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American Conservation Coalition calls for rapid bipartisan policy on climate issues

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Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Benji Backer, American Conservation Coalition President, discuss how Biden should handle climate policy.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. President Joe Biden has made climate change one of his top priorities. He issued several executive orders in his first month in office on climate change, including rejoining the Paris treaty and also pausing oil drilling on public lands to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

But is it enough? Joining me now to talk about that is Benji Backer. He is founder and president of the American Conservation Coalition. Benji, good to see you again. So look, we are roughly a month into Biden's presidency. What grade would you give him so far when it comes to his climate change initiatives?

BENJI BACKER: Well, thanks for having me. And this might seem like the most politically correct answer ever, but I would say to be decided because at this point, what's been frustrating has been-- it's been a lot of platitudes. It's been a lot of statements, rejoining agreements, doing things that maybe don't drive down emissions, but maybe change the culture around the conversation.

From my opinion, we need to be starting to move forward bipartisan policies in a very rapid manner. I have not seen the president reach out to groups like ours or Republicans on the Hill to try to get things done. It's been a flurry of executive orders that can easily be undone. And they also haven't really had a impact in driving down carbon emissions.

So while I'm glad we have a president who talks about climate change-- it's a huge welcome change, and I do think he has a reasonable approach on a lot of different policy areas-- he's got to do a better job of working on the actual policies to getting us to a carbon neutral future. I'm not sure we've made it there yet. And I think we've given him a lot of applause for making decisions that maybe don't actually decrease carbon emissions, which, to me and to ACC, our organization, should be the end goal.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, all right, let's dig a little bit into that. And I like that, you know, that the grade is to be determined. He's still in the infancy of his presidency. And I guess, to groups like yours, he needs to prove his worth when it comes to the climate change policy. So what would you, within your organization, like to see the Biden administration prioritize here when it comes to our environment?

BENJI BACKER: Well, look, last Congress, there were 15 bipartisan climate policies that weren't able to get through. We got one-- the biggest climate package done at the end of the year last year. But the big focus should be on two things, I think, in the next few months.

The first are national solutions, so finding natural ways to sink and store carbon dioxide, restoring forests and restoring wetlands, planting more trees, those sorts of things that might sound like they don't-- it doesn't do a lot, but it does do a lot. And this 30 by 30 campaign, protecting 30% of our country by 2030, I think is a good way to potentially get there if it's done the right way.

And then, of course, the innovation side. The United States is falling behind China and other countries when it comes to clean tech innovation. We aren't investing in the future of nuclear energy, of battery storage, those sorts of things that are really easy for both sides to get behind, especially during this Congress that is going to be so polarized and so divided.

So I think focusing on natural solutions and engaging the agriculture sector and some of these sectors that haven't been a part of the solutions, as well as innovation and the marketplace, that's where the start is going to come from in the next few months. And then I think we can see how we can ramp it up after that. Hopefully, an infrastructure package, the COVID relief bill, we will start to see some of these solutions in practice, and that people will stop playing partisan politics on the topic, like both sides have done even to start this new Congress on climate change.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I know that you're a big advocate of public-private partnerships when it comes to tackling climate change. But in terms of what the government's role, I mean, now we've got the midterm elections. It's going to be here sooner than we know. What are you looking for in groups like yours in those midterm elections?

BENJI BACKER: Well, look, we've got a year and a half until the midterms. And we're hoping that this Congress is the congress of climate action. So we're hoping to see a flurry of bipartisan policies that enhance American climate leadership until the mid-term elections. But Republicans will continue to lose if we don't engage on climate change. I consider myself a conservative. I've been a lifelong conservative activist for over half my life, and I'm 23, so it's been a long time relative to my age.

And what I've seen is a party transition from climate denial from when I grew up in the conservative movement to now a party that is starting to inch towards climate solutions. If the Republican Party does not lean in to clean energy and lean in to the United States leading the globe on climate and reducing emissions, they will continue to struggle with young voters, like myself and others who want to vote for conservative fiscal policy and believe in the future of this country when it comes to conservative values. But climate change is too big of a priority to be electing people that don't make it a priority themselves.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, you and I have talked about how you believe the Republican Party was perhaps leaving a generation of young conservatives behind by not taking a stronger stand on some of these issues that matter to you and to your generation the most. So is there anybody within the GOP right now who's sort of leading the way when it comes to climate and perhaps is a star, a rising star we should be looking out for?

BENJI BACKER: Well, yes, and before I get to that, I also want to make sure that people know that the conservative movement has a duty to not be the party of no during this administration. Because these shining stars that I'm about to talk about need to have a bigger role.

And so, the Republican Party needs to take notice of that. And just because the Biden administration is in the White House doesn't mean, to your point, that they can leave an entire generation behind and play the partisan politics. That's incredibly important and something that will be interesting to see in the next few months.

But when it comes to shining stars, there are a lot in the United States House of Representatives. And John Curtis is leading that charge from Utah. He represents a coal district in the middle of rural Utah. And he is helping lead the effort towards sustainable, common sense climate change solutions. Someone like him is someone to watch out for. And he's got a cohort of leaders around him that include people even like Dan Crenshaw, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Bruce Westerman.

There will be a lot of Republican leadership on this issue. It might get overshadowed. But there is going to be a huge push within the GOP, at least in the US House and hoping to see it in the US Senate as well. Lisa Murkowski and Senator Collins have been good for a long time. We're hoping to add Senator Scott and Senator Rubio.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, and perhaps they're listening. Benji Backer of the American Conservation Coalition, good to see you.