THE LIGHTBULB

The Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers seeking to find a consensus about how to tackle climate change, is still trying to find its footing in the new Congress.

It held its first meeting of the year on Thursday. But only four members showed up. 

And the caucus, once dubbed “the Noah's Ark caucus" for having an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, is now tilting leftward. The blue wave in the 2018 election helped wash away roughly half of the caucus's GOP members, who lost in either races against Democrats or through retirement. Many of them, including caucus co-founder Carlos Curbelo of Florida, were moderates who lost tight contests.

Now another coastal Florida Republican, Francis Rooney, is picking up the pieces and rebuilding the group. “We're trying to rev up some more enthusiasm,” Rooney told reporters in the hallway after the meeting. 

The new co-chair chalked up the meeting's low attendance to the sheer number of other commitments lawmakers had this week as the House tees up a number of spending bills. "This is probably not a good week to do the meeting," he said. "We're going to have to regroup and find a better time."

And to be sure, there is a bright spot: Two House Republicans, Rob Woodall of Georgia and David Schweikert of Arizona, joined the caucus Thursday. 

Yet the enthusiasm gap Rooney describes comes as there is, perhaps ironically, more political enthusiasm in the House for climate change efforts than in recent history. As Democrats hold a seemingly endless number of hearings on climate change, the slow start to the caucus demonstrates the challenge of building bipartisan agreement on an issue that has starkly divided Democrats and Republicans for a decade.

But such a consensus, supporters of the caucus say, is needed to craft lasting federal climate policy that won't simply be torn down when power in Washington changes hands.

Ever since the 2018 election, congressional Republicans have been grappling for ways to response to an American public increasingly telling pollsters it want politicians to do more to address rising global temperatures. Some Republican members are saying the government needs to support new technologies — instead of new regulations — like novel ways of capturing carbon dioxide directly from smokestacks or the next generation of nuclear power plants.

Rooney has taken a different tack, embracing a plan that would tax polluters for each ton of carbon dioxide they put in the air and discourage​ them from adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

In January, he introduced a carbon tax bill with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who with Curbelo first created the Climate Solution Caucus in 2016. And this Thursday, before the caucus meeting, he appeared at a Brookings Institution event to promote his carbon-pricing mechanism.

But right now, few other Republicans currently in Congress have publicly backed a carbon tax. “The irony, which I try to tell my colleagues on the Republican side of things, is counties and cities that are going to pay the highest price for inaction are ours, the red ones,” he said at the event, citing data collected by Brookings that shows coastal damage and decreased farm yields in many Republican-leaning areas.

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who appeared with Rooney at Brookings, said he was still searching for a GOP senator to join him in introducing a carbon tax bill. “I am working, I am searching for a Republican co-sponsor,” he said.

Rooney does see one area in which he could win some more bipartisan backing: supporting the military's efforts to assess the effect sea-level rise will have on coastal facilities. The caucus leaders took credit in 2017 for helping defeat an amendment that would have stopped the Defense Department from assessing the vulnerabilities of military bases to the effects of climate change.

The caucus has weathered criticism from some green groups for providing a veneer of environmentalism to GOP members who have voted in favor of building the Keystone XL oil pipeline or of opening Arctic wilderness to drilling. “Our hope at the Sierra Club is that the Climate Solutions Caucus will be replaced,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said last November after the election. 

But the group, though smaller, is still around. And the addition of Republican Reps. Woodall and Schweikert mean the geographic makeup of the group is expanding. They are the only caucus members from their respective states, Georgia and Arizona. 

“Americans want Congress to act on climate change. But we’re not going to get anywhere without bipartisan support,” Deutch said in a statement. “We have a diverse group of Democrats and Republicans covering many different parts of the country.”

Citizens' Climate Lobby, an environmental group that asks representatives to join the caucus, was similarly hopeful. “The caucus serves as a judgment-free zone where members of both parties can come together and have a productive dialogue about reducing the risk of climate change,” said Mark Reynolds, its executive director.

Still, the turnout to the meeting Thursday was lower than past caucus gatherings, said Steve Valk, communications directo​​​r for the group.

“It would have been good if there were more members present,” he added.

POWER PLAYS

— Trump vs. California: Tensions between Trump officials and California regulators were made clear Thursday after Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler sent a letter sent to top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce committee and provided to the Energy 202 accusing California of not being "a good faith negotiator" when discussing fuel efficiency standards. For her part, Mary Nichols, the chair of the California Air Resources Board, told lawmakers in prepared testimony that "the Trump Administration has been unwilling to find a way that works."

