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Not All GOP Members Deny Climate Change. But They're Still the Minority

Steve Helber / AP

Some Virginia Republicans are calling attention to sea level rise because it's impacting their coastal districts. Matt Laslo reports they're in the minority in their party.

Ask most Republicans and they deny climate change and sea level rise is happening because of humans. But for lawmakers along the coast, there isn't a debate. Virginia Republican Scott Taylor says the issue has become too political.

“I think that you definitely have people who use that buzzword only if their side.. right? Like ‘you’re a climate change denier’ or ‘I’m not going to talk to you about climate change.’ I think the first step is acknowledging that it is an issue and that there are coastal regions that have big issues with it and that we have to do something about it so whether you agree or disagree with how much man contributed, man didn’t contribute, nature contributed, nature didn’t contribute. It’s clearly an issue and we have to address it.”

Unlike the bulk of Republicans, Taylor says sea level rise isn't a theory in his Virginia Beach district.

“They’re doing studies now. For me, do we have an issue with flooding and recurrent sea level rising? Yeah, absolutely and data shows that from soundings there, that there’s a different sea level you know over the past 90 years. So I certainly acknowledge that it is an issue and it certainly is for us in that area.”

That's why Taylor opposes President Trump's call to zero out the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- or NOAA. 

“The president’s budget proposal is that, a proposal. It’s a nice idea, we appreciate it, but we have a constitutional duty to deal with that ourselves and we should do that. I think that the president is right in some areas in terms of being lean and in some others he’s not. So that’s all up for debate once we get to work but I think it would be a mistake to get rid of NOAA’s funding.”

Other Republicans want to double down on fossil fuel production, which scientists say is a major cause of climate change. Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith represents coal fields in the southwestern part of the state. He says Trump is on the right path by undoing President Obama's climate agenda.

“Now what we have to have is a plan to rebuild the coal industry and the coal communities. And it may not get back to where it was, but we’ve got to try to rebuild now that the war against our region of the country in Central Appalachia is over.”

Griffith says the US alone can't make an impact on the earth’s atmosphere because China and India use so much coal.

“Because what’s happening is they’re spewing all that into the atmosphere in Asia and other parts of the world that are still using coal and then what happens is that it floats through the atmosphere, we all share the same atmosphere. So if you only look at the United States, if you take that position that we’re just going to fix the U.S., we’re not going to fix the rest of the world by doing that.”

Virginia Republican Rob Wittman is chair of the Sea Power subcommittee. His fear is how sea level rise could do to the Navy, especially bases in Virginia.

“I think what we have to do, is we have to look at adaptation. You know regardless of the causation behind it, we’ve got to look at what we do to adapt and in Norfolk obviously it has an impact there on the Navy base and in coastal communities.”

Wittman says the US needs to focus on how to deal with sea level rise, not try to stop it. 

“You see Virginia Department of Highways coming in on these low lying areas that go across major water bodies, building those bridges up, so you can do those mitigation strategies.”

There's a new 26 member climate solutions caucus in Congress that's bipartisan, but it's unclear how much sway they'll have with putting climate change on Republican leaders’ agenda. 

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