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Carlos Curbelo emerging as the Republican leader on climate change in Congress

Rep. Carlos Curbelo at press conference

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) speaks at a press conference this week with other sponsors of the Republican climate resolution. (Photo by Hannah Hess/E&E News)

By Mary Gable

If there ever were a time that the planet needed an extra ally in Congress, now would be it. Facing an administration whose senior officials have been downright hostile on the issue of addressing — or even acknowledging — the threat of climate change, it might just have one in Florida Representative Carlos Curbelo.

Over the past several weeks, Curbelo has been appealing to members of the Trump administration, as well as his Republican colleagues in Congress, to take action to address global warming, invoking the “conservative principle to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment.”

In so doing, Curbelo is emerging as the Republican Party’s standard bearer in the fight to save the climate.

A voice of reason

Curbelo has long understood the existential threat posed by climate change, because he and his district are experiencing it firsthand. He represents south Florida, where issues like coral bleaching and rising sea levels are already disrupting ecosystems and threatening the local economy.

Curbelo has supported pro-climate bills in the House, and in 2016, became a cofounder of the Climate Solutions Caucus along with fellow south Florida Rep. Ted Deutsch, a Democrat. In the past two weeks, however, Curbelo has turned up the heat, putting his commitments into action:

March 9 

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt states during an interview with CNBC that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to climate change. Later that day, Curbelo releases a statement calling this comment “reckless and unacceptable.”

March 14

As coverage mounts describing the discord among Trump administration officials regarding whether to remain a signatory to the Paris climate agreement, Curbelo co-signs a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to make the case for remaining in the accord.

“Fully implementing the climate agreement reached in Paris will create American jobs, boost U.S. competitiveness, and help to transform today’s low-carbon investments into trillions of dollars of clean prosperity,” the letter reads.

March 15

Curbelo co-sponsors a Republican climate resolution, signed by 16 other Republican members of the House, calling on the House to “commit to working on economically viable solutions that address the risks of climate change,” citing “American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism.”

“Every member of Congress has a responsibility to our constituents and future generations to support market-based solutions, investments, and innovations that could alleviate the effects of climate change and make our nation more resilient,” Curbelo said the same day. “Our goal with this resolution is to shift the debate from whether climate change is real toward the tangible efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate its effects.”

March 17

Curbelo keeps the pressure on Pruitt, sending him a letter urging him to reconsider his statements on carbon dioxide and climate change. He also invites Pruitt to visit his district to see the effects of climate change for himself. “Reasonable people can disagree about how to respond to the risks of climate change,” Curbelo writes. “But there should be little disagreement that it is something that must be done.”

March 18

Curbelo appears on CBS This Morning, explaining the goals of the Republican climate resolution and inviting members of both parties to work together to pass climate-friendly legislation despite the headwinds presented by the Trump administration.

March 20

Signers of the Republican resolution, including Curbelo, answer questions during a news conference on Capitol Hill. Curbelo says that members plan to propose climate bills “that can pass this Congress,” and expressed his confidence that more Republicans will soon take up the cause.

Time will tell if Rep. Curbelo’s efforts will translate into meaningful legislation. We are encouraged to see him speaking up for the climate and bringing other members of his party on board, and hope to see the momentum continue.

Mary Gable is a writer and editor who focuses on sustainability and innovation. She's based in Seattle, but takes her work on the road whenever she can.