In the News
By Tiffany Stecker
Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) wants to make friends—rather than villains—out of colleagues across the aisle when it comes to climate change policy.
The San Diego-area congressman said that if lawmakers are going to make any headway on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it can only be achieved with bipartisan backing.
“If you’re honestly concerned about the future of the planet, and you honestly believe that this is an existential threat to the planet, that we only have a limited amount of time to work on it,” Peters told Bloomberg Environment, “you understand that you can’t do it with just Democrats.”
It’s that frustration over political deadlock that prompted Peters, a four-term congressman from a politically moderate district, to put together a “playbook" of existing bipartisan legislation that he said offers the quickest, easiest path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The playbook provides an alternative approach to the Green New Deal (H.Res. 109), which Peters called “divisive” at a June 11 House Budget Committee hearing on the costs of climate change.
“To get radical results, we’re going to have to moderate our politics,” Peters said at the hearing.
It’s that moderation that draws people like the Rev. Mitch Hescox, an evangelical pastor and president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, to Peters.
“He isn’t like so many other people—and this is my opinion—that want to make climate change all about solving all of the problems at one time with a very progressive agenda,” Hescox said.
Hescox, whose politics lean conservative, has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and his EPA. He works to raise support for climate change action and environmental stewardship among evangelical Christians.
Peters received an 86% rating from the League of Conservation Voters on its 2018 scorecard, placing him among the bottom quarter of the chamber’s Democrats. His lifetime score from the group is 92%.
This Congress, Peters has already introduced the USE IT Act (H.R. 1166), a companion bill to the Senate’s S.383, to spur research and development of carbon capture, the technology that catches carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere and stores it underground or recycles it for industrial use.
The bill has nine Republican cosponsors in the House and the support of Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
Peters is also launching a carbon capture caucus with Republicans, and planning to soon introduce legislation to curb short-lived climate pollutants— substances like hydrofluorocarbons, black carbon, and methane that stay in the atmosphere for a relatively short amount of time but carry a global-warming punch that’s far more potent than carbon dioxide.
He’s also a supporter of hydropower and small-scale nuclear power, energy sources that have strong support among some Republicans. He has said that nuclear waste should be stored at an interim site in New Mexico or Texas, or Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, rather than at the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near his district.
‘What Gets Me Up in the Morning’
A member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Peters thrives on energy and environment issues. It’s “what gets me up in the morning,” he said.
Born in Ohio and raised in Michigan, the son of a Lutheran pastor and a homemaker, Peters received his undergraduate degree in economics and political science from Duke University. He got a job out of college at the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s, working as an economist in Office of Toxic Substances’ regulatory impacts branch.
He left the EPA to go to law school at New York University and eventually went into private practice in Minneapolis—at one point working with now-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)—where he helped clients comply with the 1986 amendments to the Superfund law.
His wife’s work brought them to San Diego, where he was elected to the city council in 2000, and appointed to the California Coastal Commission in 2002. He ran unsuccessfully for city attorney in 2008 and was picked to serve as a San Diego port commissioner the following year.
Won’t Run for San Diego Mayor
He was first elected to Congress in 2012, narrowly beating Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray in the newly redrawn 52nd District. His 2014 race was also close. He won with 51.3 percent of the vote after his opponent was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer. Peters has won by comfortable margins in his two elections since.
As a congressman near the U.S.-Mexico border, he sees good relations with Mexico as pivotal to resolving some of the environmental pollution problems that plague the region.
He’s supported doubling the funding for the Border Water Infrastructure Program, which addresses water pollution in the countries’ shared rivers. He’s also backed the Navy’s transition to biofuels from algae and other sustainable sources.
Peters announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t run for mayor of San Diego next year, marking a detour in his political plans.
“I’ve always sort of assumed I would do that, and I think I would have done fine” in the mayoral election, Peters said. But he sees his role in Washington as a more important job.
“I still have a lot of work to do, specifically on seeing if we can’t find bipartisan climate policy that really can get moving,” he said.