Climate and Elected Officials

By Aronya Waller

March 6th, 2023

“We come from different political parties and represent different parts of the country, but we recognize the importance of American leadership in addressing our changing climate. Republicans and Democrats have to work together, compromise, and find common ground.”

Bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus

Climate change has been a political dividing point, and sometimes a bipartisan unifier, for generations. We have climate activists and climate deniers in our Congress. We recently witnessed the fight on the Hill for the ultimate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Its name does not imply it, but there were several aspects of climate change addressed within that act. There have been elected officials fighting for decades for climate change, but in recent years, political parties have taken different approaches to this issue. The Republican Party seems to be more interested in climate adaptation, which focuses on reducing our vulnerability to the impact of climate change. Whereas, the Democratic Party appears to be more focused on climate mitigation, which addresses the cause of climate change.

Climate change has been a political issue since the 1970s, and Republican President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. During that time, it seemed like the right-wing party was warning the country of the effects of climate change. Yet, the tide started to change in the late 1990s. In 2019,  The Brookings Institution published an article about the politics of climate change. There were nearly an equal number of Democrats and Republicans who said that the effects of climate change had already begun in 1997. Ten years later, 76% of Democrats believed that the effects had already begun, and only 42% of Republicans believed it. That gap had decreased by 34%.

This gap is slowly closing, but it needs to happen at a much quicker rate. In the 116th Congress, there were 150 members and 139 members in the 117th Congress. There are fewer Congressional Republican deniers. They agree with the scientific evidence that fossil fuel emissions are raising the Earth’s temperature, but they think that abandoning oil, gas, and coal will harm our economy. According to the Center for American Progress, there were still 139 elected officials in the 117th Congress, including 109 representatives and 30 senators, who refused to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. These same 139 climate-denying members have received more than $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries. These climate deniers comprised 52 percent of House Republicans, 60 percent of Senate Republicans, and more than one-quarter of the total number of elected officials in Congress.

While there are climate deniers, there are also climate activists entering Congress. These younger Congressional representatives are known as climate hawks. They are determined to push climate change bills through Congress. They are also committed to supporting environmentalists, agricultural workers, Indigenous people, labor groups, and low-income communities. Climate change is no longer a threat for generations from now. It is not a futuristic idea. Climate change is here. Climate change is only increasing the racial and economic inequalities within our communities.

Many of us have experienced the effects of climate change—hurricanes, floods, pollution, and lack of clean water to name a few. It is up to us to vote for people who will fulfill their promises to address climate change and contact our Congressional representatives to help save our planet.  It’s time for the United States to get on board with what the rest of the world already knows. Our planet is under siege. During the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27, countries representing more than half of the global GDP created a 12-month action plan to help make clean technologies cheaper and more accessible everywhere—focusing on topics such as burning fossil fuels, infrastructure, and agriculture.

In this article, neither Veggie Mijas nor I am advocating for any elected official. While we may not fully or always agree with their policies and votes, the people and groups highlighted below at least have some foresight to move climate change practices forward.

Climate Solutions Caucuses

Some Republican and Democratic Congressional Representatives understand that climate change is here, and they are willing to work together to save our planet. Both chambers of Congress have created bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucuses. These caucuses are for members to discuss solutions to climate change and to work specifically on climate legislation.

The Senate Climate Solutions Caucus was formed in 2019 by Senator Michael Braun (R-IN) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE).  It is designed to be a small and active working group, focused on solutions. The House Climate Solutions Caucus was formed in February 2016 by Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL) and former Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). It has already played an important role in facilitating climate change discussions and in the introduction of bipartisan legislation. It is unconfirmed whether these caucuses are still active in the 118th Congress.

The House of Representatives has also established committees to work on climate. First, there was the United States House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was active from 2007 to 2011. In 2019, the House created the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, which focused on environmental justice and public health. It was disbanded on January 3, 2023. Both times, the committees were disbanded when the Republicans gained the House majority.

Image from House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis

Green New Deal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) attempted to get legislation passed for a Green New Deal in 2019 during the 116th United States Congress. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Andrew Levin (D-MI) signed onto the BUILD GREEN Infrastructure and Jobs Act as co-sponsors. It would have invested $500 billion over ten years in state, local, and tribal projects to aid in the transition to all-electric public vehicles and rail and modernize the nation's infrastructure. It failed to advance in the Senate.

