House Republicans huddle quietly to plot climate strategy

By George Cahlink, Emma Dumain, Nick Sobczyk | 02/25/2021 06:53 AM EST

Roughly two dozen House Republicans met privately in Utah last weekend to try to find ways to “reclaim the narrative” from Democrats on combating climate change and promoting conservation.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) has been outspoken about the need to address climate change.

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) has been outspoken about the need to address climate change. Francis Chung/E&E News

The House’s top energy and environment Republicans met privately in Utah last weekend to try to find ways to "reclaim the narrative" from Democrats on combating climate change and promoting conservation.

Utah Rep. John Curtis, a new member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, organized the meeting that drew roughly two dozen Republican lawmakers.

Among the attendees were Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member on the E&C panel; Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee; Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), ranking member on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis; and Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), ranking member on the Budget Committee.


The sessions were not announced publicly and most attendees declined to talk about them or offered only broad outlines about the get-together. A full list of those attending was not available.

Conservative groups focused on climate change — the Alliance for Market Solutions, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions and the American Conservation Coalition — gave presentations to members.

Other influential pieces of the Republican establishment were involved in the summit, including pollsters and officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, as well as representatives from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Unlike some of the policies that we’re seeing come out of the Biden administration and from Democrats on the Hill, we think that we can pose a strategy that’s good for the environment and for the economy," Westerman told E&E News yesterday, when asked to sum up the objectives of the sessions.

Westerman called on his party to "reclaim the narrative" from Democrats who he said view fighting climate change as largely about reducing carbon emissions, reiterating his common reminder that "conservatives who came up with conservation."

Participants said no new legislation was drawn up or policies adopted by the attendees. One source told E&E News that lawmakers discussed making climate change a topic to address at the House Republican retreat, the annual, off-campus policy gathering for the full conference.

Ultimately, the weekend was part of a continuing conversation among Republicans on climate and how best to message around that topic.

The Utah conclave was just the latest attempt by the House GOP to shift the party away from questioning or even denying climate science.

Instead, attendees wanted to stress policy and legislative options focused on market-driven technologies and "all of the above" energy production rather than a new regulatory regime or taxes.

The attempt at rebranding comes as Democrats are expected in the coming weeks to propose a massive infrastructure bill that will aim to combat climate change with substantial investments in clean energy and perhaps, pay for it with a carbon tax.

"We think we’ve got good ideas about how to address that," Westerman said.

He added that environmental policy ought to "not just be totally focused on carbon but look at the whole environment, air, water, habitat, recreation, all those things that I think Americans care about, and we can do it in a way that doesn’t cause energy scarcity, or energy that’s not reliable."

McMorris Rodgers, who sidestepped specifics of the meeting, said Republicans are ready to "engage" on climate solutions and show how the party is already producing ideas and policies that have helped to reduce emissions over the past decade.

"Just because we haven’t been talking about all the solutions, whether it’s natural gas or hydro or carbon capture or nuclear in terms of being climate solutions, we have been doing it and we just need to make that connection," she said.

Curtis, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has for much of his tenure called on his party to develop a more coherent message on climate change amid polling that shows it’s an important issue for younger voters and an increasingly popular topic for much of the electorate.

"I regret that many of my Republican colleagues still run from this issue. And I think that’s just unfortunate," Curtis said last year (Greenwire, Aug. 26, 2020). "I think we need to own it. We need to go on the offensive."