WASHINGTON — During a recent trip to Egypt for the COP27 summit on climate change, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, the Houston Republican, considered how his visit might go down back home.
Sitting down with five other Republican House members with whom he was travelling to film a YouTube video, he described a Republican base that “might say why are you going to this globalist meeting, guy? Why are you cohorting with the likes of these people?”
Answering his own question, Crenshaw, a former Navy Seal who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said, “The answer is you better be happy people like us are here because we’re the only ones offering a different point of view.”
With Republicans set to take control of the House in January, the Biden administration’s climate policies are expected to be front and center, with Republican leaders promising a series of oversight hearings to examine spending under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act — both of which contained hundreds of billions of dollars in incentives and funding for clean energy.
But Republican leadershipis signaling a more nuanced approach than they might have taken in the past, a shift away from the climate denialism to which many Republicans had long clung. Instead they are gearing up for a more moderate strategy that acknowledges mankind is contributing to climate change but challenges the notion society can shift rapidly away from oil and other fossil fuels without driving up energy prices.
Last year House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is poised to become House Speaker when Republicans take control of the House in January, named climate change as one of seven pressing problems facing the nation.
The Conservative Climate Caucus, a group of Republican Congressmen that looks for “practical and exportable answers” to climate change, now counts 77 members in its ranks — dozens more than what both the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus and moderate Tuesday Group count, said Rich Powell, CEO of ClearPath, a Washington-based advocacy group that argues for a conservative approach to climate change
“There are still deniers, but they’re a smaller and smaller voice every year within the caucus and certainly not in leadership,” he said. “There’s been a huge amount of work across this Congress from leader McCarthy on down to try and get a governing framework (on climate change) together should they win the House.”
This summer McCarthy and other top Republicans laid out a six-part plan for climate change: “Unlock American Resources, Let America Build, American Innovation, Beat China and Russia, Conservation with a Purpose and Build Resilient Communities.”
At the center of their strategy is a focus on technologies that allow for the continued use of fossil fuels, such as clean hydrogen fuel and carbon capture, which removes greenhouse gases from emissions.
That has led to no end of speculation that Democrats and Republicans could potentially come together to pass some climate policies over the next two years.
Republicans and some Democrats have clamored for years about reforming the federal government’s permitting process, which takes years to navigate, holding up not only natural gas pipelines but also long distance transmission lines needed to connect wind and solar farms to the grid. Also, a group of Republican senators has floated the idea of taxing imports based on their carbon emissions.
And with clean energy technology like electric vehicles and solar panels increasingly big business inred states like Texas, Republicans are unlikely to go after significant funding cuts to those industries, said Frank Maisano, a consultant with the law firm Bracewell.
“How many Republicans support (electric vehicles)? A lot,” he said. “Maybe they want to trim around the edges and reduce some of the funding, but these are all technology programs they like. This is why it was a non-controversial issue except with a handful of members.”
Still, to hear Republicans and Democrats speak about each other it’s hard to imagine them finding common ground.
During their appearance at COP27, Republicans descried the world as succumbing to “radical environmentalism.”
And the Center for American Progress, the Democratic policy group with strong ties to the Biden administration, describes more than half of Republican members of Congress as “climate deniers,” including Crenshaw and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, both of whom readily acknowledge mankind’s contribution to climate change.
“There’s the Republicans who are climate deniers, a whole bunch of them, and then there’s a bunch of them, who say the climate is changing but it’s not us, and then there’s a whole other segment, who say maybe the climate is changing and we’re playing a role, but China is the real problem,” said Matthew Davis, legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters. “If you look at Democrat House members there’s a couple who don’t like talking about climate change but it’s very few.”
While the two sides continue to disagree, the debate has changedfrom seven years ago when Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., stood on the Senate floor with a snowball gathered from outside the building to question reports of global warming.
Driving the shift are increasing incidence of severe hurricanes, drought and wildfire — all consequences of climate change, scientists say. In addition, Americans are increasingly worried about climate change, particularly among young voters.
A Gallup poll this summer found that 69 percent of Republicans under 34 worried a lot or a fair amount about the environment — compared to 46 percent of those over 55 years of age.
“The delegation to COP27, five years ago that wouldn’t have happened,” said Ed Hild, an attorney and former chief of staff to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “Nothing happens quickly (in Washington). It’s baby steps. But gradually Republicans are moving in the direction of doing something.”