A bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen could play a pivotalrole in addressing climate change depending on the outcome of upcomingelections and whether the Obama administration's signature rule to cut carbonemissions survives legal challenges.
The U.S. House of Representatives' Climate Solutions Caucusis the first bipartisan caucus focused on climate change. It was in February, around thesame time the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan thatintended to slash carbon output from existing power plants.
The uncertain outlook for the rule, coupled with a closepresidential race between Republican candidate and EPA critic Donald Trump andDemocratic candidate Hillary Clinton, has raised the chances that Congresscould shape federal climate policy after past attempts to pass majorlegislation, including cap-and-trade bills, have failed. Trump has vowed toeliminate the CleanPower Plan if elected, and advisorsto his campaign have said Congress — not the EPA — must decide if and howcarbon emissions should be managed.
Although the caucus was not formed with that outcome inmind, its members eventually want to propose climate solutions that couldbalance the priorities of Democrats and Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus
Source: U.S. House of Representatives
"We didn't want to go into this with a series of billsready to drop and then try to justify them by what we hear," said U.S.Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who co-chairs the caucus with another Floridacongressman, GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo. "We want to actually … use thesemeetings as an opportunity to figure out where Congress could get involved in away that would be helpful and in a way that could garner bipartisan support."
While Deutch stressed that the caucus has not discussedspecific policy prescriptions yet, the group's formation was spurred by theCitizens' Climate Lobby, a non-profit advocacy group that promotes adoption ofa revenue-neutral carbon fee.The proceeds from that fee, minus administrative costs, would be returned toU.S. households.
"There have been discussions about pricing carbonbecause, as some of our participants in the discussions have told us … they arealready doing it for their own purposes and their own analysis," Deutchsaid.
The caucus has held three meetings so far that have includedpresentations from international oil and gas producer , solar power systemmanufacturer SolarCity Corp.and a major U.S. electricity generator. Statoil, which has operations acrossthe globe, believes that a "simple, transparent carbon tax" is the "bestapproach" for lowering emissions without dragging on the economy, said JayButera, CCL's senior congressional liaison. Butera said other oil producers,including Exxon Mobil Corp.and Royal Dutch Shell plc,also support a carbon tax.
But the idea of new taxes — on carbon or otherwise — willlikely face stiff resistance from Republicans. President Barack Obama said atan Oct. 3 climate talk at the White House that congressional passage of acarbon tax was "a ways away" given the current political environment.
Those divisions are why the Climate Solutions Caucus istrying to enlist more bipartisan support. The caucus now has 20 members thatare equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, but more can join solong as the political affiliation makeup remains balanced.
"The result of that [approach] is the kinds ofdiscussions that we've had so far that are respectful," Deutch said. "They'renot judgmental, they're informative and hopefully by elevating the debatearound climate issues, we might actually be able to move forward some concretesteps that Congress can take to address them."
The caucus will not meet again until after the Nov. 8elections, when the group should have a better idea of next steps and what thenew administration's priorities will be.
"We're really setting the table for what we hope willbe a more robust series of meetings with more national players," Deutchsaid.
The direction of climate legislation will depend on who winsin this November's elections. Clinton has been a staunch proponent of climateregulation, including the Clean Power Plan, and has proposed aggressiverenewable energy targets. Trump wants to undo federal rules and policies thatpresent hurdles for fossil fuel interests. The future leadership of the U.S.Senate is also uncertain,as Democrats may be in a position to reclaim the majority.