Within a deeply partisan environment, Washington D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) showed that it is possible to reach across the aisle to tackle an issue that affects us all: climate change.
On March 7, Norton announced that she was joining the Climate Solutions Caucus alongside Rep. Jenniffer González Colón (R) of Puerto Rico, tweeting, “Combating climate change has long been one of my top priorities. Even with Trump pulling the U.S. out of Paris Climate Accord, we’re still working on bipartisan solutions in Congress, and businesses and states are implementing strategies to save the planet.”
Norton and Colón have now brought membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus up to 72 – a remarkable feat given that the caucus is strictly bipartisan. Originally founded by Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R) and Ted Deutch (D), the caucus requires every new member bring a member of the opposite party as well. The fact 36 Republicans have now joined alongside 36 Democrats (barely two years after the caucus’ inception) shows that climate does not have to be quite as partisan as we thought.
By partnering with Colón to join the caucus, Norton is also giving an important voice to Puerto Rico. Although Washington, D.C. is not yet facing the worst effects of climate change, Puerto Rico has been enduring unusually terrible storms. Hurricane Maria, which struck on Sept. 20, 2017, was the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, and thousands remain without power almost six months later. D.C. has been widely criticized for its inadequate response to Puerto Rico’s needs – which makes Norton’s partnership with Colón all the more important.
On a more local level, Norton’s decision to join the Climate Solutions Caucus shows a deep level of responsiveness to her constituents. As a D.C. resident for almost seven years, I recently became involved with Citizens Climate Lobby to work towards bipartisan solutions to climate change. Although I have never been politically active before, I participated in writing letters and making phone calls to Norton’s office. At first, I was not sure whether it was realistic to expect any change. When Norton officially joined the caucus, I felt deeply reassured that Norton does in fact hear and respond to her constituents.
While joining the Climate Solutions Caucus is a great first step, the work is not over yet. We D.C. residents need to continue to tell Norton that climate issues matter to us. We need to continue to ask her to speak up for climate issues. Because when we do so, we know that we are being heard.
Emily Koester is a resident of Washington, D.C. and a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby.