Congressional climate

Five Republicans whose moderate views on climate change may influence our environmental future

A handful of Republicans have made a conservative case for concern over climate change in the new GOP-run Congress. While nobody expects them to break with the denier-dominated majority on the most important fossil fuel issues in the months ahead, these GOP climate science believers have been hailed for offering a “kinder, fresher approach to climate issues,” and some environmental advocates have mused on the influence they might wield over their peers.

These Republicans advocate “clean energy.” But they also support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for transporting oil from the carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands to Gulf refineries. And they all oppose the Obama administration’s prime climate initiative—the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules for curbing carbon emissions from existing coal power plants—and likely would vote for legislation to block the EPA.

With polls showing a majority of U.S. voters worried about climate change, these somewhat-against-the-grain GOP voices could become increasingly important. Here are five conservative members of Congress who might offer a different message, something other than the “no” we’ve come to expect:

Rep. Chris Gibson, New York

“If conservation doesn’t sit within conservative principles, then words have no meaning at all,” says Gibson, a retired Army colonel who fought to get federal aid to his constituents after Hurricane Irene struck his Hudson Valley district in 2011, his first year in Congress.

Gibson said last month he plans to introduce a resolution meant to rally Congress to “recognize the reality” that climate change is behind events like the three 500-year floods he has witnessed in the last several years in his district. “We have changing weather patterns, and we have climate change,” he said at a forum organized by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a nonprofit issues advocacy group. “This is the science. I hope my party will come to be comfortable with this, because we have to operate within the realm of science.”

Gibson said he supports the Keystone XL pipeline with an eye to keeping energy costs low, but he also praises the Energy Department’s “SunShot” program aiming to reduce the cost of solar energy.

Rep.-elect Garret Graves, Louisiana

On climate science itself, the incoming Congressman from Baton Rouge prefers not to get into a debate over “anthropogenic versus biogenic causes,” he told Bloomberg last month. But on whether sea level rise is happening, Graves is unequivocal.

“For us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening is idiotic, and it puts the lives of 2 million people who live in south Louisiana in jeopardy,” he said. As director of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Graves led the drawing up of a yet-unfunded $50 billion master plan for restoring and protecting Louisiana’s receding shoreline.

Graves has said he does not support mandatory emissions regulations. He does support incentives for technological and efficiency solutions that reduce emissions and energy consumption.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois

A U.S. Air Force special ops veteran who flew in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Kinzinger has advocated support of clean home-grown energy as a national security matter. With four nuclear power plants in his district—more than any other member of Congress—he backs “clean nuclear” as part of the climate change solution.

Last year, Kinzinger overcame a challenge from the Tea Party wing of the GOP. He received backing from the nonprofit advocacy group CRES, which spent nearly $2 million in the last election cycle supporting Republican candidates with moderate views on climate change. “One side that says there’s no such thing as any kind of global warming, we can dump all the pollution we like, while the other side says we all have to ride bicycles the rest of our life,” Kinzinger lamented in an interview with CRES on YouTube. “Somewhere in the middle is the answer.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina

“I think there will be a political problem for the Republican Party going into 2016 if we don’t define what we are for on the environment,” Graham recently told Roll Call.

But it is, if anything, difficult to pin down Graham’s own environmental policy, giving his shifting positions over the years. His most prominent role in providing leadership on the effort to cut carbon emissions came in 2010, when he briefly confabbed with two colleagues, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, to come up with a broadly acceptable cap-and-trade compromise.

Graham sought to include tax incentives and loan guarantees to help the nuclear industry and expanded oil drilling in the bill, as well as a measure revoking EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Eventually, though, he walked away from the deal he helped to forge.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska

Somewhat overshadowed by the recent conflict over the Keystone XL pipeline, which Murkowski supports, the Alaska senator actually took time in her election night remarks in November to voice concern about climate change.

“I come from a state where we see a warming,” she said. “We’re seeing it with increased water temperatures; we’re seeing it with ice that is thinner; we’re seeing it with migratory patterns that are changing. So I look at this and I say this is something that we must address.”

But Murkowski elicited groans from some in the climate science community when she followed up with a suggestion that volcano emissions may be a larger contributor to atmospheric pollution than fossil fuel (the opposite actually is the case).

Murkowski’s approach has been to back increased production of all forms of energy, and she has supported the idea of devoting new revenue from expanded oil and gas drilling to “advanced energy.” The Alaska senator recently told E&E Publishing that her environmental detractors will see that she has “a very, very broad view of what our energy potentials are and how we develop all of those.”

This story originally ran on, a nonprofit news site covering energy, the environment and climate change.