Climate Activists Court Hill Republicans With 'Civil Conversations' With quiet persistence and an eye on economic solutions, businessman turned activist Jay Butera has helped usher in a small but truly bipartisan climate caucus on Capitol Hill.
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Climate Activists Court Hill Republicans With 'Civil Conversations'

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Climate Activists Court Hill Republicans With 'Civil Conversations'

Climate Activists Court Hill Republicans With 'Civil Conversations'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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On the steps of the U.S. Capitol earlier this week...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you ready?

CORNISH: A thousand local climate activists posed for a group photo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One, two, three.

CORNISH: They're with Citizens Climate Lobby. And this is an annual trip.


CORNISH: The group has spent years asking members of Congress to act on the contentious issue of climate change. Suddenly, in recent months, they've helped convince a string of Republicans to at least speak out. Susan Phillips of member station WHYY in Philadelphia reports.

SUSAN PHILLIPS, BYLINE: Citizen lobbyist Jay Butera believes in the power of polite persistence. Nearly every week he takes the train down to Washington, D.C., from his home in suburban Philadelphia. Butera says he's had hundreds of conversations with Republican aides and congressmen.

JAY BUTERA: There were times when it felt like this is not going to happen, like this is impossible. It felt like this was the most polarized issue in Congress.

PHILLIPS: Butera is a successful entrepreneur. But instead of courting investors, Butera now spends all his time volunteering with the Citizens Climate Lobby. Last week he visited Don Bacon, a Republican congressman from Nebraska.

BUTERA: It's good to see you again.

DON BACON: So I know we've had you a couple times in our - we had you in our campaign office, our district office. Have you been in this one?

KAY CARNE: No. It's a very cool office.

PHILLIPS: With Butera is Kay Carne, a fellow climate activist from Omaha. In talking about such a controversial issue, they try to take a friendly, calm approach. They make a point of thanking Bacon for joining a new bipartisan group in the House. It's called the Climate Solutions Caucus.

BACON: I know I'm not a hundred percent on every one of your issues, but I do try to look at each one individually, weigh it.

PHILLIPS: So far Bacon has voted 100 percent with Trump on environmental issues. Like many in the Climate Solutions Caucus, Bacon is from a swing district and just narrowly beat his Democratic opponent. He didn't support pulling out of the Paris Agreement. After the meeting, Kay Carne says she tells politicians how personal climate is for her. She has two daughters. The youngest is just 7 weeks old.

CARNE: And she may even live to see 2100, which is the time a lot of these scientific projections are saying temperatures will increase by 10 degrees Fahrenheit. And just thinking about their lifetime and what they could see makes this issue so much more urgent than a lot of people see.

PHILLIPS: The Climate Solutions Caucus is now up to 42 members and by design is half Republican, half Democrat. Ultimately, Jay Butera wants Congress to put a fee on carbon, which would then be funneled back to households in a monthly check.

BUTERA: I believe in the power of capitalism to move mountains.

PHILLIPS: Now, House Republicans joining this climate caucus are not committing to this idea of the carbon tax. But Butera is optimistic. He thinks with Republicans now controlling Washington, many realize it's up to them to do something about climate. For NPR News, I'm Susan Phillips in Philadelphia.


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