WASHINGTON (CN) — One decade ago today, more than a dozen business leaders placed a full-page ad in The New York Times urging then-President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to join 192 nations taking action against the climate crisis. The second-to-last signature on the ad belonged to none other than Donald Trump, joined by his children and his organization.
Now that President Trump has set a path for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the treaty whose enactment he once urged as a businessman, congressional Democrats appeared in droves Friday for a press conference with the message: “We’re Still In.”
Festooned with stars and stripes, that was the slogan on a pin worn by more than a dozen congressional representatives and one senator reporting on their recent visit to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Madrid, Spain.
“Our message to that group there, that even though the president has withdrawn from the Paris Accord, we’re still in,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told the assembly this morning.
“We’re still in to protect our environment for our children and their future,” she continued. “We’re in because it’s a public health issue, clean air, clean water, food safety. That it’s an economic issue about good-paying green jobs in our economy and throughout the globe. It is a security issue in terms of natural disasters and the rest, robbing communities of habitat and natural resources and competition for such things can cause conflict.”
Some six years after the Times ad, then-candidate Trump adopted a new line on the climate crisis, telling supporters that it is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He has continued to push that line as president, occasionally with a dismissive tweet during cold winter weather.
Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, trumpeting his own leadership in the “Ocean State,” goaded the president to return to his old stance.
“Maybe we can have the 2009 Donald show up again,” Whitehouse said.
Some 15 Democrats offered a rebuttal, promising new legislation, including measures that they believe can pass through a Republican-controlled Senate.
“This visit reaffirmed for me that we have a principal role in the fight against climate change,” said Representative Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, referring to the U.S. delegation in Madrid.
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who heads the Committee on Science Space and Technology, echoed that sentiment.
“I felt very good to be there because without the U.S., we would have looked like we had forgotten that we are on this planet,” the congresswoman said, promising to use her committee to advance solutions based on sound science and technology. “We would be very derelict as a nation to pretend that this is not reality.”
Florida Representative Kathy Castor, the chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, attended with the message: “We’re running out of time.”
Meanwhile New Jersey Congressman Frank Malone, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, pressed for a goal of complete carbon neutrality by the year 2050, known for short as “100 by 50.”
Flush with bicameral leaders, Democrats brought three freshmen who assumed office this January: Representatives Mike Levin of California, a clean-energy advocate and environmental attorney; Sean Casten of Illinois, who describes the climate crisis as all three of his top issues on his platform; and Joe Neguse of Colorado, who already holds a spot on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
“Running for Congress, we were always encouraged to know your purpose, and my purpose as a clean energy advocate and an environmental attorney was to come to Washington and to address the climate crisis,” Levin told reporters.
Neguse, one of the first lawmakers in the country to support a Green New Deal, launched his legislative career by submitting the Solar Edge Act as the first bill he introduced and introduced several others, including one to protect public lands — a priority in his state of Colorado.
In a lengthy interview following the press conference, Neguse told Courthouse News that legislation was only the start.
“My team is already now working on a couple of concepts that we’ll have greater details to share in the coming months based on conversations that I’ve had in Spain,” the congressman said, declining to elaborate on those measures prematurely.
Applauding Speaker Pelosi for her leadership, Neguse emphasized that the delegation signaled to the international community that the U.S. Congress and local districts will continue to address the climate crisis, even as the White House moves in the opposite direction.
Citing the fact that seven cities in his district have committed to 100% renewable energy on an expedited time frame, Neguse said: “Being able to talk to some of our international partners about some of the work being done is important for my state, my district and ultimately for the country.”
Negusa represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.