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Republican Congressman Urges Colleagues to Act on Climate Change

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick says that Republican members of Congress need to “acknowledge reality” and do more to raise awareness about climate change.

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A freshman Republican congressman and a veteran U.S. Senate Democrat both took swipes at those who don’t believe in the scientific consensus on climate change as well as those who obstruct policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions at a forum in Washington, D. C., last week. They also called for their political parties to take stronger measures on the issue.

The Republican Party could do much more to push its constituency to accept climate change as an important issue, first-term Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) said at a 6 September forum on climate solutions presented by The Hill and the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D. C.–based think tank. The GOP could start by “having representatives [who] accept science, [who] accept facts and base decisions on those facts,” he said.

The forum also featured Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who railed against special interests impeding progress on climate change.

Don’t Deny Reality

Step number one is to “acknowledge reality and don’t deny it,” said Fitzpatrick, a member of the congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group that currently has 43 Republicans among its 86 House members. Fitzpatrick and caucus chair Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) recently introduced legislation that would tax carbon to cut greenhouse gases and fund national infrastructure needs.

The next step is for elected officials to raise the profile of the issue, Fitzpatrick said. “It’s not an issue that always necessarily polls really high in relation to everything else,” he said. “It’s our job to go out there and talk about these things.”

Fitzpatrick said that measures to deal with climate change need to be bipartisan initiatives. “These purely partisan solutions are never going to work because you’re never going to get the votes they need to pass. We’re trying to get something across the finish line to advance the goal,” he said.

Tweets by President Donald Trump denying climate change are not helpful, Fitzpatrick added. “Carlos [Curbelo] and I stand for something very different. We are trying to be that voice inside the GOP caucus to advance commonsense bipartisan solutions to what he and I believe is a very significant threat.”

Dark Money

Sen. Whitehouse, who has taken on climate change as one of his key issues, said that there is increasing interest in market-based solutions to climate change, such as putting a price on carbon. He added that some members of the corporate community, for example, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company and National Grid, which sponsored the forum, are showing leadership on the issue.

However, “the general posture of corporate America, in at least the United States Senate where I am, is still violently hostile to doing anything on climate change,” charged Whitehouse, cochair and cofounder of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change. “The fossil fuel industry still has its full apparatus of electioneering and lobbying, no matter what the CEOs might say, hard over to stop anything.”

Whitehouse blames special interests and behind-the-scenes “dark money” for pressuring Congress against taking strong stances on climate change. “I think it’s a big problem that we have yielded so much of the public authority of government to special interests in general and to that special interest [fossil fuels] in particular,” he said.

If the Democrats are successful in November in gaining a majority in either the Senate or House, Whitehouse said that he hopes early Democratic priorities would include measures to rein in dark money and pass a carbon pricing measure.

A saving grace, in the meantime, has been that “there is a big gap between what the Trump administration talks about and says it wants to do and what Congress will tolerate,” Whitehouse said. “Over and over again, their antienvironment special interest deregulatory agenda has failed in the Congress or been undone by the courts.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2018), Republican congressman urges colleagues to act on climate change, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO106041. Published on 13 September 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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