Greens target climate caucus members as tax vote nears

Source: Josh Kurtz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 12, 2017

As a complicated and controversial tax reform package moves closer to final passage this week, environmental groups are increasing the pressure on Republican members of the House Climate Solutions Caucus to vote against the measure.

The political action committee Climate Hawks Vote launched a petition drive late last week targeting the 31 GOP members of the bipartisan caucus, which has pledged to work to address climate change.

“The GOP leadership’s tax bill is a giveaway to the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil and a disaster for the rest of us,” the online petition reads in part. “It recklessly opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling, gives special tax breaks specifically to the oil and gas industries, kills key support for renewable energy and electric vehicles, and even raises taxes on the survivors of climate disasters.”

The petition concludes: “Now is the time for the Climate Solutions Caucus to take action to protect our climate and our country — before it’s too late.”

As of Sunday evening, more than 14,600 people had signed the petition.

Many of the Republicans in the 62-member caucus are relative moderates who face tough re-election battles next November, a circumstance environmental groups are trying to exploit (Climatewire, Dec. 5).

All but seven Republican members of the climate caucus voted for the first version of the tax bill when it passed the House in mid-November. The GOP opponents to the bill said their objections were largely over the legislation’s elimination of a write-off for state and local taxes, not environmental issues. On Nov. 30, nine GOP members of the caucus signed a letter to congressional leaders urging them to oppose any efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling — just as the Senate was adding a drilling provision in its version of the tax bill.

Three Republicans in the caucus voted against the bill and signed the ANWR letter — New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance and New York Reps. John Faso and Elise Stefanik. Climate Hawks Vote also lists New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith in that group, but while he has a solid environmental record, he is not a member of the caucus.

House and Senate conferees are meeting to reconcile the differences between the two versions of the legislation. Student-led protesters last week appeared in the offices of two climate caucus members, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), the co-chairman, and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), urging them to vote against the final bill if ANWR drilling is included (Climatewire, Dec. 5).

In addition to the petition, Climate Hawks Vote is running digital ads targeting GOP caucus members who voted for the tax bill in the House: Curbelo, Meehan, Washington Rep. Dave Reichert, who authored the ANWR letter, and Pennsylvania Reps. Ryan Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick.

RL Miller, co-founder of the PAC, said the ads will expand into at least two more districts.

In a related development, the New York League of Conservation Voters on Friday released a poll showing that Republican sportsmen in two upstate New York congressional districts where Republicans are vulnerable believe that the provision allowing for ANWR drilling should be removed from the tax legislation.

The poll tested voters in the Syracuse-based district of two-term Rep. John Katko and the Utica-based district of freshman Rep. Claudia Tenney, who is a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus. The Cook Political Reportsays Tenney is in a “lean Republican” district, while Katko’s district is rated “likely Republican.”

In the poll, 60 percent of GOP sportsmen said ANWR drilling should be taken out of the tax measure, compared with 29 percent who said it should not be removed. By a 57 percent to 26 percent margin, GOP sportsmen said protecting wildlife preserves for future generations is a “moral” issue, over an “economic” one. Eighty-two percent said that defending protected federal lands should be a “bipartisan” effort.

The survey of 400 likely voters, taken Dec. 2-3 by Harper Polling, had a 4.9-point margin of error.

“Republican sportsmen and sportswomen cherish America’s protected wildlife preserves and understand how quickly protected lands can be snatched away from future generations by short-sighted political chicanery in Washington,” said NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn.