Climate bill seen as a battle cry for future Congress fights

Source: Adam Aton, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 30, 2018

Two House Republicans signed onto a climate change bill that’s more ambitious than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform.

But neither Francis Rooney of Florida nor Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania got on a media call earlier this week to brag about it. Nor did they show up to a press conference about it yesterday. Afterward, reporters received their statements of support — emailed by the office of Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the bill’s sponsor.

Those small moments offered a snapshot of the larger dynamics unfolding in politics and the media.

Over the past few months, activists have grown cautiously optimistic that the public is paying more attention to climate change. Cable news has rediscovered the issue, due to massive natural disasters and high-profile reports linking those threats to rising temperatures. Democrats have made it a keystone of their House agenda.

And some serious proposals are coming from President Trump’s party. Besides the bill co-sponsored by Fitzpatrick and Rooney, a carbon tax proposal was unveiled earlier this year by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.). Even though Senate Republicans haven’t gone that far, a few are beginning to describe climate change as a serious threat (E&E Daily, Nov. 28).

Nobody believes those baby steps will be enough to halt potentially catastrophic warming; advocates hope they’re building momentum for bigger strides after more favorable elections.

In the meantime, they’re trying to learn from past failures, like the doomed cap-and-trade bill in 2009 and the carbon tax proposals that Washington state voters rejected three times in as many years.

“We don’t expect the House to pass a bill that can pass the Senate and be signed by Trump,” said RL Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote.

“But we do expect Dems to use their House majority to advocate and show the U.S. what can happen with Dems running the Senate and the White House in 2020,” she said.

Miller said she hopes the next two years set the table for Democrats to pass a “Green New Deal,” which aims to create jobs decarbonizing the economy, instead of returning to a carbon tax.

Curbelo’s carbon tax bill was rebuked by nearly all of his Republican colleagues, who voted instead to condemn the idea, before he lost re-election. Now Deutch has picked up the issue, attracting more Democratic co-sponsors while retaining the two Republicans who joined Curbelo’s effort.

Either of those bills would do more to reduce emissions than President Obama’s signature policy, the Clean Power Plan, said Josiah Neeley, the energy policy director for the free market R Street Institute.

The next Congress might focus more on investigations and 2020 posturing than actual policy, he said, but beneath that noise some real climate work might get done.

“So far it’s been a mix — there have been some encouraging signs and discouraging signs,” Neeley said. “People are actually talking about this issue, putting out plans.”

Spokespeople for Rooney and Fitzpatrick said they only missed the press conference because of scheduling conflicts, and they said the congressmen remain committed to finding solutions to protect the environment.

And as Democrats look to resurrect a committee on climate change, Neeley said that including those two Republicans would demonstrate some potential for the panel to do serious work.

Reporter Nick Sobczyk contributed.