We applaud Sen. Whitehouse for all that he has done to raise the profile of the climate change issue in the Senate and to move climate legislation forward. We were particularly impressed by the introduction of the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act last year, along with Sen. Brian Schatz, which they promoted at the American Enterprise Institute to build conservative support,” Winchester said. “It’s clear he understands bipartisan support is the best way forward for meaningful climate legislation.”