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GOP Rep. Curtis: 'Extremist' voices setting the tone for party on climate

Republican Rep. John Curtis on Tuesday pushed his party to articulate a positive vision on climate policy, lamenting that GOP rhetoric on the issue is too often dominated by “extremist” voices within the party.

The chair of the House’s Conservative Climate Caucus, Curtis said that while climate change denialists are a slim faction of Republicans overall, they have often drowned out people like him.

“In many ways our silence has been interpreted as not caring and denying the science. And I won’t argue that some of my colleagues fall into that category, but there are very few,” the Utah congressman said. Republicans, he added, “have allowed that extremist voice to kind of dominate the narrative” and paint the entire party as climate change skeptics or outright deniers.

But the devastation wrought by prolonged bouts of extreme weather in recent years has elevated conservatives’ attention to the issue and fostered a receptiveness that was harder to come by previously, Curtis said.

“This year has been a little bit of a tipping point” the lawmaker said in an interview at POLITICO’s Sustainability Summit. “I do find more constituents willing to talk about it in a different way.”

He said that Republicans can be a constructive counterweight to Democrats in climate discussions, such as by pushing back against prescriptive policies that could stifle the innovation necessary to meet ambitious emission-reduction goals.

“I think it’s incumbent on Republicans to join our Democratic colleagues in finding paths forward — paths forward on methane and other issues,” he said. “And I think it’s incumbent on our Democratic colleagues to welcome us.”

He said that might entail revisiting ideas such as nuclear power, which has fallen out of favor in the U.S. and other countries in part due to several high-profile catastrophes in the past. Continuing to move away from nuclear power will force countries to seek out other forms of energy, including those controlled by adversaries, Curtis said.

He added that policymakers in the U.S. and elsewhere will need to ensure they are not put at a disadvantage globally by enacting climate policies that others do not feel the need to abide by.

“I haven’t seen anybody’s plan that deals with a China who we know will cheat and will take advantage of the rest of us,” Curtis said.

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