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Multiple Republican senators would likely support a price on carbon, but are akin to "prisoners looking to escape" a fiercely guarded political fence line created by trade associations and fossil fuel industry front groups, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat-Rhode Island, said Thursday.
Speaking at a policymakers' forum held by National Clean Energy Week in Washington Thursday, Whitehouse said he sees a lot of Republican senators as "being willing to do a lot more than they are able to do right now."
The key to clearing a political path, he said, will be to work with forward-leaning companies on climate concerns to shift the conversation at politically powerful trade groups that have obstructed climate action.
Likewise, Mitt Romney, Republican senator from Utah and former presidential contender, told the forum he sees many businesses as concerned about climate and believes business leaders could transform a political reality that discourages Republican lawmakers from acting.
"If the Business Roundtable and other groups like that were to start asking politicians, what are you doing, what's your climate change position? … If the people that control a lot of purse strings start asking these questions, then you're going to see politicians begin to recognize, hey, this not only affects the health of the planet, this will affect my health as a politician," he said.
While demonstrating in the streets may be "a fun thing to do" and may make a difference, it does not move politicians who lack that pressure from their own constituents or from those funding their campaigns, he said. "So that's where the pressure has to be."
Whitehouse suggested a dozen or more Senate Republicans could support more action on climate.
"The good news is that once you get away from people who are directly seeking election, essentially every Republican who has looked at this problem goes to a revenue-neutral, border-adjustable price on carbon," he said.
The business community is also leaning toward the same approach, he said.
"My analogy is prisoners looking to escape and wanting to be outside the fence line, but the fence line is fiercely guarded," he said. "We've got to come into focus on that fence and what is preventing a dozen of my colleagues who would like to be involved as Republicans in solving our current problem from getting there."
Whitehouse portrayed trade groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute as presenting obstruction while some of their members were "leaning into climate solutions."
There is an opening created, he said, by the notion that Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil and other companies have CEOs that have publicly backed a carbon price but are in the awkward position of still funding "denial and obstruction."
"We have a real opportunity to open a pathway through the fence line and let the dozen or more Republicans who want to solve this problem have a politically safe passage," he said.
SEEKING BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
By Whitehouse's estimation, a package based on a revenue-neutral price on carbon with a border adjustment to avoid disadvantaging US businesses is the best bet for bipartisan support and would be "immediately and significantly" effective at helping to head off calamity.
Romney said he supported incentives to spur innovative energy technologies that would be taken up as well in developing economies such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, where most future CO2 emissions are expected. That could include investment tax credits as well as a carbon tax combined with dividends for ratepayers, he said.
Earlier in the week, Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners called it a "safe bet" that there could be a price on carbon in the US within a decade, even if Republicans are in power, fueled by a drive to protect US commercial interests in international trade. As other countries take on the economic costs of reducing emissions, they would likely protect domestic markets with border adjustments, for instance, on goods from countries without a carbon price, he noted.
As one example of change already afoot, Book cited European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen's move toward a border carbon adjustment.
In response to Whitehouse's comments, Matt Letourneau, a spokesman for the US Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute, highlighted a task force unveiled by the group Tuesday to better understand the range of steps businesses are employing to tackle climate change.
"By establishing this group, the Chamber will have a formal process to continually engage companies across our broad membership on this important issue," the group said in its announcement Tuesday. Letourneau also noted the group's backing of legislation to support energy innovation and a summit on innovation it held in July.
-- Maya Weber, email@example.com
-- Edited by Bill Montgomery, firstname.lastname@example.org