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Conservative Conservation: Bipartisan Environmentalism in the Trump Era

Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Darragh Moriarty

Darragh Moriarty

Legal Extern

“Anti-environmentalism is a mark of identity,” says Fred Rich, author of Getting to Green: Saving Nature: A Bipartisan Solution. “It is a mark of what it is to be a conservative.” With fossil fuel companies continuing to fund GOP politicians and a president who has called global warming a “hoax,” there are legitimate concerns that environmental issues will continue to polarize. The Republican 2016 Party platform described the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “a political mechanism,” rejecting the “agendas” of the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. In spite of this political climate, several politicians, from congressmen to state governors, and city mayors, are making bipartisan efforts to combat climate change. In doing so, they are not only showing that environmental sustainability and economic growth can go hand-in-hand, but that these measures receive support from voters across the political spectrum.

The Climate Solutions Caucus

The Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) was founded in February 2016 by two South Florida representatives: Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). Their goal was to “educate members on economically viable options to reduce climate risk and to explore bipartisan policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.” The congressmen are an example of politicians putting aside partisan interests in the face of a common threat: Florida is the state most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Curbelo sees the risk of climate change as both a local issue and a moral issue. “We need to be good stewards of the environment. We know that human activities, specifically carbon emissions, are contributing to rising global temperatures, rising sea levels, and we just need to find a way forward that embraces clean energy and secures the future.”

While the fear many shared following Trump’s 2016 election was that his presidency would lead the Republican Party to further attacks on environmentalism, Curbelo believes the president’s stance is pushing many in the other direction. “I think actually some of his rhetoric and actions on climate policy gave at least some House Republicans a greater impetus to learn about the issue and to get involved.”

The CSC currently has 70 members, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, and Curbelo is optimistic of a similar body in the Senate. The three stages of the CSC’s mission are to communicate and build trust among members; challenge anti-climate legislation; and finally become a “true ideas factory” and create effective policy solutions.

Gubernatorial Support

This bipartisan approach to environmentalism is not just at the federal level. Last April, Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) supported and signed a bill banning fracking in Maryland. Members of both parties had supported the bill, following Hogan’s request that “members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle and in both houses . . . come together and finally put this issue to rest.” Hogan’s support of the bill has encouraged environmentalists in other states, such as in Pennsylvania where Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) has been called on to “listen to his neighboring states of Maryland and New York and stop fracking.”

Blue Heron are among the species benefiting from bipartisan efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay (Chesapeake Bay Program).

Hogan has also opposed Trump’s proposals to cut 90% of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup fund, which would reduce funding for protecting the nation’s largest estuary slashed from $73 million to $7.3 million. Trump has tweeted that he is “committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection.” Here, however, the reverse is true, as environmental protection would enhance economic growth. Hogan has described the Chesapeake Bay as “Maryland’s greatest natural asset,” with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) highlighting the significance the Bay has in the state’s economy. “If you look at Maryland’s economy, tourism, the watermen, the boating industry, all of these people rely on a healthy bay for their economic livelihood.” In the face of these proposed federal cuts, the Hogan administration has proposed a fiscal year 2019 budget of over $1.1 billion for the Chesapeake Bay, a figure that “includes record levels of funding for key Chesapeake Bay conservation and regulatory innovation programs, including $52.9 million for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.”

The U.S. Climate Alliance

On January 11 of this year, Hogan joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors seeking to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Hogan’s participation expanded the Climate Alliance to 16 governors, representing 40% of the U.S. population. While governors who join the Climate Alliance commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, Maryland is on track to reach the 25% reduction mark by 2020, aiming for the even more optimistic goal of 40% by 2030. (U.S. Climate Alliance).

Hogan follows other Republican governors such as Phil Scott (R-Vt.) and Charlie Baker (R-Mass.), who joined in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Baker has called for bipartisan cooperation “to protect the environment, grow the economy and deliver a brighter future to the next generation.” This dual goal of environmental protection and economic growth is a common aim among Republican politicians engaging in environmental action. Scott has stated that “growing our economy and protecting our environment by supporting cleaner and more affordable energy and transportation choices can go together.” The evidence supports this—the Climate Alliance’s 2017 Annual Report shows that Alliance states are not only more effective in reducing their emissions, they are also growing their economies at a faster rate.

With these bipartisan environmental efforts, support for the governors remains high. Baker, Hogan, and Scott rank first, second, and fourth, respectively, in gubernatorial approval rating across the nation (with 69%, 66%, and 63% approval ratings).

U.S. Conference of Mayors

Further bipartisan efforts can be seen in the actions of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). The USCM is a non-partisan organization of 1,408 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more. Mayors serve on conference committees, who recommend policy positions that are then voted on at annual meetings. The positions adopted are then distributed to Congress and the president. The influence of the USCM was seen in the bipartisan, H.R. 3017, the Brownfields Enhancement, Economic Redevelopment, and Reauthorization Act of 2017. Sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W. Va.), the bill passed the House of Representatives with an impressive 409-8 vote, and contains many of the USCM’s provisions: a multi-purpose grant of up to $1,000,000 to allow for community assessments or cleanups; an increase of cleanup grants from $200,000 to $500,000, and potentially $750,000; and enabling nonprofits to apply for cleanup grants.

Much like the U.S. Climate Alliance, the USCM spoke out against President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement last summer. USCM President and New Orleans (La.) Mayor Mitch Landrieu criticized President Trump for “pitting environmental protection against economic growth, which is a false choice.” Carmel (Ind.) Mayor Jim Brainard (R), who serves as Co-Chair for the USCM’s Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force, emphasized the bipartisan approach taken by mayors, and the sentiments shared by citizens across the political spectrum. “Eighty percent of Carmel votes Republican, but I have yet to meet a citizen who wants to drink dirty water, breathe dirty air and doesn’t want to leave the earth in better condition for their children and grandchildren.

Brainard does not believe that his views on sustainability and the environment represent a break from conservative norms, pointing to past presidents such as Roosevelt (who expanded the National Parks), Eisenhower (who created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and Nixon (who established EPA). And, despite Carmel being located in a county that voted strongly in favor of Trump in 2016 (56%), Brainard’s approach remains hugely popular—he is currently serving his sixth consecutive term.

Perhaps most encouraging is the popular support politicians involved in this bipartisan approach continue to receive. While many in the Trump Administration and GOP leadership continue to view environmentalism as detrimental to the economy, popular figures such as Baker, Hogan, and Scott can convince fellow Republicans across the country that a bipartisan approach is the best way to protect both sustainability and economic growth.