U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said President Donald Trump should "admit that climate change is real" and help form solutions that will protect the environment without destroying America's economy.
"When nine out of 10 scientists say (carbon dioxide) emissions are creating a greenhouse gas effect and the planet is warming up, I believe the nine and not the one," the South Carolina Republican told reporters Wednesday.
Graham's comments came after announcing the formation of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, made up of Republicans in the Senate and House.
Trump has dismissed federal scientists’ warnings on climate change. During winter cold snaps, he's mocked global warming in tweets.
"I would encourage the president to look long and hard at the science and find a solution. I'm tired of playing defense on the environment," Graham said. "We will win the solution debate, but the only way you're going to win the debate is admit we've got a problem. Let's talk about climate change from the innovative and not the regulatory approach."
Graham lambasted the Green New Deal pushed by Democrats, which calls for virtually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 2030 by replacing fossil fuels such as oil and gas with renewable sources like wind and solar.
The plan authored by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also urges retrofitting all U.S. buildings, overhauling transportation with high-speed rail, and providing national health care coverage. It has broad support among Democratic activists, and all six of the 2020 presidential contenders serving in the Senate have signed on as co-sponsors.
No Republican will vote for that plan "because it's crazy economics," Graham said.
"You really don't have to ground all the airplanes and kill all the cows to have a healthy environment," he said, referring to a fact sheet released with the measure in February that said "farting cows" and airplanes likely make it impossible to fully eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
Besides, Graham argued, the U.S. can't solve a worldwide climate problem with laws that will cost U.S. consumers while giving "China and India and other major powers a pass."
China is by far the world's worst polluter, emitting almost twice as much carbon dioxide as the United States and four times as much as India, where fossil fuel consumption is growing strongly, according to the latest data from the Global Carbon Project.
The caucus announced Wednesday is named after GOP President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, who created the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and worked to conserve 230 million acres during his presidency, according to the National Park Service.
"Climate change is real," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan. The caucus will focus on "what we can do to make a positive impact as (Roosevelt) did."
Legislation the Republicans said they will push include measures shrinking the $13 billion maintenance backlog in national parks. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said being responsible also means addressing "marine plastics," though she didn't specify how.
The Republicans pointed to a sweeping conservation law signed by Trump earlier this year as evidence the parties can reach consensus on the environment. The measure passed the House 363-62 after a 92-8 vote in the Senate.
That law combined more than 100 bills to approve a hodgepodge of projects, including protecting 1.3 million additional acres of wilderness, expanding several national parks and reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses federal royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling to fund conservation and recreation projects.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also pointed to his tree-saving measure, signed in January, that reauthorized and expanded a 1998 law designed to protect tropical forests in developing countries.
According to the Nature Conservancy, the debt-for-nature swap has prevented the destruction of more than 67 million acres of forest over two decades. The new law extends to coral reefs.
"This means a lot of (carbon dioxide) has not gone in the air because the forests have not been burned," Portman said. "And it’s being done by market forces. It’s countries willing to preserve their forests in exchange for us providing relief on their debt, most of which would not be paid off anyway."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.