At issue: The Trump administration is moving forward with a plan to freeze tailpipe pollution standards at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than tighten them. The agency will also try to remove California's authority to set its own rules as the state deals with particularly high pollutions levels. During the joint hearing of two House Energy and Commerce subcommittee Thursday, with Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) calling the car rules the "single most important action taken to combat climate change, and a key part of our commitment to the Paris Agreement."

— State watch: There’s been a flurry of activity around environmental legislation at the state-level this week. Here's a rundown: 

In New York: State lawmakers passed perhaps the nation’s most ambitious climate bills, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which aims to get the state to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to carbon-free electricity by 2040. There are some notable changes from the original Climate and Community Protection Act, which sought to get the entire economy to zero carbon emissions by 2050. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who initially had his own competing climate proposal, has vowed to sign this climate bill. He called climate change on Thursday the “issue of our generation,” and in an interview with WAMC-FM in Albany, called the bill a “goal plus an action plan based in reality that we are implementing today,” according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

In Oregon: State senators were expected to vote Thursday on a cap-and-trade bill. But several Republican senators scattered, some leaving the state, to avoid the vote. When the 11 GOP senators failed to show up for a Thursday session, leaving Democrats without a quorum to vote, they called on the governor to send Oregon State Police to bring them back, which she did. It's an "order that authorizes authorities to put the elected officials in patrol cars and drive them back to the Capitol, though the department said it would instead opt for 'polite communication,'" The Post's Reis Thebault reports. “It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building,” “Brown said in a statement.

In Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is calling on state lawmakers to look into authorizing the state to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, according to the Associated Press, which reports the Democratic governor’s aides have communicated with key legislators about including a related provision in a budget-related measure set to past this month. “Wolf said in April that he wanted to take a serious look at it, comments that came amid a heated debate in the state Capitol over whether Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plant owners should be able to charge ratepayers for their ‘zero emission’ electricity in the age of global warming,” the AP reports. “They reached out, we said that we would work with them to see if there was something we could all be comfortable with, we haven’t landed on that yet,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman.

In Maine: Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a workforce development bill being framed as the state’s own Green New Deal.

— Reclaiming Paradise: Signs of life are trickling back in the California town of Paradise that was devastated by the Camp Fire seven months ago. But as redevelopment begins, The Post’s Frances Stead-Sellers reports, there’s concern the future version of Paradise will leave no room for lower-income residents in the economically diverse community. “With California’s housing crisis already fueling demand, many worried that plans to upgrade housing and utilities here will alter the town’s character, ensuring that the Paradise that rises from the ashes will be unaffordable for some locals,” she writes. One Paradise resident likened it to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when “they got rid of all the poor people like me” in redeveloping flooded communities. Some town council members caution “in the aftermath of such a disaster, some gentrification is unavoidable.”

OIL CHECK

— "Massive fireball" in Philadelphia: A large fire broke out at a crude oil refinery in Philadelphia on Friday morning, erupting just before 4 a.m. at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex. It’s not yet clear what started the fire at the facility that claims to be the “largest oil refining complex on the East Coast, producing approximately 335,000 barrels per day,” The Post’s Lindsey Bever writes. “Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said during a morning news conference that when firefighters responded to a call about an explosion, they discovered a vat of butane burning inside the facility. He said that, at this time, the blaze is contained inside the vat and, although it is not yet under control, firefighters are working to ensure it does not spread.”

— Attacks jolt oil shippers: The attacks on a pair of petrochemical tankers near the Strait of Hormuz last week have put the shipping industry on alert. There are about 2,000 ship operators that work in the region, and some are now making sure their ships travel in the region only in the daylight and at high speed, the Associated Press reports. Normally, cargo ships slow down through the waterway to save on fuel costs. “They are all of course increasingly worried, but many of them are going with business as they would have done without the attacks, but of course with an extra layer of safety and security measures on top of that,” chief shipping analyst at BIMCO Peter Sand told the AP.

DAYBOOK

Coming Up

 

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the Land and Water Conservation Fund on June 25. 
  • The House Science Committee holds a hearing on oversight of the Energy Department's research and development with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on June 25. 
  • The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry holds a hearing on the economic benefits of healthy soils on June 25. 
  • The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a hearing on uranium mining on June 25. 
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment holds a hearing on protecting and restoring America's iconic waters on June 25. 
  • The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on the Environment holds a hearing on natural disasters and climate change on June 25. 
EXTRA MILEAGE

— "Gravity sucks": To commemorate 50 years since the moon landing, a Washington Post team put together a piece on 50 astronauts talking about their experiences in space. And because you can never get space coverage, read The Post's Joel Achenbach on how NASA put men on the moon, Sarah Kaplan's ode to the moon and subscribe here to a podcast coming soon about America's decision to go to the moon.