Republicans headed to House climate committee show how the party is changing on climate action

Are Republicans beginning to divide on climate change?

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., greets fans at a tailgate party before a football game between the Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama in Baton Rouge, La., November 5, 2016.  CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., greets fans at a tailgate party before a football game between the Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama in Baton Rouge, La., November 5, 2016. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The six Republicans named to a House select committee meant to address the mounting threat of climate change range in ideology and reflect the larger Republican Party’s shifting approach to discussing and addressing global warming.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced Thursday that Republican Reps. Garret Graves (LA), Gary Palmer (AL), Kelly Armstrong (ND), Carol Miller (WV), Morgan Griffith (VA), and Buddy Carter (GA) will all serve on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The lawmakers more broadly reflect a deeply conservative approach to climate change. Many are from states dependent on fossil fuels and are likely to complicate the committee’s work, which has already been curtailed by House leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) formed the committee in January but declined to give the group legislative authority or subpoena power — limiting their ability to actually effect change.

But the selection also offers some surprises. Graves, who will lead the Republican coalition, accepts the science behind climate change and has cited the issue as a place where he breaks with many members of his party. While Graves has only a 3 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), meaning his environmental voting record is relatively weak, he has proven more willing to engage on climate action than many other Republicans.

His state, Louisiana, is an oil and gas hub. But it is also deeply vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Louisiana’s coastline is sinking under the Gulf of Mexico at a rapid rate, losing around a football field’s worth of land an hour as sea level rise lashes the coast. Devastating hurricanes like Katrina in 2005 have also scarred the state, which will be among those hit first and worst amid the heightening toll of global warming.


Graves’ mainstream climate views are in line with the threat to his constituents and the lawmaker has proven open to measured action. When Graves chaired the Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, he supported programs emphasizing climate adaption and mitigation. He also formerly managed the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, created in the aftermath of Katrina to assist with coastal restoration and hurricane protection.

That past track record, however, doesn’t fully counter Graves’ conservative credentials. A study in contradictions, the Louisiana Republican has seen support from organizations like Environmental Defense Fund, while also receiving the backing of the ultra-conservative Republican mega-donor Koch brothers.

And according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, Graves also received $210,150 from oil and gas donors in 2018 alone.

Some of Graves’ peers on the climate change committee also have strong support from fossil fuel interests. Armstrong, of drilling hub North Dakota, received $217,751 from the oil and gas industry in 2018.

By contrast, the nine Democratic members of the committee took a combined $198,000.

And apart from Graves, all Republican members of the committee have expressed a degree of skepticism about climate change, including Alabama’s Palmer who has twice sought to keep the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases.


“The EPA has repeatedly claimed fighting climate change as justification for crafting onerous regulations that limit carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other compounds that are both essentially harmless and in fact required for life to flourish,” the congressman claimed in 2015.

Emerging trends, however, would suggest that it is Graves and not Palmer who offers an indicator of where the Republican Party may be moving on climate change. Recent polling shows that the majority of Americans believe in climate change and are concerned about its impacts. That has been compounded new scientific assessments, like the 2018 National Climate Assessment (NCA) and a dire U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last fall. Both reports warned that climate impacts are playing out now with dwindling time to avert heightened catastrophe.

Lawmakers who express skepticism or outright deny climate change, meanwhile, are on the decline. That trend comes as some Democrats embrace radical climate action. Three weeks ago, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Green New Deal resolution, a blueprint for rapidly decarbonizing the U.S. economy in roughly a decade. Reactions to the proposal have varied dramatically even among Democrats — almost 90 House lawmakers and all Democratic 2020 presidential contenders in the Senate have signed on to the resolution, but many remain skeptical.

Republicans, meanwhile, have attacked the resolution as “socialism” and argued it would decimate sectors of the U.S. economy, including agriculture. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently pledged to hold a vote on the Green New Deal resolution, in an effort to fracture unity among Senate Democrats. But that effort hit a stumbling block as Democrats rallied behind a unity resolution acknowledging climate change and calling for congressional action to address the issue.

Other Republicans, meanwhile, are moving away from McConnell, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who broke ranks this week to oppose the appointment of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler over his rollbacks of environmental regulations.

Others, like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), have acknowledged climate change as its impacts take an increasing toll on their states. More moderate Republicans are also increasingly embracing limited climate action responses like carbon pricing.


This shift toward a potentially more moderate take on climate change is reflected in the choice of Graves, but other omissions show Republicans are far from unified on even incremental climate action. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), arguably the Republican most committed to addressing climate change in the House, failed to make the cut for the climate committee.

And while he called Graves a “pretty reasonable guy,” Rooney told reporters on Thursday that his own exclusion from the committee speaks to a divide between his climate politics and Republican leadership.

“It shows they are not quite where I am yet,” said Rooney, “and it makes me feel really good about being where I am.”