At Climate Hawks Vote, we score members of Congress, not just on how they vote, but on how they lead—and that includes speaking out on the Clean Power Plan. On October 10, 2017, against a backdrop of wildfires devastating California and in the wake of hurricanes ravaging Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt stood next to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and announced that he would repeal the never-implemented Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Obama-era plan to regulate greenhouse pollution from power plants. We take a hard look at the Climate Solutions Caucus, in particular.
Our prior report on the initial Clean Power Plan announcement found a medium-sized reaction from Congress breaking down on partisan lines. This report finds a more muted reaction, measured against both the news of the original Clean Power Plan and the news of Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. In particular, while the number of Democrats denouncing the repeal decision is only slightly less than the number of Democrats who initially praised the CPP, the number of Republicans praising the repeal decision is much smaller than the number of Republicans who originally denounced the CPP. The Climate Solutions Caucus drafted a carefully worded letter urging new plants–but not existing plants–to clean up, but the vast majority of Republicans in the Climate Solutions Caucus elected to say nothing rather than sign on to that letter.
We did not find any response to the withdrawal from the Clean Power Plan from the majority of the House: 59 percent of Democrats (114 of 194) and 82 percent of Republicans (198 of 240) said nothing that we found.
Of those who did speak out, 71 Democrats spoke out unambiguously for the CPP. None of the 42 Republicans spoke out for it. Three Republicans signed on to a Climate Solutions Caucus letter that offered partial support for the Clean Power Plan; of the 22 Democrats who signed the letter, 13 made additional, stronger statements.
The Democratic response is in line with the 78 Democrats who issued statements in support when the Clean Power Plan was announced in 2015—one, Brad Ashford (NE-02), was opposed. However, on the opposite side of the aisle we found far fewer House Republicans speaking out in support of Pruitt’s action (39) than House Republicans who originally opposed Obama’s plan (82).
HOUSE CLIMATE SOLUTIONS CAUCUS
In October 2017, the Climate Solutions Caucus had 60 members—30 Democrats and 30 Republicans—devoted to exploring “policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.” On October 13, 2017, the caucus issued a joint letter signed by 25 members—22 Democrats and 3 Republicans (Carlos Curbelo, FL-27; Brian Fitzpatrick, PA-08; and Ileana Ros-Lehtinin, FL-27). We are scoring the letter as neutral because it urges retaining greenhouse-pollution standards for new power plants but is silent on the crucial standards for existing power plants.
Of the 30 Republicans in the Climate Solutions Caucus on October 10, 2017, 27 were silent. On the Democratic side, 22 Democrats (out of 30 Democrats in the caucus at the time) signed on to the same neutral letter, and 13 of those issued additional statements praising the CPP.
Many Democratic-leaning climate hawks—including Climate Hawks Vote cofounder RL Miller—question whether the Climate Solutions Caucus is actively promoting solutions, or simply providing cover for politically vulnerable Republicans. Since its original founding, it has admitted Republicans who have track records vocally denying climate science or voting against climate solutions, but who are politically vulnerable in their districts; for example, Climate Solutions Caucus members Darrell Issa is a high profile climate denier who came very close to losing his 2016 reelection bid.
Here, the caucus’ main accomplishment seems to be in persuading most of its Republican members to shut up. For comparison’s sake, when Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, Climate Solutions Caucus Republicans’ responses were all over the map, including 4 of the then-21 Republican members of the caucus who applauded Trump’s move.
33 Senate Democrats (69 percent of the 48-member caucus) spoke out for the CPP, three made neutral/“other” statements, and two applauded Pruitt’s action—coal-powered Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp, both up for reelection in 2018.
Six Democrats—Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Al Franken (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA)—signalled support only by signing on to a letter authored by Tom Carper (D-DE) asking Pruitt to show his work on the CPP repeal.
Three Democrats put out statements not directly addressing the Clean Power Plan. Jon Tester (D-MT) emailed a local newspaper with a statement that we’re scoring as neutral, generally favoring a long term energy strategy with an investment in new technology for his state. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pivoted from the CPP to coal miners’ benefits. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) toured a solar facility the same week and put out a statement with one mention of the CPP repeal, but we’re not scoring it because the gist of the statement was on solar not the CPP.
Sixteen Senate Republicans made anti-CPP statements (31 percent of the 52-member caucus) and no Senate Republicans spoke for it.
The Republican side, only, shows a drop off in intensity from the initial CPP announcement in August 2015, when 25 Republicans spoke out against the CPP and 33 Democrats spoke out for it.
Overall, reaction to the CPP repeal is substantially more muted than reaction to the June 2017 announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. When Trump withdrew from Paris, 95 percent of House Democrats, 98 percent of Senate Democrats, 38 percent of House Republicans, and 67 percent of Senate Republicans spoke out.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been far less chatty about repeal of the CPP than they have about either the original enactment of the CPP or about the Paris Agreement, both its original announcement by then-President Obama or the withdrawal by Donald Trump. Democrats have tried using the twitter hashtag #ProtectCPP in addition to the more generic #ActonClimate but it hasn’t generated the same interest as #SaveACA (healthcare) or even #ProtectTheArctic. (We found 1 #ProtectCPP tweet that generated over 100 retweets, compared to 6 on #ProtectTheArctic and 8 on #SaveACA.) In particular, we have not seen high level advance lobbying as occurred with the Paris agreement.
Why such comparative quiet? We surmise a few reasons. First, this repeal was telegraphed for months; compare that to the Hamlet-esque “to be in Paris or not to be in Paris” game that Trump played for a time. Withdrawal from the Paris agreement has massive implications for the United States’ international prestige well beyond climate negotiations. In addition, Pruitt’s announcement simply begins years of litigation/replacement plans—it’s certainly the end of a chapter of American progress on climate, but nowhere near the end of the story. Finally, the CPP has never been enacted and people may simply be less invested in it than they are after several years of tangible benefits from Obamacare.
We examined press releases, Facebook posts, and tweets by every member of Congress We also reviewed an October 13, 2017 letter signed by members of the Climate Solutions Caucus; an October 10, 2017 press release by the House Western Caucus; an October 10, 2017 press release by the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition; and an October 26, 2017 letter signed by 19 Senators.
For this report, we’re not measuring intensity of the response, whether a thoughtful press release or a simple retweet, whether a mild “I’m disappointed” or a denouncement that “President Trump and Mr. Pruitt are on the wrong side of history.”
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