CRES Forum—partnering with the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum, the American Conservation Coalition, and Dream Corps Green for All—hosted the “Common Ground on Climate Bipartisan Summit” in January shortly after President Biden and the new Congress were sworn in.
The summit was moderated by CRES Senior Advisor and former U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) along with Van Jones, a political commentator for CNN and founder of Dream Corps Green for All. In addition, the bipartisan panel featured four members of Congress, including Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Representatives John Curtis (R-Utah), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), and Donald McEachin (D-Va.).
“If you’re a conservative, you should be conserving everything, including our most important piece that we have which is our environment—our natural resources that really are important to all of us no matter what your background is,” Ayotte began.
Jones echoed this sentiment, “I know for sure that there are people on both sides of the aisle who are deeply concerned about the issue, and it’s just a question of us, you know, once you have the conversation and agree that there is a problem, all kind of creative solutions are possible.”
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), who in 2019 formed the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus with Mike Braun (R-Ind.), told the audience that science-backed climate change is no longer a debate in Congress, and even private-sector groups like the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce are recognizing the reality of climate change and urging market-based solutions.
Coons and the other participants also noted that there is no need to choose between the environment and the economy.
The time to address this issue is now, Coons stressed, “both because it’s getting hotter faster than anyone had imagined and we’re seeing the real-world impacts.”
Representative John Curtis (R-Utah), whom CRES endorsed for re-election, emphasized the importance of welcoming everyone to the table without shaming people for not doing enough. He said that if America is to lead the world in green technology, it will be on the basis of compromise and political inclusiveness.
“When somebody’s started on their path being better to the environment, we always tell them it’s not enough instead of ‘thank you for getting involved,’” he explained. “They want to engage, they want to have these discussions, but they quickly get uncomfortable and don’t feel like there’s any place for them at the table.”
Representative Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) similarly sees climate change as a way to heed Biden’s call for unity, as long as Congress recognizes everyone represents different parts of the country and therefore have different perspectives.
“I think if we focus on things that have worked—technology, innovation, emissions control—from a market-based solution,” he said, “and if there’s dialogue and discussion, not necessarily on the , but more in the middle, I think that’s the approach that will help get us to where we need to go.”
Representative Donald McEachin (D-Va.) was optimistic that Republicans and Democrats could work together—especially on green infrastructure that will create millions of good-paying jobs.
“The unemployed and those people who are suffering in this country don’t necessarily have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ beside their name,” McEachin said. “They’re just Americans, they’re our constituents, they’re located in every district in every state in the Union. And that, I think, will help bring us together to make sure that we are working in a bipartisan way to repair the economy. And in so doing, we will be repairing our environment and preserving this wonderful gift that we call the Earth.”
And there is growing evidence that such unity is possible around these issues. During the event, Ayotte announced the results of the latest CRES poll of registered voters, which revealed broad, bipartisan approval of increased government support for clean energy development and commonsense, all-of-the-above climate solutions. It found that 74 percent of Americans—including 59 percent of Republicans—support increased government action to boost clean energy development, while 52 percent of voters are in favor of an all-of-the-above approach, including fossil fuels, to achieve U.S. energy independence.
Indeed, the Biden Administration can help build consensus by reaching out to the blue-collar voters Trump won over and convince them of the economic benefits and job creation that clean energy projects can provide. Instead of rushing to sign executive orders, he should heed the advice of the summit participants by taking a more deliberative approach, forging relationships with Republicans in Congress and working with them to find the right balance that reflects the interests of all voters.
The full summit can be watched here.