Reprinted with permission from the Times Union
KINDERHOOK — Congressmen Chris Gibson (R—19th) has long seen himself as the lawmaker who wants to put “conserve” back in “conservative.”
The three-term Republican from Kinderhook gets to road-test that position Thursday when he rolls out a long-awaited climate change resolution stating that global warming is, in fact, real and the result of human activity.
Gibson’s unveiling comes on the cusp of next week’s U.S. tour by Pope Francis. Before a joint session of Congress, the pontiff is expected to speak out on the dangers of global warming and the need to preserve the environment for future generations.
What most Democrats would consider a no-brainer is for Gibson a potentially risky move. Nationally, the Republican Party is stocked with climate-change deniers: Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee, has called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
Republican leaders in Congress have been loath to challenge the deniers’ view. When asked, House Speaker John Boehner said, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”
But Gibson, who said he will leave Congress next year and has expressed interest in a 2018 gubernatorial run and said he will leave Congress in 2016, thinks acknowledgment of human impact on climate change and taking steps to ameliorate it is smart politics — even for conservatives.
“If conservation isn’t conservative, then words have no meaning at all,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Part of being conservative is judicious conservation of resources, both man-made and natural.”
Gibson has lined up 10 Republican co-sponsors, including North Country freshman Elise Stefanik and Richard Hanna, whose district stretches from Oswego to the Pennsylvania line.
“Climate change is a serious issue that we must address,” Stefanik said in a statement, “and I am proud to join Congressman Gibson on this resolution.” She added that her district “is the proud home of the Adirondacks and we understand that protecting our environment plays an important role in promoting economic growth and opportunity.”
While many well-intentioned congressional measures get buried in the onrush of events, this one has potential staying power.
Gibson said that while initial support is drawn from Republican ranks, he expects to enlist Democrats as time goes on.
Republicans have in general railed against President Obama’s environmental proposals, but have been particularly opposed to his Clean Power Plan, which aims to by 2030 reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from their 2005 levels.
The plan is a jobs-killer, Republicans say.
But Gibson counters that done right, efforts to address climate change can be win-win options, producing jobs and helping to improve the environment — a stance that puts him in rough alignment with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has made support for the massive SolarCity manufacturing plant in Buffalo one of the linchpins of that city’s renewal.
“The potential for job creation in New York is significant,” Gibson said. He pointed to Fort Drum, where authorities turned a coal-fired plant into a biomass facility that burns wood pellets.
Gibson brushed aside any worries over negative reaction from House Republican conservatives.
“The fact is we have new normal,” he said, noting the increasing frequencies of major weather events like Superstorm Sandy, rising sea levels and the increase in invasive species in upstate New York.
“We have the untapped potential of renewables to create jobs, grow the economy and help us become better stewards of environment,” he said.
Gibson has won plaudits from some quarters of the environmental advocacy world. The League of Conservation Voters, which rated him at 11 percent in his first year in office in 2011, upped it to 43 percent in 2013 and 54 percent in 2014, the most recent year available. The group’s National Environmental Scorecard tracks how frequently officeholders cast pro-environment votes in Congress.
The Gibson measure “is a significant shift, given where we’ve been over the past couple of years,” said Tony Kreindler, senior director of the advocacy wing of the Environmental Defense Fund, EDF Action. “It’s going to kick-start the conversations about solutions. It’s not the end of conversation, (but) it’s the beginning.”
Gibson has also taken lumps from environmentalists in the past, especially for his 2010 decision to sign the “No Climate Tax” pledge put forth by Americans For Prosperity, a group funded by industrialists Charles and David Koch. The pledge obliges Gibson to oppose any legislation related to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.
Some polling suggests Republican voters do not automatically embrace climate change denial. A poll earlier this year sponsored by The New York Times, Stanford University and the organization Resources for the Future found that 48 percent of Republicans would be less likely to vote for a candidate who espouses that viewpoint.