There are a handful of House Republican lawmakers who say they are serious about confronting climate change, despite President Trump's dismissive stance toward the science that humans are permanently warming the planet.
Or at least, there were. Many of the most prominent Republicans with ideas about how to address climate change — or even acknowledging the world is warming at all — lost their reelection bids on Tuesday.
At the top of that list is Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Over the summer, the South Florida Republican, who represents a coastal district vulnerable to sea-level rise, introduced legislation designed to discourage the burning of fossil fuels — coal in particular — by making it more expensive to rely on them through a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. The bulk of the revenue would be funneled to fund new infrastructure.
That effort wasn't enough to save him from Tuesday evening's blue wave, which put Democrats in control of the House for the first time since 2010. Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell eked out victory in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 16 points.
"He's a good friend," said GOP Rep. Francis Rooney, who represents another coastal Florida district. "I'm just so sorry that he lost. I think we've lost a really important voice, for both parties quite frankly."
Curbelo was among more than a dozen members of a bipartisan climate group to lose reelection. Another seven members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus are retiring from Congress at the end of the year. The losses Tuesday revived a debate among environmental activists about whether the caucus — which has been dogged by critics for lacking solutions — should cease to exist.
At least 20 GOP members of the climate caucus will be returning to work at the Capitol next year, according to the Citizens' Climate Lobby, a grassroots environmental group that helped organize the caucus.
The 2018 election is a moment of reckoning for those within the GOP who want, unlike the party writ large, to address what many scientists and Democrats say is the the world's most pressing environmental crisis. Many of the House members to lose their seats were moderates representing swing districts where climate change is important to the independent voters they represent.
The group gained members at a steady rate over the past two years, growing from 15 after being reestablished at the start of the current Congress to 90 now.
Daniel Richter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby points out that even with fewer Republicans, the caucus will still be bigger at the start of 2019 than it was at the beginning of 2017. "I know, being a climate scientist, you don't compare a summer's day to a winter's day," Richter said.
But not everyone agrees the group has been useful.
"Our hope at the Sierra Club is that the Climate Solutions Caucus will be replaced," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said at a post-election press conference Wednesday.
Only two other Republicans — Rooney and Brian Fitzpatrick from suburban Pennsylvania — co-sponsored Curbelo's bill that would have established a carbon tax, which many economists say is among the most efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Both of those representatives were reelected Tuesday.
But many more GOP caucus members voted in favor of a resolution in July that denounced any potential carbon tax as “detrimental to the United States economy.”
Curbelo's candidacy divided environmental groups, which collectively supported an almost entirely Democratic slate of candidates in 2018. The advocacy arm of the Environmental Defense Fund supported Curbelo while the Sierra Club and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer backed his opponent, citing his votes in support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and building the Keystone XL pipeline.
"Just in case you think the environmental movement is monolithic, we worked very hard" against him, Steyer said Wednesday. "We never believed for a second that acknowledging climate change is nearly enough for somebody to be a climate champion. We really see no move on the part of the Republican Party as a group to actually pass anything."
Right now, the future of the caucus is unclear. The Citizens' Climate Lobby issued a statement Wednesday morning insisting "reports of the death of the Climate Solutions Caucus are greatly exaggerated" while Rooney, one of its reelected Republican members, said "I definitely want to see it continue"
"The Climate Solutions Caucus has brought some Republicans into the discussion of sea-level rise and climate change," Rooney said. "It's healthy to have more people involved in that discussion."
Sometimes called the “Noah’s Ark Caucus" since members can only be admitted one Republican and one Democrat at a time, the group was founded by Curbelo and Democrat Rep. Ted Deutch, also of South Florida.
With Curbelo's departure, the caucus does not have a clear succession plan. Rooney declined to say if he wanted to co-chair it and had "no idea" who would. Deutch's office did not reply to a request for an interview.
Rooney does, however, want to reintroduce a version of Curbelo's carbon tax plan. "I'd like to see a way to roll it out with a little more fanfare and a little more media support," he said.
But Rooney acknowledged the difficulty of recruiting Republicans "really dug in" on maintaining coal-fired generation, which is the most carbon-intensive way of producing power.
"There are people that seriously believe that we need to burn coal, including the president," he added.
Elsewhere, Rooney thinks he can find bipartisan support for adaptation to sea-level rise. "There may be debate about long-term climate cycles and manmade CO2 and all that," he said. "But I don't know how you get around the fact that they've measured the change in the level of the seas."
Even if the caucus has had few legislative achievements, its existence is crucial for depoliticizing the climate issue, according to Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who now runs republicEn, a group that aims to find free-market solutions to climate change.
"The thing to keep in mind is in order for climate action to be durable it has to be bipartisan," Inglis said.
Inglis knows intimately just how partisan the climate issue has become. In 2010, the six-term congressman was unseated in a primary runoff after being hammered by GOP rivals for introducing his own carbon tax scheme in Congress.
Right now, Republican climate moderates worry about partisanship cutting the other way too. They hope the new Democratic majority in the House does not force Republicans to take tough votes just to embarrass them.
