Republicans: It’s Time to Return to our Environmentalist Roots

Francis Rooney

Republicans have traditionally led the way on important environmental issues. President Teddy Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service and many national parks to protect our natural treasures, President Nixon created the EPA and enacted the Clean Air Act, and President George H.W. Bush implemented measures to combat urban smog and acid rain by improving the Clean Air Act. We need to reclaim our legacy of Republican stewardship of the environment.

It is well past time for Republicans to recognize the increasing costs and dangers associated with a changing climate. Scientific data empirically substantiates rises in sea and land temperatures which have materially increased over the last 20 years, increased acid in our air and seas, and rising sea levels, which have also increased velocity over the last 25 years.

The recent revision of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program report, “The Fourth National Climate Assessment” present current, detailed scholarship documenting these challenges to our environment. In the past few years, the United States alone has experienced record-breaking tornadoes, flooding, devastating hurricanes and expansive wildfires. The doubling of the deep ocean heat content in the last 20 years portends significantly more severe storms and hurricanes in the future, creating more and more calls for “disaster relief.”  I am a conservative Republican from a coastal district that is directly impacted by these issues every day. In fact,
the entire state of Florida is ground zero for the adverse impacts of climate change.

As these extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity, Congress – and especially my Republican colleagues – need to recognize the costs, disruptions and global security risks that climate change will bring to both our domestic and foreign policy, and the federal budget.

Americans are experiencing these disasters first-hand, and these personal experiences are informing our views on climate change. Recent polls show that Americans of all ages across party lines are recognizing and experiencing the effects of climate change. According to a poll conducted by Monmouth University in 2018, 78% of Americans believe that the world’s climate is undergoing a change that is causing more extreme weather patterns and sea level rise. That same poll showed that 64% of Republicans surveyed believe in climate change, a 15-point increase from poll results just three years earlier.

Further, research conducted by PEW in 2018 showed that 59% of United States adults say the effects of climate change are
affecting their local community, and 56% of United States adults say protecting the environment should be a top priority for the president and Congress in 2019. As their elected representatives, it is time to step up and respond to the American people.

Clearly, there is broad support for action on climate change, but there is even more consensus among younger generations.
Eighty-one percent of millennials, classified as those born between 1981 and 1996, believe the planet is warming, and even the youngest members of this generation are eligible to vote. As young people begin to make up an increasing portion of the electorate, the importance of climate change on the policy agenda will only increase as well.

We have finally begun to see more Republican Members of Congress change their positions on this issue. Several of my fellow
conservative members have become some of the strongest advocates for environmental policy. Recently several senior Republican committee chairmen and policymakers publicly acknowledged that climate change is a real threat and must be addressed. My colleague from Florida, Congressman Matt Gaetz is one of these members, and we now work closely on the environmental issues affecting our state.

In September, the House passed HR 205, to make permanent the ban on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico,
east of the Military Mission Line. Every Republican member of the Florida Congressional delegation, except one, voted in favor of this bill. The current moratorium, which expires in 2022, was enacted by Republican President George W. Bush, with the bipartisan support of both United States Senators from Florida, Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson.

Climate and the environment must be bipartisan concerns, but Republicans are lagging. Congress must work together to find
solutions that will advance the goals of both parties and the best interests of the American people. As President John F. Kennedy said, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” We need to work together, in a bipartisan way, to find common ground.

This is where the most effective solutions will be found. In the words of President Ronald Reagan, “If you got seventy-five or eighty percent of what you were asking for, I say, you take it and fight for the rest later.”

Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th congressional district. He is the Vice-Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.

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