Common ground on climate exists — outside of Congress

Common ground on climate exists — outside of Congress
© Getty Images

President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE and key senators recently announced a bipartisan deal on infrastructure to great fanfare, only to see the compromise potentially fall apart within days over questions of legislative priorities and what, exactly, was even in the agreement. 

While members of Congress struggle to cement bipartisan agreement, there is common ground on climate infrastructure emerging from constituents. 

Just look at the new Common Ground on Climate platform, which emerged from listening sessions that our organizations sponsored, in red and blue states with advocates, entrepreneurs, policy experts and people from rural and low-income neighborhoods.

ADVERTISEMENT

The meetings included people from both sides of our political divide. Some of them were more focused on America’s national security and business growth, while others prioritized equitable jobs creation and better health. Yet they arrived at commonsense ideas that would benefit everyone. 

This kind of connection is no surprise to the two of us. One of us (Benji Backer) spoke twice at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was named one of Red Alert’s 30 under 30, and has served in leadership roles for conservative Republican organizations from Wisconsin to Washington. The other (Michelle Romero) voted for Obama both times, supported the Green New Deal, and helped launch and support Democratic candidate campaigns in California. 

Despite some of our different views, we’ve worked together to build common ground on climate, and in doing so, we’ve discovered that we do not need to agree on everything to establish climate solutions. Together, we helped organize these listening sessions. 

The result is a climate infrastructure action plan that comes from constituents in red and blue states. It would create jobs, save money, make us all healthier, increase energy independence and begin tackling climate change. 

The solutions in this platform can be grouped into five pillars: 

First, save money on energy by weatherizing and solarizing homes, schools and businesses. This is also a source of equitable job creation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Second, clean up the air by deploying zero-emission school and transit buses, electrifying ports and adding electric vehicle charging stations. Kids should ride to school on buses that don’t pollute their lungs, no matter how their parents voted. 

Third, cool off by making ground on climate and emphasizing green spaces by planting trees and conserving America’s magisterial forests, from sea to shining sea. 

Fourth, expand public transit by investing in more convenient and frequent service, and expand access to low-emission transportation choices and to jobs and services. 

Fifth, support sustainable and regenerative agriculture. It is long past time that we back small farmers by rewarding them for long-term emissions reductions and sustainable farming practices

If put into place, the five pillars would create hundreds of thousands of green jobs, preserve small farms and green space, establish resident-led rooftop and community solar systems, and result in cleaner air, safer transportation and less pollution. It might not be everything we need to stop climate change, but it’s a great start. 

There is a deep well of support for this approach. A public opinion poll conducted by the conservative Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) found 74 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans, are in favor of the government taking action to increase clean energy development. A Yale survey also found 66 percent of Americans think developing sources of clean energy should be a high priority for Congress, and 83 percent support a jobs program for unemployed coal workers. 

Too often, bipartisan efforts start with Washington elites in the vain hope that an agreement will trickle down to help Americans around the country. Often, it produces a partisan backlash and it produces bad policy. 

Instead, our starting point wasn’t whose side would win or who would face punishment from voters. It was where the country we both love is falling short, and what the people most affected tell us about how to do better. In other words, we don’t have to agree on why to electrify school bus fleets, we just need to agree that it seems like common sense to do so. 

Bipartisan climate change legislation in the 117th Congress is possible. Finding common ground requires lots of listening and learning on both sides, but it can happen. In rooms full of unlikely allies, it already is. 

Now, it’s up to Congress to take the next step.

Michelle Romero is the chief programs officer of Dream Corps and national director of Green For All

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition