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Lawmakers launch 1st bipartisan US Senate caucus focused on climate change

Two U.S. senators Oct. 23 launched the chamber's first bipartisan climate change caucus to help bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats on how to address climate change.

The Climate Solutions Caucus was co-founded by U.S. Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Christopher Coons, D-Del., and will be equally comprised of Republican and Democratic members. In addition, the group will "operate by the principle of unanimous consent, acting only when each member agrees," according to a release from Coons' office.

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U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.
Source: AP Photo

"We will meet regularly and convene experts from across the political spectrum to discuss ideas such as developing economic incentives to reduce emissions, promoting the role of agriculture as a climate solution, and ensuring that any energy transition protects American energy consumers while supporting energy security and workforce development," the lawmakers said in an opinion piece published by The Hill.

During an Oct. 23 press briefing, Braun said the caucus will work to find "common ground" on ways to address climate change. But Coons did not expect legislation to come "in a matter of weeks or months," and said the group would first focus on fostering a "constructive, healthy conversation" on the issue.

Republicans and Democrats have been bitterly divided on climate policy this Congress. The Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has pushed to enact more aggressive measures, but the GOP-majority Senate has rebuffed many of those efforts, including a bill that would keep the U.S. in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Both parties have overlapped in some areas, however, including support for technological innovation and increased federal dollars for research and development of clean energy technologies.

"For us to continue to literally refuse to talk to each other about [climate change] strikes me as falling down on the job," Coons said. "If we're not even having a conversation, the chances of finding a solution are much smaller."

Coons has introduced legislation this Congress to place a price on carbon emissions and said he hoped the caucus would discuss such a policy but "that is just one of many ideas."

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U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
Source: AP Photo

Braun also backed exploring a carbon pricing mechanism, which many industries support, but said that idea should be compared with other possible climate policies and regulations. Advanced nuclear reactors could be the "ace in the hole" for lowering emissions, according to Braun, and both he and Coons said technology to reduce carbon output from fossil fuels will be crucial to combating climate change globally.

The lawmakers have yet to put out a full roster for the caucus but will announce other members in the coming days. Braun said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is joining and that he hoped to get four or five other Republicans on board initially.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute praised the new caucus and encouraged the group to help advance several bipartisan energy and climate bills, including legislation that the Senate energy committee voted to approve earlier in 2019. Those measures include S. 383, the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, which seeks to advance carbon dioxide utilization and direct air capture research, permitting and development, and S. 903, the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which promotes development of next-generation nuclear reactors.

"We are encouraged by today's launch of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus," the institute's president, Marty Durbin, said. "Finding common ground is critical to making progress, and we hope other Senators will join the effort."