Conservatives Shoot Down GOP Climate Alternatives

Energy experts close to the White House are warning lawmakers against pursuing Green New Deal counterproposals.

Sen. Lamar Alexander
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
March 27, 2019, 8 p.m.

Republican counterproposals to the high-profile Green New Deal aren’t selling well in conservative circles.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the top Senate appropriator for the Energy Department, unveiled a multipronged proposal this week to double research-and-development funding for clean energy, targeting advanced nuclear, renewable storage, and other emerging technologies.

And Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch ally of President Trump, is preparing a resolution that calls emission-reduction policies the “duty” of the federal government.

But some lawmakers and conservative energy experts, many of them close to the White House, are aiming to halt those efforts before they gain more traction.

“This is the trap that some Republicans seem to always fall into where they feel like they’ve got to respond to these outrageous proposals instead of just sticking to their guns,” Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance and a transition adviser for Trump, told National Journal.

“We don’t think that it makes sense for the Republicans to head down this road because it really leads to large federal budgets and the federal government picking winners and losers,” Pyle said. “It’s not good Republican policy to be just a little less 'big government' than the Democrats.”

That clash between some Republicans and conservative advocates is growing as climate policy further entrenches itself in the political limelight.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the Green New Deal, a bicameral resolution that calls for a complete overhaul to “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” within 10 years, to the floor this week. Nearly all Democrats voted “present,” calling the vote a political ploy.

And in the House, Rep. Jody Hice will file a discharge petition this week to force the resolution to the floor. Firebrand freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leads 90 other sponsors on the legislation, and Republicans will try to pick off 21 Democrats to garner the majority needed for a vote.

Meanwhile, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican and staunch supporter of the oil and gas industry, launched the House Energy Action Team, conspicuously referred to as HEAT, this week. The group, which includes more than a dozen members including Hice, aims to promote “conservative, free-market energy and environmental policies that promote continued American energy dominance,” according to a release publicizing the launch.

“We have a role in making sure all energy is represented equally,” Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a HEAT cochair, told National Journal. “The government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.”

Last Congress, Gaetz, as a freshman, introduced legislation to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. But his new resolution, which Politico unveiled in recent days, calls on the federal government to curb “robust, economy-wide” emissions and “create more clean energy options through a commitment to innovation,” among other priorities.

Still, the resolution says “the government should not pick winners and losers,” and conservatives outside government are calling that hypocritical.

“We’re just kind of letting the congressman know, and letting fellow conservatives and Republicans know, that we’ve been there and done that; we’ve seen this before and hope they snap out of it,” Pyle said. “I think there’s something in the water in Florida these days.”

Gaetz represents a Florida Panhandle district that hugs the Alabama border. The whole state has battled severe sea-level rise in recent years, and scientists predict much of the state could be underwater in coming decades due to warming global temperatures.

“I did not get elected to Congress to argue with a thermometer. So, I don't really care what the political or inter-Republican-secret-handshake-club ramifications are of my views,” Gaetz told Vice News recently. “I don't think we enjoy the luxury of an academic debate about whether or not climate change is happening.” His office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Alexander, who is retiring at the end of his term, trotted out his “New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy” this week on the Senate floor and in an op-ed. The plan calls for doubling federal research and development for energy innovation, specifically emphasizing technologies such as advanced nuclear, carbon capture, and solar.

“Federal research has been one of the most widely supported parts of the federal budget for years, by both Republicans and Democrats,” the Tennessee lawmaker told reporters. “There’s not much argument that our country is far better off today, far richer today, and the air is far cleaner today, because of federal research.”

Alexander, in his appropriations role, has shepherded through record funding in recent years for the DOE Office of Science, which conducts research and development for energy innovation. Much of that takes place at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Steve Milloy, the provocative publisher of and a member of Trump’s EPA transition team, pulled no punches in responding to the Gaetz and Alexander proposals.

“What these guys want is pork for their local projects,” Milloy said. “If the worst thing Gaetz and Alexander were doing was trying to get money for pet projects, I’d say ‘OK, no problem.’ But they’re out there trying to hide behind climate to do it. I draw the line there because that’s feeding into the hysterical myth, which is not good for anybody.”

The last four years have been the warmest on record, according to the NASA. And global greenhouse-gas emissions are rising amid dramatic growth among emerging economies. Carbon-dioxide emissions rose 1.7 percent in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency.

That’s not causing concern for Milloy and many Republicans. Sen. Mike Lee blasted congressional efforts to implement federal climate measures before the Green New Deal vote Tuesday.

“The solution to climate change won’t be found in political posturing or virtue-signaling like this. It won’t be found in the federal government at all,” he said.

“It’s a challenge of creativity, ingenuity, and technological invention. And problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans. More people mean bigger markets for innovation,” added Lee. “The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution, but the serious business of human flourishing—the solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places: fall in love, get married, and have some kids.”

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