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Congress must find common ground on climate

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Partisanship may rule in Washington, D.C., but we all know that there are no Republican wildfires or Democratic floods. While some Republican senators throw up filibuster threats and some Democratic senators only negotiate within their own party, there is a common ground emerging — outside of Congress.

Back in November, we went to the United Nations climate summit COP26 while President Biden’s signature Build Back Better legislation was slowly, but optimistically, still moving its way through Congress.  

At the time, Democrats were sure Build Back Better was their best chance at confronting climate change and only one congressional chamber away from becoming law. Then, after long negotiations, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) declared he would not vote for the package. Democrats lost the crucial vote they needed to use the budget reconciliation process to bypass a Republican filibuster. Today, Build Back Better appears all but dead.

However, the two of us never believed Build Back Better was the only way to address climate change and make sure Americans benefit from the green economy. So today, we’re just as hopeful as we were in November. 

Just look at us. One of us (Robinson) is a staunch conservative who leads government affairs at the right-leaning American Conservation Coalition. The other (Buendia) is a San Francisco bay-area liberal who led climate equity work for the California government. We are two different people with very different values — yet, here we are. Both committed to working together on building a better climate future for our country.

And over the past two years, our organizations have been doing just that. While Build Back Better wandered through Congress, we have been working on a parallel track to find climate solutions that both progressives and conservatives can get behind. We’ve hosted listening sessions and policy forums across the country, with everyday Americans from both sides of our political divide, to see if we can find common ground on climate. We talked to advocates, entrepreneurs, policy experts, folks from rural and low-income neighborhoods, as well as people in red, blue, and purple states. 

What we discovered was a fascinating list of solutions that are popular with Democrats and Republicans alike. People from diverse backgrounds are uniting around investing in resilient infrastructure, expanding access to rooftop solar and supporting natural climate solutions that sequester carbon and protect nature.

Not only that, Americans on both sides of the aisle believe we should prioritize the communities most threatened by climate and economic impacts — often the same ones that have been overlooked and struggling for decades. These communities are more likely to be low-income, rural or communities of color and, too often, they pay higher utility bills, drink more contaminated water and breathe dirtier air. 

Progressives describe this fight as environmental justice. Conservatives identify it as an effort to protect the forgotten men and women of our country. We’re on the same page — we just have a different way of describing it. 

Many progressives may not even realize how many conservatives want a better climate policy for the country we all love. It is easy to imagine American policy flip-flopping back and forth between partisan ideology for decades to come, while our international standing sinks and energy independence slips further away. How can any entrepreneur or business plan their investments for 20 years out when the U.S. regulatory environment shifts wildly with each election cycle? Conservatives are making a pro-business, pro-national security case for responding to the climate crisis.

The two of us disagree on a lot, from the proper size of government to the correct level of regulation on the private sector. But we don’t have to let this stop us from talking to each other. Americans now face a choice. Instead of falling back into partisan gridlock, we can create jobs and save money while beginning to tackle climate change and increasing energy independence. 

This is a common ground Americans can get behind. Let’s craft policies based on the ideas that unite us, not those that keep us apart.

Jessie Buendia is a racial and climate equity strategist who serves as the director of Green for All at Dream Corps.  

Quill Robinson is the vice president of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

Tags bipartisan Build Back Better Climate change Democrats Environment Global warming Jessie Buendia Joe Biden Joe Manchin Quill Robinson Republicans

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