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NEW YORK President Donald Trump’s outspoken
doubts about climate change and his administration’s efforts to
roll back regulation to combat it have stirred a sleepy faction
in U.S. politics: the Republican environmental movement.
The various groups represent conservatives, Catholics and
the younger generation of Republicans who, unlike Trump, not
only recognize the science of climate change but want to see
their party wrest the initiative from Democrats and lead efforts
to combat global warming.
Conservative green groups such as ConservAmerica and
republicEn, along with politically neutral religious groups such
as Catholic Climate Covenant and bipartisan groups such as the
Citizens Climate Lobby, have ramped up efforts to recruit more
congressional Republicans to work on addressing climate change
since Trump’s election.
Conservative environmental advocates promote what they call “free enterprise” solutions to climate change, like a carbon
tax. That stands in contrast to the approach of liberal
environmentalists under former President Barack Obama, who
backed bans on certain kinds of oil drilling and regulations
aimed at discouraging petroleum use.
But whatever their differences, the conservative groups say
they have an important role to play.
“Conservatives now have a chance to earn back the trust of
Americans on environmental issues,” said Alex Bozmoski, director
of strategy for republicEn. “They can lead in a completely
different direction that actually grows the economy while
cutting greenhouse gasses.”
The activists’ efforts have not swayed anywhere near a
majority yet on Capitol Hill. Only 20 or so of the 237
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have spoken out
on climate change this year. But they hope to build a big enough
bloc in Congress, or enough influence at the White House, to
temper Trump’s agenda.
Lobbying has yielded some early results: a pro-environment
voting bloc in Congress, the Climate Solutions Caucus, for
example, has signed on more Republicans in the last two months
than in it had in the final year of Obama’s administration – its
first year in existence.
Urged on by a coalition of conservative and religious
groups, including the Catholic Climate Covenant, a handful of
additional Republicans have also signed a congressional
resolution pledging to address climate change.
The resolution was non-binding, but it represented a direct
challenge to Trump’s climate stance, a high-profile signal of
dissent within his party.
“It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous — you’ve got to first
recognize you’ve got a problem before you can deal with it,”
said Mark Sanford, a Republican Congressman from South Carolina
who signed the resolution.
Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the more than
100-year-old Sierra Club environmental group, said she was happy
to see “enlightened Republicans” beginning to act on climate
change. But Pierce added, “Legislative action is a long time
away based on, at least, the Republican leadership.”
Pierce also said she was skeptical of free enterprise
solutions advocated by conservative environmental groups like
republicEn, which she said sounded to her like “we have to pay
them not to pollute.”
Jose Aguto, associate director of the Catholic Climate
Covenant, said Republicans are the only major political party in
the world not convinced by climate change.
“Once they accept the reality and science of climate change,
we will have reached a tipping point in the political will for
Trump has raised the hackles of many environmentalists since
taking office. He has overturned several Obama-era environmental
regulations, and last week he proposed slashing the
Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent.
During his presidential campaign Trump called climate change
a “hoax” and vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris
accord, a global pact to fight it – tapping into a well of
Republican concern that the United States’ energy habits would
be policed by the United Nations.
But Republican bias against climate science is out of step
with the majority of Americans. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows a
majority of Republican supporters agree the United States should
play a leading role in combating climate change.
“It shouldn’t surprise anyone that more and more Republicans
are interested in this issue,” said Republican Representative
Carlos Curbelo of Florida. “This issue was regrettably
politicized some 20 or so years ago, and we are in the process
of taking some of the politics out.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
On Feb. 8, representatives from a newly formed group of
Republican statesmen, the Climate Leadership Council, including
former Treasury secretaries Henry Paulson and James A. Baker,
met with senior administration officials to push a carbon tax.
“We got a very respectful hearing,” said the council’s CEO,
Ted Halstead. “We’ve also been meeting with Republicans on the
Hill and have found open minds.”
The White House did not comment on the meetings.
Billionaire Republican donor and environmental advocate Andy
Sabin, meanwhile, said he has been speaking directly with White
House officials in hope of becoming Trump’s unpaid climate
change adviser – modeled on the role of fellow billionaire Carl
Icahn in advising Trump on regulation.
Focusing on health concerns would be the most effective way
to get Trump to try to slow climate change, said Sabin, a
precious metals magnate.
When asked about the chances of Sabin getting the position,
a White House spokeswoman said, “We don’t have an announcement
at this time.”
Republican Senator James Inhofe incurred public ridicule two
years ago after marching into the Capitol Building with a
snowball, claiming the cold weather disproved Obama’s climate
This year, republicEn used the incident as part of a
humorous rallying call on Valentine’s Day. Volunteers delivered
greeting cards to lawmakers quoting Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, in his former role as chief executive officer of
Exxon, declaring climate change to be a serious risk warranting “thoughtful action.”
Along with the card were coconut-coated cakes called Sno
Balls, a photograph of Inhofe and a poem:
“Roses are red, snowballs are white, together we’ll get the
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