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Members of Congress Look for Common Ground on Climate Change

Republican Francis Rooney and Democrat Paul Tonko hope that Congress can move forward to address climate change.

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Covering Climate Now logoRep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) doesn’t understand why more Republicans aren’t on board about accepting the reality of climate change and doing something about it.

Most of the residents in Rooney’s heavily Republican congressional district believe that climate change is real, are scared of sea level rise, and want the government to take action, he said at a 19 September forum at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C.

Republicans, Rooney said, “are self-sorting to a diminishing voting bloc and are failing to reach the growing voting blocs because of our intransigent adherence to rigid ideologies” on some issues, including climate change.

However, Rooney and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who also spoke at the forum, said they hope there can be bipartisan progress to address climate change. In particular, both men spoke in support of carbon pricing, proposed legislation that would put a price on commercial greenhouse gas emissions.

Tonko, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change, has said that a long-term goal is to work on a carbon pricing solution. “For far too long, we have allowed carbon to be a pollutant, to attack our atmosphere, to destroy our public health,” he said at the forum. “But we haven’t been formal or definitive about assigning a price to that carbon. And I think as we go forward, it’s important to work on this.”

Rooney, a sponsor or cosponsor of three carbon pricing bills, spoke in support of moderates addressing climate change. “The left beats up the moderates for not being left enough, and the right beats up the moderates for saying anything about carbon or climate at all,” he said. “We’ve got to somehow break through that and maybe see [that] the carbon tax is the best alternative for a market solution, and maybe convince the more extreme environmentalists on the left that this is a down payment as we move down the road toward maybe some things that you are interested in.”

Ways to Move Forward?

Rooney and Tonko said they hope there are other areas in which there can be progress.

“I just want to keep coming back to focus on specific things that we can do,” said Rooney. For him, these include focusing on carbon sequestration technologies, dealing with sea level rise and resiliency, and looking at improving infrastructure.

Tonko, who has laid out a framework for national climate action, said that some areas where he hopes for more bipartisan and bicameral support include increasing funding for research and development and improving infrastructure, energy efficiency, and weatherization. Another part of his framework is setting scientific targets for greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050.

Rooney said that he shares that 2050 goal “if it’s possible. I don’t know the practicalities of it. But I think that if you extend the Paris [climate accord] goals out and beat the Paris goals, you can get pretty far down the road on it.”

A Call to Embrace Science

Tonko also spoke in support of respecting science in framing the climate debate, and he praised climate activist Greta Thunberg and her message delivered to Congress earlier this week.

“I say to Greta Thunberg, ‘hooray for you.’ There are two things I got from [her] message most prominently: ‘Science, science, science,’” he said. “And, ‘you’re not moving fast enough.’”

“Hooray for Greta for bringing her forces, her followers, to the equation of advocacy, because that is what will drive this,” Tonko added. “I won’t live with the cynicism. I’ll live with the optimism. Let’s get it done. Our planet deserves our attention. The next generation deserves our respect.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Members of Congress look for common ground on climate change, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO134117. Published on 20 September 2019.
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