Can A Pair Of Republican Congressmen Make The House Fold On Climate Change?


By Ari Phillips

Two House Republicans have voiced concern over climate change in the last week, with one of them even proposing a bill seeking to address the issue. These Republicans, Chris Gibson from New York and Congressman-elect Garret Graves from Louisiana, are sticking their necks out for their beliefs and their constituents’ concerns in a setting where they are could easily get chopped off. Emboldened by their midterm gains and bolstered by powerful lobbying networks like the American Legislative Exchange Council and corporate interests such as the Koch Brothers, the vast majority of Republicans have retrenched into their denial of climate change and distaste for environmental regulations. Does it matter then these two are trying to speak out over the din of despair?

Both Gibson and Graves referenced concerns in their districts as driving factors, with Gibson saying his district has been hit with “three 500-year floods in the last several years, so either you believe that we had a one in over 100 million probability that occurred, or you believe as I do that there’s a new normal.”

In reference to sea level rise in Louisiana, Graves said “for us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening is idiotic, and it puts the lives of two million people who live in south Louisiana in jeopardy.”

Joel Finkelstein, director of strategic communications with Climate Advisers, a D.C.-based consulting firm, told ThinkProgress he thinks it’s too early to say these two statements represent any sort of trend, but probably just a couple positive highlights amid a sky of doubt.

“Amid the devastation of the midterms there are a few tiny rays of light that could show Republicans recognizing the need to address climate change, or at least moderate their positions,” said Finkelstein.

Finkelstein pointed to Florida Governor Rick Scott making more of an effort to protect the state’s fragile environment and newly elected Colorado Senator Cory Gardner pushing more renewables as calculated political moves in favor of environmental progress that may have helped them win re-election. But this would seem more of an effort to appeal to swing voters rather than any sort of shift of the base.

“I don’t disagree with bleak predictions for this Congress,” said Finkelstein. “And I think we’re going to see lots of attempts to defund environmental priorities and define the agenda.”

In summing up his thoughts, Finkelstein paraphrased a quote attributed to Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western Civilization.

“What do I think about Republicans in Congress taking a proactive approach to climate change?” He said. “I think it would be a very good idea.”

Earlier this year, Politifact tried to identify congressional Republicans that hadn’t outwardly expressed skepticism about climate change. They came up with eight out of 278, only three of which were in the House: Michael Grimm (R-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ).

This list does not include Gibson, who was elected in 2010 , or Graves, who just won his seat in a special election. It doesn’t profess to be a comprehensive list, saying that “not every member of Congress has taken a clear stance on climate change, and we can’t read people’s minds.”

Nor do Gibson or Graves represent exceptionally giant leaps forward for Republican’s climate and environmental agenda. Gibson supports the Keystone XL pipeline bringing tar sands from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico as well as an expansion of offshore drilling. Graves said in no way, shape, or form does he support “doing mandatory emissions regulation.”

Graves resigned from his job as director of the Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in February, a position that gave him a firsthand look at the way sea level rise is devouring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. It also revealed some of his cards as far as how he might fall when push comes to shove in the partisan confines of Congress. As Tim Murphy at Mother Jones points out, when the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, a regional board established by the state after the Hurricane Katrina, threatened to sue 100 oil and gas companies last year, Graves condemned it and joined forces with Republican Governor Bobby Jindal in an extensive effort to defeat it.

On Wednesday, Claire Cortright, a resident of Gibson’s 19th district in New York, wrote a letter to the local paper, The Times Herald-Record, expressing her approval of Gibson’s statements and saying they “desperately need this kind of leadership” on climate change.

“Thank you for being willing to face the difficult task of uniting our divided legislators to do what we all know is the right thing: act together to cut our carbon emissions and avoid the worst impacts of business as usual,” she wrote.

In an interview shortly after being elected in Louisiana earlier this month, Graves, for his part, said he is looking forward to the task of trying to unite such divides.

“I don’t think you can summarize the tone, mantra, or attitude of 535 members of Congress in one sentence,” said Graves. “We obviously have scores of different positions on how to properly balance environmental and economic policy. I look forward to participating in those discussions.”

Neither Gibson or Graves responded to request for comment on this article.