"It can't be perceived as acquiescence to the other side," Inglis said.
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— Court blocks Keystone XL pipeline: In a blow to the Trump administration, a federal judge late Thursday temporarily blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled the Trump administration had “failed to justify its decision granting a permit for the 1,200-mile long project designed to connect Canada’s tar sands crude oil with refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast,” The Post’s Fred Barbash and Allyson Chiu report.
The ruling isn’t a permanent block, but “requires the administration to conduct a more complete review of potential adverse impacts related to climate change, cultural resources and endangered species.” One of Trump's first actions as president in January 2017 was signing an executive order reviving both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
— Kids' climate lawsuit halted, again: Elsewhere in the court system, a panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a request from the Trump administration to temporarily halt a major lawsuit filed by more than 20 young people demanding action from the federal government on climate change. Pretrial preparations will continue, and the panel said the youth plaintiffs have 15 days to responds to the federal government’s petition.
— Zinke's next move? Amid questions about the future of Ryan Zinke’s role in the Trump administration, the interior secretary has himself been reportedly inquiring about another gig. Zinke reached out to Fox News about a role as a contributor, Politico reports. He’s also “seeking positions on energy company boards of directors or even with private equity firms.” The report follows a remark from Trump that he is “looking at” Zinke, who is being investigated amid allegations of ethical violations, adding he could “have an idea on that in about a week.”
When would Zinke leave? The report adds that Zinke could leave the administration in short order, making it known “he plans to resign his position by the end of the year,” though he may leave sooner “depending on what Trump thinks of the investigation the Interior’s inspector general office has referred to his Justice Department.”
However: Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift told The Hill that the report was “dumb.” And the agency’s press office tweeted that it’s “laughably false and belongs in The Onion.”
It's laughably false and belongs in The Onion.— DOI PressSec (@DOIPressSec) November 9, 2018
— Democrats reportedly want to bring back climate committee: House Democrats are planning to reestablish a special committee, previously the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, that focuses on climate change. The move would give Democrats a chance to use some of their regained power to scrutinize the administration’s approach to climate change issues and emphasize some of the warnings in a recently released major U.N. climate report.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “will ask her colleagues to reconstitute the select committee, which was created under her watch 11 years ago and disbanded by Republicans after they took control of the House in January 2011,” Bloomberg News reports. The New York Times is reporting that news as well.
— Environmental group calls for keeping nuclear plants open: The Union of Concerned Scientists is calling for nuclear power plants to remain open, citing their ability to help combat climate change. According to a new report from the group, nuclear power provides 20 percent of electricity in the nation, and 53 percent of its carbon-free electricity. If new policies aren’t issued to keep the more than one-third of struggling nuclear plants set to close, natural gas or coal will be used to replace them, per the report. “Closing unprofitable and marginal at-risk plants early could result in a 4 to 6 percent increase in US power sector emission.”
Why it matters: The report highlights divisions within the environmental community about whether to support nuclear power as a major carbon-free source of energy or to oppose it over concerns about where to store nuclear waste and whether plants can be operated safely.
— Possible OPEC breakup?: A top think tank in Saudi Arabia is considering the impact on oil markets of a potential breakup of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It’s a “remarkable research effort for a country that has dominated the oil cartel for nearly 60 years,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The effort comes off the heels of the dual accusations against the kingdom of driving up oil prices and of killing U.S.-based Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
— The road ahead for Tesla: The electric automaker this week named an insider to replace Elon Musk as chair of Tesla’s board. Robyn Denholm, a member of Tesla’s board and the chief financial officer of an Australian telecommunications firm, will begin as chair immediately, The Post’s Jena McGregor reports.
— California is burning: A damaging and rapidly intensifying wildfire erupted in Northern California on Thursday, in part due to intense winds and extremely dry conditions. The Camp Fire raged in Butte County, north of Sacramento, burning through more than 18,000 acres with 0 percent contained as of Thursday night, The Post’s Eli Rosenberg and Jason Samenow report. Cal Fire Chief Darren Read told reporters that about 1,500 first-responders were at or headed to the scene, as were 300 fire engines, 20 bulldozers, aircrafts and additional support vehicles.
This is how fast the blaze was moving: One resident described waking up to find smoke outside at 7 a.m. In half an hour, "the whole place was in flames,” and by 8:20 a.m., the house was burning.
- Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion on Indian oil and gas strategies in a new age on Nov. 13.
- The Heritage Foundation holds an event on challenges and solutions to improve federal lands management on Nov. 14.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Rita Baranwal to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Nuclear Energy), Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Raymond David Vela to be Director of the National Park Service on Nov. 15.
- The American Council on Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association and Energy Innovation hold an event on the outlook for clean energy following the 2018 midterms on Nov. 16.
— Did you catch that last post-5 p.m. sunset? If you live in Washington and have a typical 9-to-5 type job, your commute home is about to get dimmer. Starting on Friday, sunsets in the District will happen before 5 p.m. until Jan. 5, 2019, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports.