By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump‘s outspoken doubts about climate change and his administration’s efforts to reverse regulation to combat it have awakened a dormant faction in American 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 his party wrest the initiative from Democrats and lead efforts to combat climate change. global warming.
Conservative environmental groups like ConservAmerica and RepublicEn, along with politically neutral religious groups like Catholic Climate Covenant and bipartisan groups like Citizens Climate Lobby, have stepped up efforts to recruit more Republicans from Congress 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 contrasts with the approach of liberal environmentalists under former President Barack Obama, who backed bans on certain types of oil drilling and regulations aimed at discouraging the use of oil.
But whatever their differences, conservative groups say they have an important role to play.
“Conservatives now have a chance to regain the confidence of Americans on environmental issues,” said Alex Bozmoski, republicEn’s chief strategy officer. “They can lead in a completely different direction that really grows the economy while reducing greenhouse gases.”
The activists’ efforts have yet to reach the majority on Capitol Hill. Only 20 of the 237 Republicans in the US 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 in the White House, to moderate Trump’s agenda.
The lobbying has yielded some initial results: A pro-environment voting bloc in Congress, the Climate Solutions Caucus, for example, has signed more Republicans in the past two months than in the past year of the Obama administration, its first year in stock.
Urged on by a coalition of conservative and religious groups, including the Catholic Climate Covenant, a handful of additional Republicans also signed a congressional resolution pledging to address climate change.
The resolution was not binding, but it did represent a direct challenge to Trump’s climate stance, a high-profile sign of dissent within his party.
“It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous: You have to first acknowledge that you have a problem before you can solve it,” said Mark Sanford, a Republican congressman from South Carolina who signed the resolution.
Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the environmental group Sierra Club for more than 100 years, said she was happy to see “enlightened Republicans” taking action on climate change. But Pierce added: “Legislative action has long been based on, at least, Republican leadership.”
Pierce also said she was skeptical of free enterprise solutions advocated by conservative environmental groups like RepublicEn, which she said sounded like “we have to pay them so they don’t pollute.”
José Aguto, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said Republicans are the only major political party in the world that is not convinced about climate change.
“Once they accept the reality and science of climate change, we will have reached a turning point in the political will to find solutions.”
Trump has raised the hairs on many environmentalists since he took office. He has struck down several Obama-era environmental regulations and last week proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s 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 agreement, a global pact to combat it, tapping into a well of Republican concern that America’s energy habits would be controlled by the United Nations.
But the Republican bias against climate science is out of step with most Americans. A Reuters / Ipsos poll shows that the majority of Republican supporters agree that the United States should play a leadership role in fighting climate change.
“It should come as no surprise that more and more Republicans are interested in this issue,” said Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida. “Unfortunately, this issue became politicized about 20 years ago and we are in the process of eliminating part of the policy.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
On February 8, representatives of 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 for a carbon tax.
“We had a very respectful hearing,” said council executive director Ted Halstead. “We have also met with Republicans on Hill and found open minds.”
The White House did not comment on the meetings.
Republican billionaire donor and environmental advocate Andy Sabin, meanwhile, said he has been speaking directly with White House officials in hopes of becoming Trump’s unpaid adviser on climate change, modeled after billionaire Carl Icahn’s role. advising Trump on regulation.
Focusing on health issues would be the most effective way to get Trump to try to curb climate change, said Sabin, a precious metals mogul.
When asked about the chances of Sabin getting the job, 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 claims about climate change.
This year, republicEn used the incident as part of a humorous appeal on Valentine’s Day. Volunteers handed out greeting cards to lawmakers citing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in his previous role as CEO of Exxon (NYSE :), stating that climate change is a serious risk that warrants “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 will find the right solution.”