Congress

Some GOP lawmakers are thawing on climate change

‘There are some things I’m willing to look at,’ said House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows

“There are some things I’m willing to look at,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Meadows said of climate solutions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congressional Republicans seem to be thawing on climate.

Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who has denied the science behind climate change, told reporters Wednesday he was open to confront the peril of the warming planet.

“There are some things I’m willing to look at,” the North Carolina Republican said of addressing climate change. While he remains skeptical of climate science, he said, “I think that greenhouse gas emissions is certainly something that we need to look at.”

Last week, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said America can cut its carbon output. It’s a business opportunity for U.S. firms, he said. “You know, as other countries grow their economies, they should be using the best possible technology to capture carbon emissions.”

And Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus, who in 2008 called a carbon tax “the only intellectually honest way to move forward on global climate change,” said Wednesday, referring to a possible climate bill, that there are “areas of agreement where Republicans can be supportive so that you might have a legislative solution that actually gets signed into law.”

As the long-set Republican opposition to addressing climate change recedes on Capitol Hill, even highly conservative members in the House and Senate are indicating they view greenhouse gases as a problem and are open to climate measures that would emphasize an expanded role for the private sector rather than the federal government.

While no deal is imminent or likely in this Congress, Republicans have set out areas they might be willing to compromise on or use as bargaining chips in negotiating climate legislation, including carbon-capture technology, energy efficiency, nuclear power, battery storage and funding for basic energy research and development.

In a column published Wednesday, a trio of top Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee — ranking member Greg Walden of Oregon, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, and Shimkus — offered an “innovation” pitch to address the issue with what they called “bipartisan solutions”: renewable energy development, carbon capture and utilization, hydropower and nuclear power.

“These are bipartisan solutions we must seize on to deliver real results for the American people,” they wrote.

That type of offer may have an audience with Democrats who may view a proposal with more federal involvement, like the Green New Deal resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, as less politically palatable. The resolution aims to overhaul the U.S. energy system and swiftly pull away from carbon-heavy sources.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, who opposed cap-and-trade legislation Democrats narrowly passed when they last had control of the House, said he was interested in what Republicans had to offer.

“Renewable energy, R&D, energy efficiency, research into new battery technology, massive federal investments in those areas? Sure, I’m interested in that,” DeFazio said.

He said that before he’s willing to work with Republicans on these efforts, they must acknowledge the science behind climate change and the related risks presented to the planet.

“They have to acknowledge there’s a problem if they want to spend a bunch of money to solve it,” he said. “If they’re going to spend a bunch of money on a problem they say doesn’t exist, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Shimkus said that he, with Walden and Upton, was trying to move beyond the topic of climate science, which “we all agree with,” to a strategy of “how we can move forward.”

Republicans are considering “where are there areas of agreement where Republicans can be supportive so that you might have a legislative solution that actually gets signed into law,” he said.

‘No-regret solutions’

At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the committee, laid out similar grounds for compromise.

“I have often spoken about clean energy innovation policies as ‘no-regret solutions,’” the Alaska Republican said. “But in reality, these are just those first steps.”

Deploying low-carbon energy infrastructure worldwide requires research and cost-cutting, she said, underscoring carbon capture technology, which is still in its infancy.

“It is time to push hard to bring down the cost of clean energy technologies like renewables, advanced nuclear, next-generation energy storage and carbon capture,” Murkowski said. “If we want credible technological solutions that are cost-effective and deployable globally and at-scale, we must ensure that the policies we put in place propel those efforts.”

Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Joe Manchin III said at that hearing that a comprehensive measure like the Green New Deal could be a way for lawmakers of both parties to “come together and understand that it’s a really lofty goal.”

“We get these divides where our caucuses, whether it be within the Democrat or Republican, or divide within the whole Senate or the whole Congress,” the West Virginia Democrat said. “We don’t want to drink dirty water. We don’t want to breathe dirty air. We want our kids to have a future. We really do. They also realize they have to have a job to sustain themselves.”

Shimkus agreed with the sentiment that Democrats’ Green New Deal created an opportunity to craft a more politically-moderate approach to addressing climate that could receive buy-in from his party.

“I think that’s helpful in getting us to look at something ... that we might be willing to consider,” he said.

In an interview, Rep. Paul Tonko, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, lauded the Republicans’ willingness to address climate change but said their push for innovation falls short of what is needed to tackle such as sprawling threat.

"Innovation and research are important but again that's only picking two tools out of the kit,” the New York Democrat said. “And if we’re going to get to this very lofty ambitious goal with urgency, we’re going to need to have many more elements to be part of the equation for success.”

Tonko, whose subcommittee would be the first stop for legislation in the House to address climate change and energy issues, said there are opportunities to work out a deal between both chambers and parties.

He mentioned energy efficiency, weatherization, conservation, research and upgrading the electric grids as areas of collaboration — points Republicans have broadly said they would be open to.

“I applaud they're coming around,” Tonko said. “It appears as though the denial syndrome or the delay syndrome has been abandoned and that people are now talking solutions.”

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