Florida's Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen break party line to join climate change caucus

A bus stop next to a flooded street in Miami Beach, on September 29, 2015.

A bus stop next to a flooded street in Miami Beach, on September 29, 2015.  (2015 Getty Images)

As South Florida grapples with rising sea levels, widespread coast flooding and increasing salt water intrusion, some of the region’s Republican lawmakers are jumping from their party’s ship to speak out about climate change.

Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are two Republican politicians who have joined the newly formed bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus — a politically risky move for lawmakers whose party has minimized, and at times denied, the existence of global warming.

“Climate change is an issue that merits thoughtful dialogue and attention from both Republicans and Democrats,” Curbelo, who is the co-chair of the caucus, said in a statement to Fox News Latino. “I’ve been a resident of South Florida my entire life and have personally seen the negative effects of climate change, like rising sea levels and flooded streets. It was important for us to create this bipartisan caucus to work towards solutions to address this legitimate threat."

Joining Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are four other GOP House members from Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania who have broken ranks with their party to embrace the message that global warming and climate change is something that needs to be combated.

The lawmakers, however, appear to be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to winning over other members of their party to the climate cause.

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The numerous Republicans competing for their party’s presidential nomination this season had in recent months seemingly also been fighting to see who could distance themselves the most from the debate over climate change.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has previously said that he doesn’t believe “human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate,” while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said that climate change “wouldn’t be on my first page of things that wake me up in the middle of the night.”

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has said the issue is “very low on the list” of problems facing the world today.

This political climate has carried over into the halls of Congress, where – despite the newly formed caucus – there appears to be very little bipartisan support for any environmental legislation.

New York Republican Rep. Chris Gibson, who is a member of the caucus, has received only 12 GOP cosponsors on a piece of climate legislation he introduced eight months ago. On the other hand, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise has received 75 cosponsors on a bill opposing a carbon tax.

Scalise, who represents an area of the Pelican state that the New York Times recently said will be home to America’s first “climate refugees,” did not return Fox News Latino’s request for comment.

Many environmentalists are also skeptical of the motives for Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen and the other Republican lawmakers joining the caucus, pointing to their lifetime rating by the League of Conservation Voters — with 23 percent for Curbelo and 33 percent for Ros-Lehtinen.

“I can’t think of the next Republican [lawmaker] who will join even this modest effort to educate each other on climate change,” Melinda Pierce, national legislative director for the Sierra Club, told McClatchy. “For some of these Republicans, I worry that this caucus is their political cover. What matters most are their votes.”

Despite the criticism, both Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are framing their involvement in the caucus as important to their constituencies in South Florida, which has been described by some scientists as “the poster child for climate change” given its close proximity to the ocean and the porous limestone on which much of the land is settled on.

“South Florida’s future as ground zero for sea level rise is often viewed in hopeless apocalyptic terms, yet I remain optimistic, as South Florida has always emerged stronger after each challenge,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement provided to FNL. “I am confident that South Florida will find a way to turn this latest challenge into an tremendous opportunity.”

She added: “If we are thoughtful and prepared, our collective response to rising sea levels – from Washington to Miami – has the potential to make South Florida a global leader and model for climate adaptation and mitigation."

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