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Sparks

Utah Is Sending a Conservative Climate Believer to the Senate

Most likely.

John Curtis.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Library of Congress

The United States Senate is almost certainly getting another Republican who at least thinks climate change is a real problem.

Utah Congressman John Curtis, the founder of the Conservative Climate Caucus, won the Republican primary for Mitt Romney’s Senate seat over a gaggle of more conservative opponents, including one endorsed by former president Donald Trump. The primary victory puts Curtis in position to win the general election in November. (Utah hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.)

His victory was fueled in part by conservative environmental groups and donors, who put considerable resources toward his campaign. American Conservation Coalition Action, which seeks to mobilize young conservatives around climate, endorsed Curtis and hosted events with him, while its affiliated political action committee, ACC PAC, knocked on doors in Utah andspent around $250,000 in support of his candidacy, according to OpenSecrets. The most substantial support came from Clear Path Action, another center-right environmental group, which has spent almost $500,000 so far on Curtis, making up the overwhelming majority of its spending this cycle. The group’s founder, Jay Faison, is the biggest donor (to the tune of $2 million) to Conservatives Values for Utah, an outside group that’s spent $5 million to boost Curtis.

During his four terms in the House, Curtis largely steered clear of large scale, Democrat-backed climate and energy bills, instead supporting energy policies that have or could have broad, bipartisan support. He worked on the legislation that would become the ADVANCE Act, the nuclear regulatory reform bill that passed the House and Senate with huge bipartisan majorities; he’s also a supporter of geothermal energy, and has introduced legislation to ease the permitting process for new projects. Like all Republicans in Congress, he voted against the Inflation Reduction Act, and, like most Republicans in Congress, he also opposed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, more typically called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which contained billions of clean energy funding.

Curtis is unlikely to garner support from the mainstream environmental groups that typically support Democrats, especially considering his opponent, Caroline Gleich, is an environmental activist. But he has gotten far more respectful notice than is typical for Republicans.The Sierra Club’s magazine profiled Curtis earlier this year, saying he “would be one of the few — perhaps the only — Senate Republicans who say that climate action is a priority.”

But Curtis is still unmistakably a Republican. Yes, he attended the United Nations climate conference in the United Arab Emirates and told Fox News, “the goal at COP should be to reduce global emissions, not energy choices;” but afterward, he also told the Deseret News, “you’re not going to replace [fossil fuels] with windmills and solar farms,’ and “we need to start having a discussion about the role of fossil fuels in our clean energy future.” When he appeared on the Climate One podcast, he said his interest in climate change derived from “an innate desire to be good stewards over this earth,” but also insisted that “it’s been a mistake to focus solely on fossil fuels [as] the problem here.”

It’s unlikely that Curtis will show up in the Senate and demand investigations of fossil fuel companies. More likely, he’ll continue his efforts to respond to Europe’s carbon border adjustment alongside fellow Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

“Representative Curtis’ thought leadership on environmental issues while staying true to his conservative values is a major step forward for the conservative environmental movement. We’re fortunate to have a strong ally like Representative Curtis in Congress, and we’re excited to hopefully continue working with him in the Senate to make America the most prosperous and cleanest country in the world,” ACC Action chief executive Danielle Butcher Franz told me in an emailed statement.

Curtis’ conservative environmentalism has helped him fundraise, but it’s also been the primary line of attack from his more conservative opponents, who seek to paint him as too liberal for the conservative state and whose climate politics are, at best, a misplaced priority, and at worst, at bat signal for out of state donors. (Faison, Curtis’ biggest supporter, lives in North Carolina.)

Curtis will likely join a small gaggle of Republican Senators who push policies to support American clean energy while remaining skeptical of the Democratic Party’s efforts to restrict fossil fuels, including Cassidy and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowksi.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to distinguish between American Conservation Coalition Action and ACC PAC’s activities.

Green
Matthew Zeitlin profile image

Matthew Zeitlin

Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine.

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