“I’ve heard my Republican colleagues say, ‘look, the problem with agreeing to a specific goal or a specific target is they’ll just move it.’… Let’s set some goals. Let’s celebrate when we achieve those goals and be really careful about moving the goalposts in the middle of the game.” — Rep. John Curtis
*Click here to download video of the full interview*
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2021 — United States Representative John Curtis (R-UT) today spoke with Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Executive Director Heather Reams for the 2021 American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) Policy Forum about Republicans’ engagement on legislation to fight climate change. Key excerpts of their conversation are below and a full transcript is available here.
Partial Transcript Below:
Reams: You’ve spoken about being a climate conservative. What does that mean to you and why is it important?
Rep. Curtis: …. Republicans squirm a little bit with some of the terms like “environmentalist” and things like that. Sometimes people will say, “Oh, I hear you’re an environmentalist.” And I guess maybe I am, but I also really feel comfortable with the term climate conservative. And the reason for that is there are so many principles that conservatives should be really excited about that are very, very good for the climate and for this earth that we love so much.
Reams: What’s holding us back from working together, Republicans and Democrats?
Rep. Curtis: … the best analogy I can give you is if we were to talk about immigration and I said to my good democratic friends “the wall.” They would tense up and it’d make it really hard to have a conversation about immigration… unfortunately, climate and climate change has taken on that same problem. It feels like there’s an agenda behind it. So, when you ask a Republican if the climate is changing, what they hear is, “Will you embrace the Green New Deal?” … I believe, in essence, the breakdown starts with that question. Republicans need to learn to not be afraid of it, and Democrats need to learn there are better ways to ask for involvement from Republicans.
Reams: You’ve talked about the shaming language as a challenge as well. Could you say a little bit about that?
Rep. Curtis: … on the side of those who want Republicans to be more engaged, really are three tools: science, shaming and fear. And none of those are very good motivators. If you think about science, people don’t change their behavior even though they know the science. Shame is also not a motivator. If you change all your light bulbs to LED what they say instead of good job is that you should do more. And that’s the shame-game to me. And it turns people off and Republicans don’t want to come to the table. And the third piece of this is it’s a crisis. Well, look: the border is a crisis, right? The post office was a crisis. The budget’s a crisis. We’re just besieged with crisis and it’s not a motivating factor. And I think a much better way to appeal to Republicans is a love of the beauty of this earth and really a God-given responsibility to be good stewards… I think you’ll get Republicans listening more from that perspective.
Reams: We’re seeing a lot coming from the administration and we’re seeing a lot from House and Senate Democrats. But where do you think there are opportunities to work together (Republicans and Democrats)?
Rep. Curtis: … There’s just a lot of places. Nuclear is a really good example and I understand the concerns with nuclear. So we should be asking the question, under what conditions would nuclear be okay? Because it doesn’t have to mean that if you want nuclear, that you want it exactly the way we have it today.
If you’re a capitalist, you should love clean technology because the United States can lead. And if we lead around the world on this, it will be a likely industrial revolution for our economy…. in a very good way. This green technology will be purchased around the world. The question is, will it be purchased from the United States? So that should be a really strong area where we would create broader consensus. I think we can’t simply invest in R and D. We’ve got to be talking about carbon sequestration for this simple reason. If we want to radically reduce worldwide carbon – not just in the US but worldwide carbon – we’ve got to be talking about sequestration and we’ve got to be investing on kind of the moonshot.
Republicans love to not waste resources – conservation is another place where we should be able to come together. I think we sometimes miss the point of personal responsibility. And let me tell you what I mean by that. When I was mayor, I tried to encourage everybody to take one vehicle trip less per week. How easy is that, right? Well, there were half a million of us. That’s a half a million vehicle trips per week that we could reduce with almost no work. And I think it’s a little bit hypocritical if we’re not willing as individuals to do things like that and yet we expect government to fix this problem.
The bottom line is there are many areas where we should be working together and there should be broad consensus among Republicans and Democrats.
Reams: We’ve got a number of announcements, including from America’s own, General Motors, talking about not continuing the combustion engine beyond 2035. What do you make of the private sector making pledges versus doing something that the government is telling them to do? How do we balance that?
Curtis: So, I think that if I’m not careful, when I talk about this, my democratic friends say, “Oh, there’s, he’s saying there’s no role for government.” So, I put an asterix and say, “no, that’s not true.” There is a role for government, but let’s talk just for a minute. How many corporations are going to be carbon neutral by 2050 and how many of those without a single government regulation? It’s being driven by consumer demand and shareholders, and we can’t underestimate their power. I don’t think government could have done anything that would get businesses to move to be carbon free by 2050 as quickly as consumer and shareholder demand.
Reams: So let’s get into the trade a little bit. How do we use trade agreements, or how do we use the international marketplace, to help drive down emissions? You’ve talked a little bit about the US exporting technology which makes sense but what about using our trade status to be able to help other countries lower theirs what do we do there?
Rep. Curtis: So I’m really glad you asked that question, because I think too often, if we don’t talk about the global picture, we’re fooling ourselves. The US could reach zero carbon emissions and we would fail because we’re just such a small percent of the overall picture. So trade must be part of this. And, President Biden, if he asked my opinion, has a wonderful opportunity because we’re right at the crux of a new trade relationship with China. Part of that agreement should take into account carbon. We know they’re building coal plant – they have the ability to do much better than that.
I’d also say, in addition to trade, there’s two other categories that we need to be thinking about. Frist, the United States has to be the low-cost leader on green technology. If we are the low-cost leader, these other countries will adopt that technology, right? If we want them to do this without the hammer, we just simply make it price competitive to produce that energy and they will adopt it. And so that’s one more reason to move forward with this green technology at a rapid pace, as we know that we can bring that price down. Look at what’s happened to solar: people are not just buying it because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s a low-cost leader in many cases.
Second, let’s not be afraid to use fossil fuels to reduce carbon. If we’re honest, fossil fuels have reduced carbon in the United States more than anything else. And we know that we can use natural gas overseas to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions over there. So it should at least be on the table. It should at least be part of our talking points as we talk about how to reduce worldwide carbon.
Reams: So that sounds like you, along with most, are talking about an all-of-the-above approach. Is there anything you’re taking off the table?
Rep. Curtis: Let me first tell you how I like to look at this. What is our goal? Our goal is simple: to reduce worldwide carbon in the air. What takes us to that goal? If something takes us there, we should not take it off the table. And that’s why I bring up natural gas. Does it reduce worldwide carbon? Yes. But a lot of people don’t like to talk about it because they want to get to zero emissions worldwide. Well, we can have that conversation, but we’re not there yet. Today, we’re using coal plants in India and in China and in Russia. So until we get to that point, let’s not be afraid to use the tools that have been so helpful here in the United States to reduce carbon. If we’re not looking at the end goal, we enact policies because it feels good. That’s when people have a right to complain.