Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called on coastal Republicans to join a currently all-Democratic effort to "wake up Congress" on climate change.
While the 18 members of the new Senate Climate Action Task Force, which aims to elevate the profile of climate change, announced Tuesday were all Democrats, few of the centrist lawmakers normally opposed to measures that restrict greenhouse gas regulations signed up. But Boxer argued it shouldn't take full participation from Democrats to pass climate legislation.
"You shouldn't have to have 100 percent of the Democrats carrying this issue. It's ridiculous," she told reporters after a news conference in the Capitol. "Why would you focus on five Democrats? How about we get five Republicans from coastal states whose states are already suffering from sea-level rise, droughts, floods and all the rest of it."
The news conference had a decidedly partisan flavor, which some Democrats said reflected the influence of the fossil fuel industry on their Republican colleagues.
"We are gathered here today to make it quite clear that the Republican Party is in the grip of the oil and the coal industry. That that is what is blocking real change," said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Drawing from a July poll by the League of Conservation Voters that said 80 percent of voters under 35 years old support President Obama's climate agenda, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., added that if Republicans "ultimately want to stop the hemorrhaging of young voters in this country, they need to pay attention to this issue."
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity, largely through burning fossil fuels, is driving greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
While Democrats and Obama have called for action to curtail emissions, Republicans have largely opposed such measures and voiced skepticism either about the existence or causes of climate change.
Conservatives have argued that some of the approaches promoted by Democrats and advanced by the Obama administration — such as proposed emissions rules for new and existing power plants — would raise the price of energy and hinder the competitiveness of U.S. companies.
Noting the divide on the issue — including the opposition to regulatory measures from centrist Democrats — members of the Climate Action Task Force acknowledged their main thrust would be to promote the issue of climate change and prevent "rollbacks" of current policies.
"The biggest fight we're going to have is to keep the progress that we've already made," said Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "We're well aware of the limitations we have."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., co-chairman of the task force with Boxer, said the lawmakers would use floor time, work with corporations and push amendments onto legislation to advance the issue.
"There is a barricade of lies around Congress, and we have made it our joint pledge to break through that barricade," he said.