House Republicans Plan to Call for Action on Climate Change

Rep. Chris Gibson of New York is leading the charge, and nine other Republicans are on board.

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Sept. 15, 2015, 5 a.m.

A co­ali­tion of House Re­pub­lic­ans is gear­ing up to make waves by call­ing for ac­tion to fight cli­mate change on the eve of Pope Fran­cis’s vis­it to Cap­it­ol Hill.

Ten Re­pub­lic­ans have so far signed onto a res­ol­u­tion af­firm­ing that hu­man activ­ity con­trib­utes to cli­mate change and en­dors­ing ac­tion to re­spond to the threat of Earth’s chan­ging cli­mate. The res­ol­u­tion is ex­pec­ted to be un­veiled as early as Thursday.

Rep. Chris Gib­son, a New York Re­pub­lic­an, led the charge in craft­ing the res­ol­u­tion and con­vin­cing oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans to speak out in sup­port. “This is a call for ac­tion to study how hu­mans are im­pact­ing our en­vir­on­ment and to look for con­sensus on areas where we can take ac­tion to mit­ig­ate the risks and bal­ance our im­pacts,” Gib­son told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Le­htin­en and Car­los Cur­belo of Flor­ida, Robert Dold of Illinois, Dave Reich­ert of Wash­ing­ton, Pat Mee­han, Ry­an Cos­tello, and Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Richard Hanna and Elise Stefanik of New York all con­firmed to Na­tion­al Journ­al that they have signed on as co­spon­sors of the res­ol­u­tion.

The tim­ing is no ac­ci­dent. Pope Fran­cis has warned that man-made cli­mate change will hurt the poor and most vul­ner­able mem­bers of so­ci­ety, and the Vat­ic­an is call­ing on world gov­ern­ments to work to­geth­er to fight glob­al warm­ing in June.

When Fran­cis speaks to Con­gress next week—an event that will mark the first time any pope has ad­dressed a joint ses­sion of the House and Sen­ate—he is widely ex­pec­ted to call for bold and de­cis­ive ef­forts to com­bat Earth’s rap­idly-rising tem­per­at­ures.

Cli­mateWire first re­por­ted Gib­son’s plan to in­tro­duce the res­ol­u­tion this week.

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists are pre­par­ing to seize on the oc­ca­sion of the pap­al vis­it, and the en­thu­si­asm for cli­mate ac­tion it is ex­pec­ted to gin up, by or­gan­iz­ing a ma­jor cli­mate rally on the Na­tion­al Mall the day of the speech on Sept. 24.

But a call for ac­tion on glob­al warm­ing led by Re­pub­lic­ans is something al­to­geth­er dif­fer­ent.

Ever since the col­lapse of com­pre­hens­ive cli­mate le­gis­la­tion, which died in the Sen­ate dur­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s first term, Re­pub­lic­ans have largely shunned le­gis­lat­ive ef­forts to con­front glob­al warm­ing. Even ad­mit­ting that hu­man activ­ity has caused tem­per­at­ures to rise has be­come vir­tu­ally off-lim­its among Re­pub­lic­ans.

On the 2016 cam­paign trail, some Re­pub­lic­ans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas still deny the real­ity of glob­al warm­ing, while oth­ers such as former Sen. Rick San­tor­um have said that there is noth­ing the United States can do to make a dent in the situ­ation.

Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial con­tenders are un­an­im­ous in voicing op­pos­i­tion to Pres­id­ent Obama’s reg­u­la­tions to rein in car­bon emis­sions from power plants, a ma­jor policy ini­ti­at­ive that the White House has taken to com­bat the threat of glob­al warm­ing.

At least some mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans have grown frus­trated by what they see as their party’s si­lence on a press­ing and ur­gent prob­lem. The En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Ac­tion Fund, the polit­ic­al arm for the mod­er­ate en­vir­on­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tion En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Fund, bank­rolled a ma­jor ad buy last year in a bid to bol­ster green-minded Re­pub­lic­ans, an at­tempt to turn the tide in the face of con­ser­vat­ive in­ac­tion when it comes to cli­mate change.  

Vir­tu­ally all of the House Re­pub­lic­ans who have signed on to the soon-to-be in­tro­duced cli­mate res­ol­u­tion hail from mod­er­ate or swing dis­tricts, many in the North­east­ern U.S.

A num­ber of the co­spon­sors are up for reelec­tion in 2016 in mod­er­ate dis­tricts where back­ing a res­ol­u­tion in fa­vor of cli­mate change could help them in the race. Cur­belo and Dold are both run­ning for reelec­tion. Reich­ert, Mee­han, Cos­tello, Hanna, Ros-Le­htin­en, and Stefanik have not yet an­nounced if they plan to run for reelec­tion.

Gib­son, the lead au­thor of the res­ol­u­tion, and Rep. Fitzpatrick are not run­ning for reelec­tion.

Forty-eight per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an voters prefer a can­did­ate call­ing for ac­tion to tackle hu­man-made glob­al warm­ing, as op­posed to someone who sidesteps the is­sue en­tirely or calls cli­mate change a hoax, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey re­leased in Janu­ary by The New York Times, Stan­ford Uni­versity, and en­vir­on­ment­al think tank Re­sources for the Fu­ture.

Still, the res­ol­u­tion is all but guar­an­teed to spark cri­ti­cism from en­vir­on­ment­al­ists, who are likely to say that that the call to ac­tion is watered down. While the res­ol­u­tion notes that hu­man activ­ity con­trib­utes to a chan­ging cli­mate, it stops short of ex­pli­citly ac­know­ledging the sci­entif­ic con­sensus that hu­man activ­ity has been the primary driver of glob­al warm­ing in re­cent years.

Many en­vir­on­ment­al­ists be­lieve that mean­ing­ful ac­tion to tackle rising tem­per­at­ures will come only on the heels of an af­firm­a­tion of that sci­entif­ic con­sensus, warn­ing that if law­makers do not em­brace the con­sensus as fact, it will be far too easy to find ex­cuses not to act.

For now, the fate of the Re­pub­lic­an cli­mate push re­mains un­clear. House Speak­er John Boehner has dis­missed the threat of man-made cli­mate change in the past, say­ing that he is not qual­i­fied to de­bate cli­mate sci­ence.

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