The bipartisan House caucus dedicated to studying market-friendly approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation is expected to grow to 50 members this week, according to those closely tracking recruitment efforts.
Those pushing a consensus strategy for Congress to act on climate change see the expanded support for the caucus as a hint of more traction. And as voters in coastal districts and beyond see the impacts of global temperature rise, they see these lawmakers as poised to play a prominent role in finding a solution.
But others criticize the caucus for its baby steps and not pushing impactful reforms.
Republican Barbara Comstock of Virginia and Democrat Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands are the most recent pair to join the "Noah’s Ark" group, bringing the current ranks of the Climate Solutions Caucus to 44 members. And sources say six more lawmakers will join very soon.
It remains to be seen how closely GOP membership of the caucus and co-sponsorship of a Republican climate resolution, H. Res. 195, track with legislative action to confront the issue.
Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey earlier this month became the 20th Republican to endorse the measure that calls for Congress to recognize the threat of climate change and commit to acting on it (Greenwire, March 15).
To some advocates, these small signals matter.
"We ultimately need everybody and can’t address this problem with just half of the country," said Emily Wirzba, who lobbies on sustainable energy and the environment for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
"The Climate Solutions Caucus represents a transformation in the congressional dialogue on climate change. The language used by our legislators matters, and growing the number of members willing to speak out about climate change is always a good thing," Wirzba said.
But critics continue to crow that these Republicans are "climate peacocks," who only claim to care about science, clean energy and the environment.
The watchdog group Climate Hawks Vote is gearing up to release its environmental scorecard, which takes a hard look at the 17 Republicans who signed the climate resolution, originally introduced by former Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.). While the bill spawned plenty of media attention and the bipartisan caucus, critics argue the group has not yet produced consistent messaging or meaningful legislation that can pass a deeply polarized Congress.
Climate Hawks Vote was born out of the idea that both parties need to produce climate champions, and it seeks to make climate change a defining electoral issue (E&E Daily, March 22, 2016).
"I see the Climate Solutions Caucus as a toddler in a china shop, and you want to applaud every single step they take without breaking things," said Climate Hawks Vote co-founder R.L. Miller in a recent interview. "On the other side of the aisle, we have actual grown-ups."
Miller is chairwoman of the California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus. She pointed to Golden State Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, a strident critic of U.S. EPA during the Obama administration, as the most prominent example of a GOP lawmaker who has no business being in the caucus.
"That just makes all of us roll our eyes and say, ‘Really, this is pure politics,’" Miller said.
Issa said in a statement to E&E News at the time that coastal regions, like Southern California, are counting on Congress for action, and they "shouldn’t be forced to choose between unworkable new taxes or complete inaction."
‘Ladder of leadership’
One group cheering Republicans for acknowledging the problem is Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend model. The group brought 1,300 volunteers to the Hill this month to lobby (Greenwire, June 13).
"We definitely don’t see just joining the caucus as the be-all, end-all of the issue," said spokesman Steve Valk.
Valk described a GOP "ladder of leadership" on the issue with Florida Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the caucus’ co-founder, at the top.
Curbelo led four Republican colleagues on a letter to the Trump administration, advising against withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. In the wake of President Trump’s announcement that he planned to exit, Curbelo has stepped up his legislative action, backing bills to tackle short-lived contributors to climate change and methane emissions (E&E Daily, June 9).
For many Republicans, joining the caucus represents "grabbing onto the first rung of that ladder," Valk said.
Curbelo earned a B from Climate Hawks Vote, Miller said, while everybody else on the Republican side is in the D and F range. The scorecard is based on votes germane to climate, in addition to what lawmakers are publicly saying on the issue.
Among those graded F in the 114th Congress is Republican Elise Stefanik of New York, the lead sponsor of the GOP climate resolution in the 115th Congress. Miller explained what factors into the failing grade: Stefanik spoke out in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, against EPA "overreach" and against the Clean Power Plan, and she has a light legislative track record.
"This resolution brings together the priority of addressing the risks of climate change with the importance of protecting and creating American jobs," Stefanik said in March, introducing the mainly symbolic resolution. "Innovation and clean energy are key to solving both."
The Friends Committee on National Legislation’s Wirzba suggested the strategy is long term. She predicted the climate-savvy GOP members would go beyond dialogue and "strategically introduce legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the coming months."
"We desperately need this bipartisan spirit in Congress," Wirzba said when asked if she’s optimistic. "As these relationships are built across the aisle, trust will grow, and the chances of robust climate legislation succeeding in Congress will increase."
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) encouraged many when he cited the Climate Solutions Caucus as an example of a step being taken to bring sanity back to Congress in the wake of a shooting earlier this month that injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Valk pointing out that 18 months ago there was no climate caucus in the House. He pushed back on the scorecard, as well, saying "give them some time."
"Scorecards judge what they’ve done in the past, but I also think you have to be open to the possibility that what they’ve done in the past doesn’t necessarily dictate what they will do in the future," Valk said.
Proponents of climate action have to demonstrate to the GOP climate rebels that they are not going to lose their seat because they decide to take a stand for tackling global warming, he suggested.
"It’s more on us than it is on them to move them up that ladder," Valk said.