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Rep. Curbelo: Climate change is now officially a bipartisan issue


By Flannery Winchester

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an international call featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.

CCL’s guest speaker for March 2016 was Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican representing Florida’s 26th district. He is a co-leader on the Gibson Resolution, which recognizes the impact of climate change and calls for action. Congressman Curbelo also launched the brand new Climate Solutions Caucus just last month alongside Democratic representative Ted Deutch, also from Florida.

On Saturday, Congressman Curbelo called us from the Florida Keys to give his personal take on reaching across the aisle for the good of all people and our planet. “I realized some time ago that this issue is an existential threat to where I live. Here in South Florida, regrettably, this is no longer an abstract issue. We are already witnessing the effects of climate change and sea level rise, and we know which way the trend is going.” So he and the Floridians he represents are ready for common-sense solutions to mitigate climate change, beginning with the new bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

No time for party politics

Curbelo and his Democratic co-founder Deutch formed the caucus together after putting partisanship aside, so membership follows the same pattern. Each Republican interested in joining must bring a Democratic partner so they can join two-by-two, Noah’s Ark style — an appropriate metaphor, given the threat of sea level rise in the founders’ home state. This structure means the Caucus will always be truly bipartisan, no matter how large it grows. Regarding the size of the group, Curbelo said, “My initial goal is to get all of the Republicans who have signed the Gibson Resolution to join. That will mean we’ll need 13 Democrats as well—that will give us a solid base of support and a strong presence in the House.” After that, he’ll set his sights on recruiting new members.

The secret to getting Republicans on board

Here’s the big secret: they want to be on board. Curbelo says, “I have had many conversations with Republican colleagues from all over the country — even the deep South — and people are ready to move on this issue. They’re tired of the hyper-politicization of this issue. They’re tired of the demagoguery surrounding this issue. They’re tired of allowing the disingenuous to hijack the truth with regards to this issue, and they’re building the courage to move forward.” As soon as they know their constituents are behind them, they’ll begin to act.

If they do need more convincing, all Curbelo has to do is speak their language. He often likens climate change to another looming threat, saying, “Ignoring climate change is as reckless or irresponsible as ignoring our country’s growing national debt and the fiscal crisis that looms if we do not take action and make meaningful reforms.” That resonates with many conservatives and highlights the need for bold leadership. Just like with financial debt, we have a debt with the environment, and “the longer we take to act, the more painful the remedy will be.”

And if all else fails, Curbelo cracks a joke: “When my district is underwater, I’ll move to your state and run against you.”

A solution we can all agree on

Curbelo is a proponent of market-based solutions to the challenge of climate change. He told us, “We want a market-based approach that’s predictable. Families and businesses can plan and say, ‘Okay, there’s a cost to pollution, and this is how we’re going to avoid it and be more efficient.’” And a carbon fee is exactly that—a market-based approach to curbing emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change.

He went a step further to suggest that we have a de facto carbon tax right now: the EPA budget. “We don’t line item it,” he pointed out, but the EPA’s activities are more and more necessary in the face of unmitigated climate change, meaning we can expect their costs to rise. If instead we implemented a true carbon tax, it would likely be more predictable and more effective at addressing the root of the problem.

Climate action needs everyone

Curbelo expects that as the Climate Solutions Caucus grows in membership, it will gain critical mass and people will support this cause more easily. To those of us pushing our members of Congress every day to act on climate, he said, “I encourage you not to give up on anyone. There are members of Congress from states you wouldn’t think that are interested in this issue, but they are—and they’re very close to doing the right thing.”

To hear our full conversation with Representative Carlos Curbelo, including his tips for a successful lobbying session, listen to our March 2016 podcast. Thank him for his leadership on Twitter at @RepCurbelo.

Flannery Winchester has put her words to work for magazines, for marketing agencies, and now for our earth as CCL's Communications Director. She is grateful to spend every day working to preserve this beautiful planet.