Motivated by the scientific consensus that their region of Florida will be hardest hit by rising sea levels and flooding as a result of climate change, two south-Florida Congressmen, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch created the Climate Solutions Caucus hoping to build bipartisan support for climate legislation and explore options that will address a changing climate.
The pair’s belief that other members would willingly cross the aisle to solve the climate problem was correct; since its inception in February 2016, the Climate Solutions Caucus group in the US House of Representatives has grown, now boasting 90 members; membership an even split from both parties and all setting aside political differences with the aim to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.
“The caucus will serve as an organization 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.”
While this caucus provides some hope that bipartisanship is possible despite media headlines, and that the US is finally move forward on the issue of climate change, there are plenty of skeptics.
Recently, when Caucus members voted against a carbon tax (a Climate Solutions Caucus voting against a climate solution? what?), RL Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, said: “The caucus is a joke, or it would be were climate change not so serious.
“The requirements for admissions to the caucus seem to be that you need to be politically vulnerable, you have to have a pulse, and you have to be arguably human.”
In a piece for Grist, journalist Natasha Geiling points out that the group has welcomed former climate deniers and would-be-EPA abolishers and that “of the 45 Republicans who have joined the caucus, more than half are either vacating their seats or fighting in tight re-election races” suggesting that caucus membership is being used as a shield by vulnerable candidates.
One example is Republican Barbara Comstock who’s fighting a tough re-election race in Virginia against Democratic state senator Jennifer Wexton. According to Geiling, before joining the caucus, Comstock’s name was rarely discussed alongside environmental policies but since becoming a member, Comstock has appeared in an ad for the Natural Resources Defense Council even though she still consistently votes to undermine environmental policies.
So has the Climate Solutions Caucus achieved anything since its formation?
According to Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the caucus has made “great strides toward depoliticizing the issue of climate change” allowing members from both sides of the aisle to engage in climate conversations and find a way forward.
Some of the group’s key achievements include:
- Introducing the Climate Solutions Commission Act
In May 2017, caucus members introduced the Climate Solutions Commission Act. The legislation establishes a bipartisan commission of 10 members – five members appointed from both parties – to undertake a comprehensive review of “economically viable public and private actions or policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” and make recommendations to the President, Congress and the states.
- Voting against an anti-climate amendment
Considered its best achievement to date, in July 2017, all 48 caucus members voted against an anti-climate amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act – and were able to defeat it.
“This is a definitive moment for the caucus,” said Jay Butera, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Senior Congressional Liaison. “This caucus with 48 members has become a significant voting bloc and a real force in Congress on climate change… There’s safety in numbers. We’re starting to see a ripple effect of this growing group of Republicans making it easier and easier for other Republicans to vote the right way on the climate issue.”
- Signing a letter to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
A total of 12 House Republicans (eight of them Climate Solutions Caucus members) signed a letter to congressional leadership opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“One of the most pristine areas left in America today, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to musk oxen, wolves imperiled polar bears, and nearly 200 species of migratory birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states,” they wrote. “Any development footprint in the refuge stands to disrupt this fragile, critically important landscape.”
- Opposing President Trump’s offshore oil and gas drilling plans
In January 2018, after the release of the government’s Draft Proposed Program (DPP) for drilling in the Pacific and Atlantic regions, the Gulf of Mexico, and off the coast of Alaska, a total of 20 members including seven House Republicans from the Climate Solutions Caucus publicly opposed the plan.
Caucus member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) tweeted:
Signed @SenBillNelson letter to @SecretaryZinke @Interior opposing any opening of #Florida to offshore drilling in order to prevent a disaster similar to the #DeepwaterHorizon spill. I hope many more #Florida members join!
— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) January 4, 2018
It wasn’t just Caucus Republicans opposing the plans, there were, of course, plenty of Caucus Democrats airing disapproval. Co-chair Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) shared his concerns on Twitter:
With thousands of miles of coastline, Floridians have a lot to lose in this terrible decision. The Deepwater Horizon spill significantly hampered Florida’s tourism economy. We can’t risk another disaster like that. https://t.co/iqEHm3GIfg
— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) January 4, 2018
As it stands, the government’s proposal to proceed with offshore drilling is still on the cards and hasn’t been pulled from the table despite opposition from House members and criticism from the wider public.
- Introducing a carbon cap and dividend bill into the House
In late January 2018, Caucus Democrat Rep. Don Beyer introduced a carbon cap and dividend bill into the House, called the “Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2018.”
At a press conference, Sen. Van Hollen said, “This legislation puts a price on carbon pollution and returns the proceeds directly to the American people at the same time it accelerates the growth of good-paying jobs in clean technologies. It is a win-win-win, boosting middle-class pocketbooks, growing good-paying jobs, and reducing our carbon footprint.”
Similar bills were introduced in 2014 and 2015 but did not make it pass the committee. The Healthy Climate and Family Security Act doesn’t have any Republican co-sponsors as yet -not even from the caucus- and without bipartisan support for the bill, it will likely face the same fate.
Where to from here?
Climate progress has been slow with no real climate policies passed let alone enacted. While the caucus was launched with noble intentions, it’s quickly becoming a farce.
To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as urged by UN’s IPCC Report, the country cannot put all their hopes on this group. It must vote for a pro-environment Congress in November’s midterm elections and in 2020 replace Trump with a pro-environment President if it stands any real chance of fighting climate change.
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