Republicans and Democrats had a good "first date" yesterday during the inaugural meeting of a new bipartisan caucus on climate change, said one of Congress’ top proponents of action against global warming.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), who is both a member of the new bipartisan group and chairman of the all-Democrat Congressional Safe Climate Caucus, said after the meeting that he was optimistic that members from both parties could eventually sign on to a climate policy. But he said it was still too early to tell exactly what that policy might look like.
"We’re in the getting to know each other [phase] and dating," Lowenthal said. "No one is making any kind of commitment at this moment."
Seven members of the new bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, including Lowenthal, met yesterday morning to discuss the issue. The group also picked the brains of a representative from Statoil ASA, which supports a carbon pricing system, and New Zealand’s minister for climate change issues.
Driven by rising sea levels in their home state of Florida, Reps. Ted Deutch (D) and Carlos Curbelo (R) formed the new climate group in February to explore solutions to climate change. A total of 10 House members — five Democrats and five Republicans — have joined (E&E Daily, April 19).
Yesterday’s meeting represented a chance for caucus members to lay out their initial positions and possible solutions. Democrats and Republicans discussed the relative pros and cons of market-based approaches (Greenwire, April 20).
Lowenthal, who sat down with E&E Daily in the Capitol yesterday before giving a floor speech related to Earth Day, said he thought the discussion was "very positive" and the tone "very nice."
"It was an honest discussion," he said. "It was the first time we’ve actually sat down, and all we’re beginning to do is to begin to lay out what are the alternatives. No decisions. Obviously those who are going to support more market-based approaches are going to speak out for those, those who want more regulatory are going to speak out for those."
Lowenthal said he believed having a representative from an international oil and gas company at the meeting made Republicans feel more comfortable about talking about such a divisive issue as climate change.
He added that there would "absolutely" be opportunities down the road for the new bipartisan group to work closely with his own all-Democratic caucus.
But at this point, he said 60 Democrats in the Safe Climate Caucus could overwhelm the few Republicans who have publicly come out in favor of climate change action.
Lowenthal said that he previously asked Curbelo and other GOP members to join his own caucus, but Republicans were hesitant to be the first of their party to join.
"Republicans are just feeling that wow, they have the freedom to at least begin these discussions," Lowenthal said. "We in the Democrats want to go full forward, but we’re going to — we’re just glad to develop this relationship."
He added: "I think there will be a second date."
While members of the caucus heralded yesterday’s discussion in the House, Republicans and Democrats remained at odds this week on the Senate side of the Capitol.
Republicans took to the floor to blast the Paris climate agreement, which calls on nations to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 C. More than 160 nations are scheduled to sign at a ceremony in New York tomorrow.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a floor speech that the agreement was destined to fail, while Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) warned Obama administration officials that it would be illegal to contribute further funding to U.N. climate change efforts.
According to Barrasso, the United States would be violating a 1994 law if it contributed money either to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the U.N.-administered Green Climate Fund for developing countries. That’s because Palestine, which the United States does not recognize as a state, joined the UNFCCC last month.
Barrasso led 28 Republican senators earlier this week in raising similar concerns in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
"The pipeline of money that the Obama administration is planning to send to these organizations is shut off," Barrasso said in his floor speech yesterday.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview earlier this week that the public was in favor of efforts to address climate change and that, for his GOP colleagues, speaking out against action was a "really foolish endeavor."
"I think it’s that this is not a good time to turn off young voters. This is not a good time to turn off realistic voters. This is not a good time turn off independent voters," Whitehouse said. "So if they want to come and quarrel about Paris, let them have it. They’re only hurting themselves."