Carlos Curbelo touts himself as a rare Republican in Washington willing to criticize Donald Trump and conservative members of his own party.
And after months of talk and lots of tweeting, Curbelo’s effort to build a bloc of moderate Republicans capable of swaying anti-climate-change legislation appears to have paid off.
Curbelo’s Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats who are concerned about the impacts of climate change, voted en masse on Thursday against a proposal to nix a Defense Department report on the threats posed by climate change to military installations.
“A bipartisan majority of Members are on the record saying climate change and sea level rise must be taken into account when planning for our national defense,” Curbelo said in a statement. “With military bases like Naval Air Station Key West extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, this vote was a huge win for our coastal military communities. I’m proud of the Climate Solutions Caucus Members who worked to defeat this amendment and I look forward to continuing to build momentum for this cause in the Congress.”
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A Curbelo staffer said that an informal vote-counting push by Climate Solutions Caucus Republicans occurred before the vote. Every Republican on the caucus voted against the proposal by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., with the exception of Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who voted in favor, and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was absent. The full House vote was 234-185.
Curbelo, who represents a Miami-to-Key West district, identified Thursday’s vote, part of the massive annual Defense Department funding bill which passed on Friday, as an area where moderate Republicans can make an impact.
But environmental groups are keeping a close eye on moderates like Curbelo and making sure their future votes match their rhetoric.
“It’s important to give the Pentagon the tools to plan for this threat to our military readiness, but of course we need to take a lot more concrete steps to solve this carbon solution before it’s too late,” said League of Conservation Voters deputy legislative director Alex Taurel.
Taurel said that funding for green energy, preparing for the effects of climate change and stopping offshore drilling are three policy areas where moderate Republicans could join Democrats, but that more Republicans must speak about ways to reduce carbon emissions.
“This is called the Climate Solutions Caucus, so that’s the key kind of yardstick they should be measured by,” Taurel said. “To what extent are they supporting solutions to climate change?”
Curbelo argues he’s doing his part by urging his colleagues to buck conservatives in Congress.
“I assume that now when we get into appropriations season there will be many amendments where I assume our group is going to be critical to blocking bad policy,” Curbelo said last month.
On Thursday, two Republican members of the climate caucus, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, took to the House floor to oppose Perry’s amendment before the vote.
“I have a Coast Guard base in my district … located right there on the water in Miami Beach and we know the impact of sea-level rise in that area,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “As a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus I urge my colleagues to oppose this Perry amendment.”
If all 24 GOP members of the Climate Solutions Caucus vote in line with every Democrat in the House, Curbelo’s group has the votes to sink legislation.
But on Thursday, the Climate Solutions Caucus had cover from other Republicans, as 46 decided to vote against Perry’s amendment.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis acknowledged the impacts of climate change during his Senate confirmation hearing, calling climate change a “driver of instability” that “requires a broader, whole-of-government response.”
Military installations on waterfront properties are facing hundreds of floods a year, and in some cases could be mostly submerged by 2100, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report calculated that a three-foot sea level rise would threaten at least 128 U.S. military bases, which are valued at $100 billion. Nine of those are major hubs for the U.S. Navy.
Curbelo highlighted the importance of sea-level rise on military installations in the Florida Keys in a statement for the Congressional Record.
“Most of the land in the Florida Keys lies at elevations 3 feet or less above sea level, making the Naval station extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise,” Curbelo said. “But this threat is not unique to that station; many of our bases across the country and around the globe are susceptible to the effects of climate change. As co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, I urge all my colleagues to reject the Perry amendment.”
Curbelo chairs the bipartisan caucus with Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fort Lauderdale, who also praised the vote-counting effort.
“This vote is proof that there is now a bipartisan majority in Congress of Members who understand that climate change is a real threat to our communities, our economy, and our military readiness,” Deutch said in a statement. “I hope my House colleagues were watching closely; denying climate change is no longer a winning strategy. This will only be the beginning, and I look forward to passing more climate-friendly legislation with my fellow Caucus members in the future.”