Opinion: Bipartisan hope for climate change lawmaking

The Big Rivers Electric Corp. power plant in Robards, Ky., May 27, 2018. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)

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The Big Rivers Electric Corp. power plant in Robards, Ky., May 27, 2018. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)

As impeachment proceedings ratchet up the partisan tension in Washington, there’s still hope that progress can be made on the pressing problems of the day. It appears Republicans and Democrats are coming together on one issue that seemed intractable not long ago: climate change.

In the Senate, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana is teaming up with Delaware Democrat Chris Coons to form a bipartisan climate solutions group. Coons said, “Combating climate change will require all of us — Democrats and Republicans — to come together around bipartisan solutions.”

The Senate group complements the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House that was established in 2016. It became a judgment-free zone where members of both parties could come together for serious discussions about solving climate change. By the end of the previous Congress, the caucus had grown to 90 members, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Today, there are myriad bipartisan climate bills in the House, thanks in no small part to the collaborative atmosphere the caucus created.

A bipartisan approach to solving climate change is essential, because passing legislation through our divided Congress will require buy-in from both sides of the aisle. Regardless of which party controls the Senate and the White House after future elections, political winds can always shift, and policies with broad support will withstand those shifts.

Republicans and Democrats are seeking common ground on climate change because public opinion on the issue has reached a tipping point that cannot be ignored. A CBS News poll last month found that two-thirds of Americans view climate change as a crisis or serious problem, and a majority want immediate action.

Overwhelming majorities of younger GOP voters regard climate change as a serious threat, too: 77 percent of them said so in a survey by Ipsos and Newsy this fall.

It’s not just polling motivating Congress — it’s citizens. Volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby are carrying a clear message to their representatives: “Make climate a bridge issue, not a wedge issue.” CCL volunteers have held 1,131 meetings with congressional offices so far this year to bring the parties together on climate change. That message is amplified with thousands of constituent letters and phone calls.

Now that we have Republicans and Democrats talking to each other about climate solutions, what major climate legislation will they support together?

A price on carbon is a policy that offers promising common ground. Thousands of U.S. economists, including Federal Reserve chairs who served under Republican and Democratic presidents, support carbon pricing as an effective tool to reduce emissions quickly. Newsweek recently surveyed 300 multinational corporations and found that 95% are in favor of mandatory carbon pricing. And according to Luntz Global, carbon pricing that includes a revenue return, or a “carbon dividend” to Americans, is supported by 66 percent of all voters. Among GOP voters under 40 years of age, that support is even higher, 75 percent.

This year, four carbon pricing bills have been introduced with bipartisan sponsorship.

Of the four, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763) has attracted the most support by far, with 66 House members now signed on, including Republican Francis Rooney of Florida. This legislation would initiate a fee of $15 per metric ton of carbon, rising by $10 per ton each year. All revenue would be paid out equally to every household. In 10 years, a family of four would receive an annual “carbon dividend” of about $3,500. Resources for the Future estimates this policy would reduce carbon emissions 47% by 2030. The bill targets 90% reductions by 2050.

Here in metro Atlanta, support for this legislation has been expressed with nearly 1,000 constituent letters delivered to the Washington offices of the area’s representatives in Congress. Two members of the Georgia delegation in the House, Hank Johnson and Lucy McBath, have signed on as co-sponsors of H.R. 763. And DeKalb County and the city of Pine Lake have adopted resolutions in support of federal legislation on this issue. All this support, here and throughout the country, sends a signal to Republican lawmakers that backing H.R. 763 can be a politically astute move.

Despite the current hyperpartisan atmosphere, elected officials are realizing that climate change is one area where differences must be set aside for the good of our nation and the world. Not only are they realizing it, but they’re starting to act on it.

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Dan May is the leader of the Atlanta chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.