Heading into 2019, action on climate change divides GOP in Congress

U.S. Rep Brian Fitzpatrick is a GOP voice for combating climate change, but he's losing Republican allies in the next Congress.

The United States Capitol in Washington D.C.  (Nick Jene/BigStock)

The United States Capitol in Washington D.C. (Nick Jene/BigStock)

According to scientists spread across 13 federal agencies, the nation’s coastal cities and critical infrastructure are endangered if nothing is done to combat climate change. Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the time for action is now.

“Unfortunately every year now becomes critical. We may literally run out of time to combat this, and that’s irreversible and that’s the urgency of this,” Casey said.

While the president and top Republicans dismissed the report, Casey said they offered no proof to contradict the experts.

“This was the moment for the forces saying it’s not a problem, it’s not caused by man, the science doesn’t support it. This was their moment to stand up and say ‘here’s our rebuttal document; the 13 agencies say this, we say that.” They didn’t. They stood down. They had no response really. At least no response that’s credible,” he said.

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The congressionally-mandated government report predicts that by the end of the century, the economy risks losing $500 billion each year. But Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said that’s pocket change.

“If you read it closely, what it says is by the end of the century, the economic impact is tiny,” Toomey said.

That $500 billion translates into about 2.6 percent of the country’s current gross domestic product. But the economy would be expected to be much larger by 2100.

Toomey said the economy right now will be in shambles if Democrats are allowed to aggressively cut oil and gas consumption.

“So it puts a spotlight on the important question which is, we’ve got to weigh the cost of mitigation against whatever lost economic output there may be, and the people who are very worried about this don’t think it’s very much,” Toomey said.

“It’s urgent. The need is urgent,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.

The Bucks County Republican said GOP leaders need to get their heads out of the sand.

“We just need people to acknowledge the reality of climate change, that man is a contributing cause and we have to take corrective actions. Very, very important and can’t be a partisan issue at all,” he said.

During the election, Fitzpatrick beat back an intense Democratic challenge to his seat in part by endorsing a bill to tax carbon — putting a price on how much carbon is released by burning fossil fuels. The proposal would use money collected from the tax to rebuild the very American infrastructure that the new report says is threatened by climate change.

“Our infrastructure is so antiquated, everybody knows that. You always hear about infrastructure being the most bipartisan issue. And yet we’ve gotten nothing accomplished on it in a year and a half,” Fitzpatrick said. “So this is a way to pay for it. It’s a way to improve our infrastructure and to reduce our carbon emissions to a level that would exceed the Paris Accord standard.”

But Fitzpatrick is in a lonely spot. Only two other Republicans endorsed that plan and one of them lost his reelection bid.

In fact, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which includes Fitzpatrick, used to be an even mix of 90 members from both parties, but more than half of its GOP members aren’t coming back to Washington in January, some by choice, some not.

That makes Fitzpatrick a minority of the minority in the House.  He said trying to evangelize to his fellow Republicans like Sen. Toomey will be even more important.

“It just tells me there’s a lot of work to be done. Anybody who doesn’t see the light on this yet, my job is to get them to see the light on it. Not just voting, but convincing people to do the right thing,” Fitzpatrick said.

If a mix of Democrats and Republicans move climate change legislation through the House, it won’t mean anything if it can’t win approval in the Senate.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was referring to GOP leaders in general when it comes to dealing with climate change.

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