Republicans came to the table on climate this year
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In the whirlwind that is our current political environment, you might have missed one particular gust that swept through Congress this year: elected Republicans have shifted dramatically on climate change. The change is due in part to encouragement from conservative voters. Today, we see Republicans in Congress getting engaged on the issue, bringing to the table conservative solutions that protect hardworking Americans and ensure prosperity in our economy.

This year, freshman Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts Lawmakers aim for COVID-19 relief deal this week MORE (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner, “I’m not afraid to talk about climate change. … We’re obviously pumping more CO2 into the air, and there’s a thing called the greenhouse effect.” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamYates spars with GOP at testy hearing Trump knocks Sally Yates ahead of congressional testimony Republicans uncomfortably playing defense MORE (R-S.C.) agrees, saying, “I’m a Republican who believes the greenhouse gas effect is real, that climate change is being affected by manmade behavior.”

In March, Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyNRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  MORE (R-Utah) said there’s “no question that we’re experiencing climate change and that humans are a significant contributor.” Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsThe Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week Establishment-backed Marshall defeats Kobach in Kansas GOP Senate primary MORE (R-Kan.) said everyone in his agriculture-heavy state of Kansas realizes climate change is happening, calling the issue “obvious.” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoLatest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election Barrasso nuclear bill latest GOP effort to boost uranium mining MORE (R-Wyo.), who represents America’s largest coal producing state , said, “The climate is changing and we, collectively, have a responsibility to do something about it.”

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Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGaetz set to endorse primary opponent of fellow Florida GOP lawmaker The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Progress slow on coronavirus bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Biden VP possible next week; Meadows says relief talks 'miles apart' MORE (R-Fla.) might have put it best when he posted on Facebook, “I didn't come to Congress to argue with a thermometer. [...] The science of global warming is irrefutable.” In May, Texas Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE told the Houston Chronicle bluntly, “The days of ignoring this issue are over.”

There’s clearly agreement within the party that climate change needs to be addressed. With that in mind, Republican officials have begun stepping down a path to protect rural Americans and coal communities, stimulate innovation, and use market forces (not regulations) to reduce emissions.

This year, 14 Republicans in the House worked across the aisle on the RECLAIM Act, which would help diversify the economies of coal communities as our country transitions to clean energy. Romney said explicitly that we should “help the communities that are affected by the change in technology: the rural areas, the coal country.” With Republicans engaged in the conversation about climate solutions, we can make sure these communities are protected.

Republicans also supported technological innovations such as carbon capture and storage. The bipartisan USE IT Act had support from more than 25 Republicans in the Senate and the House. This bill authorizes $35 million in competitive prize funding for direct air capture technologies and allocates $50 million toward research and development of technologies that transform captured carbon dioxide into commercial products. The bill passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act this summer. This type of legislation directly addresses our desire to secure America’s place as “a leader in innovation,” as Sen. Graham has said. After all, as Rep. Buddy CarterEarl (Buddy) Leroy CarterOvernight Health Care: Trump says White House will pressure governors to open schools | Administration formally moves to withdraw US from WHO | Fauci warns against 'false complacency' on COVID-19 House fires back at Trump by passing ObamaCare expansion Loeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid MORE (R-Ga.) says, “We led the world with coal and oil and gas development. Now we need to do it with growing clean energy markets” and cutting edge energy technology.

Republicans are also working to unleash the power of the American free market on the challenge of lowering emissions. Specifically, a price on carbon is a market-friendly policy mechanism that Republicans are coalescing around. Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. Fitzpatrick2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Overnight Energy: House passes major conservation bill, sending to Trump | EPA finalizes rule to speed up review of industry permits MORE (R-Pa.) introduced the MARKET CHOICE Act, which would put a fee on carbon emissions to reduce them, while also eliminating the gas tax and investing in America’s infrastructure.

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Rep. Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Gohmert tests positive; safety fears escalate on Capitol Hill Pelosi to require masks on House floor Rooney becomes first House Republican to use proxy voting system MORE (R-Fla.) is an original co-sponsor of Energy Innovation Act (H.R. 763), another innovative, market-driven policy. This bill will put a price on carbon pollution and give carbon dividends to every American. It will give businesses clarity about what choices will be best for the bottom line and for the environment, helping them plan for a prosperous future. At the same time, it makes sure most hardworking Americans come out ahead, with more money in their pockets than before. This bipartisan legislation has 75 co-sponsors in the House.

In addition to the legislation put forth this year, a group of Republican senators is laying groundwork for more climate legislation to come. Senators Braun, Graham, Lisa. Murkowski (R-Alaska), Romney, and Rubio have joined the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. According to Murkowski, the group will “advance timely, pragmatic policies that will help lower our greenhouse gas emissions and address the threatening reality of climate change.”

I am encouraged that Republican leaders are working on an issue I hold as important. I find that I’m not alone—many other conservatives are concerned about the climate debt we’re passing on to our children, and their concern is showing up in public polling. Luntz Global found that GOP voters, by a two-to-one margin, support the idea of putting a price on carbon and returning carbon dividends to Americans. Young Republicans in particular are eager for this type of conservative climate policy: 75 percent say they support it.

Conservative voters will only get more vocal on this issue in 2020. College Republicans just launched a new advocacy group called Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends, which will lobby Republicans to throw more support behind carbon dividend legislation. On Feb. 4, dozens of conservatives from Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan advocacy group, will meet with Republican offices on the Hill specifically about climate change. I’ll be among them. 

Republican members of Congress are comfortable acknowledging the problem of climate change now. I’m optimistic we’ll see them address it, while keeping conservative values and priorities front and center.

Jim Tolbert is the Conservative Outreach Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He lives in North Carolina.