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Graves sees a positive role for GOP in new select climate committee

March 18, 2019
In The News

Rep. Garret Graves says he wasn’t keen on joining the select committee to address climate change formed by the new Democratic House majority in January.

But on Feb. 28, weeks after the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis had been formed and long after the Democrats had announced their roster, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appointed the Louisiana Republican as co-chairman.

“There were a number of people both on and off the Hill that had encouraged me to do this earlier, and I didn’t really have it on my radar and quite frankly, wasn’t very interested,” Graves said.

But now he says he’s optimistic some bipartisan ideas can come out of the panel. Graves hails from a state dependent on oil and gas for a big portion of its economy and on its coastline for tourism and seafood industry. Louisiana is also adversely affected by climate change, including sea level rise and coastal erosion.

“There are adaptation and mitigation measures that I think should be carried out, and it’s a mistake to pretend as though those changes aren’t happening or to not acknowledge it,” Graves said during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “I think the fiscally conservative thing to do is actually to make proactive adaptation type investment. … I do feel strongly about that.”

Graves hasn’t worked directly with the select committee chairwoman, Kathy Castor, on legislation before, but said he has met with the Florida Democrat “a couple of times” since becoming co-chairman.

“This is a new friendship at this point,” Graves said.

Castor has — at least publicly — embraced Graves as her counterpart.

“Mr. Graves represents a state and district that is bearing escalating costs from climate change, just like my district and the state of Florida,” she said in an emailed response to questions. “These impacts do not discriminate based on political party. … The good news is that climate solutions, from deploying more clean energy to making our homes and businesses more energy efficient, enjoy broad bipartisan support.”

Graves said he sees opportunity to work with Democrats on common issues that include making coastal areas more resilient to climate impacts.

“I suspect that this committee — part of the intention by the speaker — is to try to make this a divisive political issue, but when I look at it, I actually see some areas where we absolutely should be cooperating and working together,” he said. “And that’s what I intend to attempt to do, and that includes focusing on the greatest urgency that faces us right now, which is the sea rise, the mitigation or adaptation type investments.”

Voted against climate action

Although unlike many Republicans, Graves acknowledges the need to act on climate change, he has been criticized by green groups for often voting otherwise. In 2015, Graves voted with House Republicans to reject the Clean Power Plan. Last year, he voted for a resolution rejecting a carbon tax and for an amendment to the Interior-Environment spending bill prohibiting the government from considering the social cost of carbon. The League of Conservation voters has awarded him a 3 percent lifetime score for his environmental record.

He rejected calls from progressive groups that members of the climate select committee should be precluded from taking money from fossil fuel donors.

“I vote against companies; I vote against organizations; I represent people, so I don’t subscribe to the premise that members of Congress are wholesale bribed by campaign contributions,” he said.

The oil and gas industry was Graves’ top industry donor from 2013-2018, giving him more than $500,000, according to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics’

Although he wasn’t in Congress yet, Graves said he was “the hardest person on BP when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened.” After the 2010 accident that gushed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for about three months, Graves was appointed as Louisiana’s lead representative in assessing the damage to natural resources and negotiating with the company in the recovery efforts.

After Hurricane Katrina, Graves became chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, an EPA office established to bolster hurricane protection, flood control, ecosystem restoration and other community resiliency efforts.

Though a surprising choice received with cynicism by several climate advocates, the Environmental Defense Fund, which often works with oil and gas companies on climate action, embraced Graves for the role.

Elizabeth Gore, EDF’s senior vice president for political affairs, described the selection of Graves to lead Republicans on the select committee as a “constructive step” toward bipartisan progress on climate change.