Image from The New York Times

The Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act was passed by the Senate and signed into law by Democratic President Joe Biden. It is the country’s largest climate change policy and investment in history. The bill invests more than $360 billion in energy and climate change programs over the next decade, including cash incentives for electric vehicle consumers and tax breaks to speed up the country’s transition to renewable energy sources. An additional $60 billion will be given to cities that are disproportionately affected by climate change, and millions more as “climate resiliency funding” for Native American communities. Climate hawks within the Senate were overjoyed by the passage of the act. “This is a planetary emergency, and this is the first time the federal government has taken action that is worthy of the moment,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) explained. “Now I can look my kids in the eye and say we’re really doing something about climate.”

Image from Science News

The Three Climateers

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have been affectionately known as The Three Climateers for making climate change and advocacy the focus of their Senate careers. In November 2021, they all attended the United Nations Climate Conference COP26, and they shared the message that the United States will be a climate leader.

Image from The Washington Post

Sean Casten

Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) has made climate change his top priority since his constituents are experiencing the intensified effects of climate change. Rep. Casten cosponsored the Climate Action Now Act, with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) aimed at preventing the United States from becoming the only nation not participating in the Paris Climate Accords. It also required Republican President Donald Trump to produce his plan on how to meet our national commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the agreement.

Image from Congressional Office of Sean Casten

John Curtis

Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) is attempting to develop a climate change plan that cuts emissions but still aligns with his conservative values. Curtis may be the Republican Party’s biggest climate activist. After learning and understanding the science behind climate change, he wants his party to create policies that enact progress. “I don’t think Republicans have done a good enough job,” he said. “Where’s our Green New Deal? I think we need to do a better job saying we know how to get there, and this is what it looks like, come join us.” Curtis is working on possible bipartisan climate policy bills with several key Democrats, including Rep. Nanette Díaz Barragán (D-CA), Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), and Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL)

Image from Pew Research Center 

Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) has fought hard to decrease our country’s dependence on China for energy, including solar panels, batteries, and other technologies to fight climate change. Though she wants to transition to clean energy, she believes that the Democrats are moving too fast and at too steep of a cost. “Both California and Europe have embraced massive government subsidies and regulations to place unreliable, weather-dependent renewables above all other energy sources,” Rep. McMorris Rodgers said. “It’s led to surging costs, life-threatening blackouts and rationing, while not achieving the goal of reducing emissions.

Image from WSIU

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been outspoken on climate change for decades. He said that climate change is the greatest threat to national security in his 2020 presidential debate. He said, “Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism and if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world … struggling over limited amounts of water and land to grow their crops and you’re going to see all kinds of conflict.” To fight this threat, Sen. Sanders has introduced many climate change bills, including reducing greenhouse emissions, banning fracking, and aiding farmers.

Image from the Council on Foreign Relations


Bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.

Burga, Solcyre. What You Need to Know About the Inflation Reduction Act.TIME. August 8, 2022. 

Caldwell, Leigh Ann Caldwell & Joselow, Maxine. ‘The Three Climateers’: Meet the new generation of Senate climate hawks. The Washington Post. August 18, 2022. 

Center for American Progress. Climate Deniers in the 117th Congress. March 30, 2021. 

Citizens' Climate Lobby. Climate Solutions Caucus. 

Climate Change. Congressional Office of Sean Casten. 

Easley, Jonathan. Sanders: Climate change still greatest threat to national security. The Hill. November 14, 2015. 

Joselow, Maxine. This Republican wants to outcompete China on climate change. The Washington Post. October 17, 2022. 

Kamarck, Elaine. The Brookings Institution. The challenging politics of climate change. September 23, 2019. 

Ogasa, Nikk. 2022’s biggest climate change bill pushes clean energy. Science News. December 14, 2022. 

United Nation Framework Convention On Climate Change. The Breakthrough Agenda: a master plan to accelerate decarbonization of five major sectors. November 11, 2022.

Waldman, Scott. This House Republican may hold the keys to climate policy. E&E News. October 5, 2022.

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