Look who’s leading the charge for a GOP climate-change caucus: a Utah Republican

Rep. John Curtis argues it’s a matter of survival — for the planet and his party.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. John Curtis, R_Utah, at the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Curtis is calling for the creation of a GOP caucus on climate change.

Rep. John Curtis believes in climate change and argues Republicans need to step up on this issue. If his party doesn’t, he warns, it would be bad for the planet and future election results.

The Utahn’s latest move to nudge Republicans is the creation of a GOP-only congressional caucus. The goal is modest, creating a safe place for conservatives to explore the science and review district-by-district information.

“I hope this caucus can be an educational space where more Republicans can feel confident talking about this issue and advocating those conservative solutions,” said Quill Robinson, the American Conservation Coalition’s vice president of government affairs.

Robinson’s group was created in 2017 to give young conservatives a place to push environmental issues.

“Congressman Curtis has been a really leading voice in Congress on climate change. He has met with our activists on many occasions,” Robinson said. “He understands the need for Republicans to lead on this issue. We are really excited to support him and support the caucus.”

E&E News first reported on this new caucus, which is expected to be unveiled in the next few weeks with about two dozen members.

Curtis declined to comment Thursday, but the Utah lawmaker hasn’t been shy about his views on climate change and the role his party should play.

In an April speech organized by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Salt Lake City-based think tank, Curtis argued that taking climate change seriously doesn’t mean Republicans have to support the solutions offered by Democrats.

“Why does the climate question scare you? Are you really content with the label of not caring about the Earth?” he asked. “If I utter the word ‘climate,’ why does my wife get panic calls that [I] have gone off the deep end and I’m now in league with AOC [liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.]?”

Curtis said it is clear the climate is warming and that pollution is making it worse. He believes Republicans should offer their own solutions, which protect the economy. He supports more nuclear energy, more conservation and efforts to tackle the issue internationally.

President Joe Biden has set an ambitious goal, seeking to drop the U.S.’s 2005 emission levels in half by 2030. That would require massive changes, including the rapid closure of coal-fired power plants.

Curtis told The Salt Lake Tribune that Biden’s “climate goals do not unite.”

“And more and more Republicans are willing to join the Democrats on this conversation,” he said, “but not in the extreme categories.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has joined the Senate’s bipartisan climate change caucus. Freshman Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, has also pushed for Republicans to engage on this issue.

Moore, in a virtual town hall covered by the Park Record, said there are reasons this issue has been harder for Republicans to engage, namely they are more likely to represent areas where oil, gas and coal companies operate. And climate solutions often mean less reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s easy for a Democrat from an urban district to talk about these things, because the companies that produce energy are not there,” he said. “It’s tough for Republicans who represent these energy producers. But I will say there is a real push happening on this, a real excitement and an openness to talking about [climate change].”

Utah’s other members of Congress — Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens — have either said little about climate change or have resisted congressional action on the topic.

Curtis warns that if Republicans don’t get serious on climate issues, it will cost them voters.

“If Republicans don’t make it an issue, we will lose the upcoming generation of Republicans,” he said. “The upcoming generation will not be patient with us. This is a deal-breaker for them. They’ll leave the Republican Party over this one issue.”

Curtis invited GOP members of Congress to Utah to discuss the issue back in February and two dozen participated, including the leading Republicans on six committees. Moore was also in attendance. Curtis told a virtual panel at Weber State University that Republicans are more open to talking about this than many think.

“I’ve learned there’s a different language and a different way to engage them, but in their heart they’re just like everybody else,” he said, according to the Standard-Examiner. “They love this Earth, they want to take care of it, they want to be good stewards, and we’ve got to do a better job of articulating that.”