Donald Trump didn't run for president with a promise of fixing climate change. In fact, before becoming president, Trump repeatedly denied the existence of climate change. During the election, he promised to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords. His appointee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, had previously sued the agency for its climate regulations. Shortly after taking over the agency, Pruitt said that he was skeptical of the role of carbon dioxide in global warming.
But while Trump certainly hasn't made fighting climate change a major priority for his new administration — he has started the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan, Obama's signature set of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions — he's also signaled that his intensely hard-line rhetoric before entering office may be more extreme than his actions.
Thus far, he has not withdrawn from the Paris Accords, and Pruitt has actually received criticism from some on the right, like Breitbart writer James Delingpole, for not moving hard enough to upend Obama's climate rules.
For some of the conservatives who have made it their goal to move the Republican Party into a place of action on climate change, there is hope. Trump may not talk about the need to fight climate change, but that doesn't mean he couldn't take steps to do so.
"National security, free market choice, individual liberty, and needing to be good stewards of the environment God gave us."
"I've been using the same message since 2013, and that's a message that will be best used under a Trump administration," says Debbie Dooley, a founder of Conservatives for Energy Freedom (originally called the Green Tea Party). "National security, free market choice, individual liberty, and needing to be good stewards of the environment God gave us."
Dooley isn't just a Republican who came around to Trump as a Hilary Clinton-alternative. She's been a supporter since she met him in January 2015, before he announced his candidacy. She's a veteran of the Tea Party movement and says she has worked before with Steve Bannon. She doesn't see any of this as being in conflict with fighting for green energy that minimizes greenhouse gas emissions.
"Strong majorities of the voting public support action on climate change," Bertelsen says. "Republicans are going to have to put forward a replacement plan."
From Dooley's perspectives, conservatives are happy to support policies that move Americans away from fossil fuels — as long as you don't talk about climate change. She points to how Rick Perry, the Secretary of Energy under Trump, has expressed skepticism about climate change science, but nevertheless, as Texas governor, he greatly expanded the use of wind power in the state. "It doesn't matter why you support renewables," Dooley says. "It just matters that you do."
The Climate Leadership Council (CLC), a group that pushes for conservative solutions to climate change, echoes that sentiment of pushing the environmental action rather than the reason behind it. For example, the CLC proposes coupling a tax on carbon that's levied early in the process — at mines, or refineries — and using the proceeds from it to pay straight back to consumers. According to the CLC, 70 percent of people would end up with the same or more money in their pockets even with the policy, without increasing the size of the government.
And by focusing their policy on economics, CLC hopes to play to the issue that President Trump seems to care about most. "The president cares greatly about the competitiveness of U.S. industries," Greg Bertelsen, Vice President of CLC, tells Bustle. "The way our plan is structured, it actually improves the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers. The U.S. economy is far more carbon-efficient. We produce more while emitting less carbon than countries like China and India. So, if you price carbon and you include a carbon adjustment tax at the border, you're actually putting U.S. companies at a competitive advantage. And that's something I think will resonate."
The CLC joined with Republican Party heavyweights James Baker III (secretary of treasury under President Reagan and secretary of state under the first President Bush), George Schultz (secretary of treasury under Presidents Nixon and Ford, secretary of state under President Reagan), and Henry Paulson (secretary of treasury under the second President Bush) in pushing the White House to take CLC's carbon tax/dividend policy seriously. And according to Bertelsen, they left optimistic about the future after the meeting.
Climate change conservatives have another compelling reason for the Trump administration to get on board: millennial voters. Overall, millennials tend to be more likely to believe in climate change. A University of Texas at Austin study found that while 74 percent of people over age 65 believe in climate change, 91 percent of people under 35 did. And even within the Republican Party, a recent Reuters report found college students are focusing more on climate change. Thus, the Trump administration and the Republican party could reap real electoral benefits down the line from taking this issue seriously.
That's the argument made by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, national organizer and spokesman for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. His group is non-partisan, but the key position of evangelical Christians within the Republican Party gives him hope that the Trump administration will listen to them.
"We've seen what happens — in Congress with health care — when Republicans attempt to do a repeal-only strategy and don't replace it."
"He won with 81 percent of white evangelicals voting for him," Meyaard-Schaap tells Bustle. "So, as a constituency, I think it would behoove him to listen to those in the younger evangelical generation who are coming up and saying that this is something we care about. Historically, conservatives have been able to count on evangelicals as a pretty reliable voting bloc, and if they continue to want to do that, they're going to have to listen to concerns of the next generation."
Still, although conservatives pushing for climate change may have lofty goals for Trump, his administration has sent mixed signals, at best. While reports of discussions within the White House about a carbon tax have bubbled up, the administration has nevertheless taken action against Obama's EPA regulations that dwarf any words behind the scenes.
But for the CLC, the divide between those actions and the public opinion on the issue. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 62 percent of voters oppose rolling back the Clean Power Plan — and that is a reason for hope, says Bertelsen. "The rollback of the regulations make a plan like ours all the more necessary," says Bertelsen. "We've seen what happens — in Congress with health care — when Republicans attempt to do a repeal-only strategy and don't replace it."
"Strong majorities of the voting public support action on climate change," Bertelsen says. "Republicans are going to have to put forward a replacement plan. The public is demanding it, and the momentum behind that demand is only increasing."