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A successful liftoff for Climate Solutions Caucus

Climate Solutions Caucus meeting

In front of “Years of Living Dangerously” cameras, the House Climate Solutions Caucus gets down to business.

A successful liftoff for Climate Solutions Caucus

By Steve Valk

Hours before the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus held its first meeting last week, a film crew from “Years of Living Dangerously” was in the room laying down tracks for the cameras that would later record the proceedings.

The big question, though, was how much of the meeting “Years” would be allowed to film.

“Frankly, nobody knew what would happen in that meeting,” said Jay Butera, CCL’s Senior Congressional Liaison and the person at the forefront of efforts to form the caucus. “Having Republicans and Democrats sit down to talk about climate change was unknown territory. Adding an oil company into the mix raised the stakes even further.”

Prior to the meeting and after careful negotiations, it was agreed that the award-winning documentary series on climate change could film the opening statements and then turn off the cameras.

“After opening statements, some nice conversation broke out and each member gave their own opening statement about why they were there,” said Butera. “The decision was made to let reporters stay in the room and to keep the cameras rolling.”

That the seven representatives in the meeting were comfortable with keeping the cameras on throughout the entire meeting is an indication of just how well things went.

“There was really amazing respect and interest for members of both parties, and they seemed to be getting along so well it was shocking to realize just how weird and unexpected this scene has become in today’s politics,” said CCL Legislative Director Danny Richter.

Present at the first meeting were representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Ryan Costello (R-PA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), and John Delaney (D-MD). If your member was there, be sure to tweet or email your appreciation.

Jay Butera, Deutch, Curbelo

From left, CCL’s Jay Butera with Climate Solutions Caucus co-chairs Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).

After opening remarks, a representative from Statoil told the caucus that his company prefers a carbon tax because of its simplicity and fairness, that they favor carbon pricing as long as it’s economy-wide and applies to all energy sectors. The caucus also heard from New Zealand’s Climate Change Minister, who said that addressing climate change has opened up economic opportunities for her country.

Democrat Ted Deutch – co-chair of the caucus with Curbelo – was upbeat about the meeting, judging from his Facebook post:

“I’ve heard a lot of people tell me that Democrats and Republicans coming together to work on climate change was impossible, but today the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus did exactly that.

“I was heartened by the respectful and honest conversation we had about issues ranging from rising sea levels to extreme weather events — issues that put South Florida at the United States’ epicenter of climate change …

“That’s what made today’s meeting historic. A bipartisan group met together to hear an oil industry representative tell us, ‘Climate change isn’t a political issue; it’s a fact of life’… You can be sure we’ll consider what options do and don’t work and how we can implement them with the future of our nation and world in mind.”

Curbelo set the tone for the meeting in his opening statement:

“What we want to do is have a sober, honest, sincere conversation about how we move forward. We think there are better alternatives than the regulations we’ve seen, although we understand something has to be done so certainly understand why some people are supportive of those actions. Our residents, our constituents want solutions.”

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen admitted it’s taken her a while to move into the climate-action camp but that the caucus provides a path for other Republicans to follow:

“This is about protecting property, protecting lives, creating jobs and making sure there’s a good future for our children … I think we’re going to pave the way for so many others who may be a little reluctant, because I know — I was there in the reluctant caucus — and we’ll help them along to be part of our caucus.”

Butera credits the successful outcome of the first meeting to the steadfast work of CCL volunteers:

“There is no doubt in my mind that this meeting was made possible by CCL’s tireless efforts to bring respect, gratitude, and appreciation to the climate conversation on Capitol Hill. I felt like the meeting was the cumulative success of years of work by thousands of CCL volunteers, whose thousands of lobby meetings have literally changed the tone of the Congressional discourse on this issue. It should be a proud moment for all of us.”

For those who might be wondering if the film crew influenced the cordial behavior of caucus members, I’ll pose this question: When has the presence of cameras ever moderated the tone of politicians in Washington?

Something very extraordinary is happening here.

Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.