Taking a close look at 'Climate Change Politics'

By Julie Halpert
U-M Law

Shortly after seeing Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, bring a snowball to the Senate floor to prove that climate change isn’t real, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, decided to work with his Republican colleagues to discuss the challenges of climate change “and look for ways we can work together” to address them.

A 1990 University of Michigan Law School graduate, Deutch addressed a packed auditorium made up of students, faculty, and climate activists for his recent talk titled, “Climate Change Politics in Congress: Is a Bi-Partisan Agreement Possible?,” as part of the Environmental Law and Policy Program Lecture Series in Ann Arbor.

Deutch represents Florida’s 22nd District, an area that already is being hard hit by climate change with rising sea levels that are causing flooding on a regular basis.

He recalls a recent meeting he attended in downtown Ft. Lauderdale on a sunny day.

By the time the meeting ended, “the water had risen so high no one could get into this business through the front door. That’s what we’re seeing already.”

He’s concerned by extreme political polarization that has prevented action to address climate change.

He focused his lecture on the Climate Solutions Caucus, a group he co-chairs with U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican from Florida’s 19th District, that he believes could break the deadlock.

This bipartisan group is intended to bring both political parties together to develop legislative solutions.

“We can’t achieve the kind of broad, systemic change that we need to address the climate crisis if we only hear that drumbeat in our left ear,” he said.

The group was successful in 2017 in getting Democrats and Republicans to join together to defeat an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the military from studying the impact of climate change on national security.

Though compromise has been elusive in Washington, Deutch sees promise in bringing together a diverse array of voices committed to climate action “that can speak to the Fox News audience as well.”

He and Rooney introduced the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which uses a carbon fee to encourage market-driven innovation in clean energy technologies.

All the revenue generated by the fee will be returned to the American people via a monthly check, ensuring that lower- and middle-class families will be in a financial position to absorb higher-energy costs.

Deutch said that while many companies are already pricing carbon in their internal analysis, if Congress won’t act to ensure there is a price on carbon, there will be no impact.

His approach is receiving widespread support across the political spectrum, with the exception of some of his Republican colleagues in Congress.

“It’s an uphill battle complicated by many moderate Republicans choosing to leave Congress,” including Rooney, who won’t be seeking re-election.

Still, Deutch sees signs of hope.

While Sen. Rick Scott barred the state’s regulators from using the words “climate change” when he was governor, in recent weeks Florida Republicans held the first climate change hearing in more than a decade to discuss threats of sea level rise.   

Deutch concluded his talk with a plea for action.

It’s crucial not to pretend that climate change “will not affect us today and into the future,” he said. “We’ve lost more than a decade. We can’t afford to lose any more time.”

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