Impact Investing

Some in GOP buck Trump, seek ways to fight climate change and counter Green New Deal

Allan Smith
Key Points
  • Ever since Democrats began promoting the Green New Deal, a growing number of House GOP lawmakers have become willing to say four little words: "Climate change is real."
  • "We have a voice in this, too," Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Florida) said.
Democratic lawmakers Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) unveil their Green New Deal resolution.
Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Republicans have trashed the Green New Deal — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's proposal to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and create a renewable energy economy — as unrealistic, unaffordable and ill-conceived.

But ever since the New York Democrat began promoting the idea late last year, a growing number of House GOP lawmakers have been increasingly willing to say those four little words: "Climate change is real." And they're warning the rest of their party that Republicans must push for alternative solutions before it's too late.

Reps. John Shimkus (R-Illinois), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce's Environment and Climate Change subcommittee, Billy Long (R-Missouri), Bill Flores (R-Texas), Buddy Carter (R-Georgia) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), among others, made their views plain during a pair of hearings on the topic in early February.

"This is an extremely important subject," Carter said during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change hearing on February 6, adding that climate change "is real" and is "something that we have to address."

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Shimkus, along with Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Fred Upton (R-Michigan), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce's Energy subcommittee, argued in a Feb. 13 opinion article that the Green New Deal would have "potentially devastating consequences on our national debt and on our economy."

"Americans deserve better. That's why we back sensible, realistic, and effective policies to tackle climate change," they wrote.

It's a position that contradicts President Donald Trump, who continues to doubt the veracity of climate science — so much so that his administration plans to name a group of selected scientists to reassess it's earlier dire analysis of climate change. According to The Washington Post, the group of scientists would include those who question just how severe climate change really is and the extent to which humans contribute to it. According to Bloomberg, the Trump administration will seek drastic cuts to the Department of Energy's renewable energy budget as part of the president's fiscal year 2020 budget request, set to be released Monday.

But polling shows the Republican Party's aversion to acknowledging climate change is increasingly falling out of favor. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on March 4 showed that 63 percent of adults felt that the GOP's positions on climate change were outside the mainstream, compared to 54 percent who said so when asked in October 2015. On fiscal issues, immigration and abortion — three other issues that adults were asked about in both the polls — the difference between 2015 and 2019 was negligible or nonexistent.

"I think they've got to look at where the young people are, where the suburban people are, much more pro anti-climate change measures than Republican leadership and stuff," Rep. Francis Rooney, (R-Florida) told NBC News. "And at some point, they're going to realize that if you can't reach enough people, you can't win. That's a math issue."

Rooney is a proponent of instituting a carbon tax — a fee on the carbon contents of fossil fuels. That measure, which Rooney said would be "quite an elegant solution" to solving some climate change issues, currently enjoys little support among elected Republicans, least of all the president.

Trump "is so dead set on supporting the coal industry that there is no way he or [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell is going to move forward on a carbon tax," he said.

Still, Rooney worked with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida) to reintroduce carbon tax legislation earlier this year in the hopes of driving conversation about climate policy, and have more people "realize that Republicans are interested in the environment."

"We have a voice in this, too," he said.

We know the temperatures are changing, we know there will be variation. I happen to believe that humans and industry are contributing factors.
Rep. Greg Walden
Republican Congressman from Oregon

Walden, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who co-authored the opinion piece, said he wasn't a fan of carbon tax. He would rather see Congress push for policies that encourage energy producers to innovate in ways that will benefit the environment.

"At the end of the day, there's not a science denier among us," Walden said of the Republican members of his committee. "Everybody wanted to move forward, but with the principles outlined in our op-ed — innovation, adaptation, conservation, preparation how do we lead as a country, the world in reducing emissions and carbon and methane through technology."

Walden is advocating for increased use of hydropower and nuclear energy, while improving battery storage for renewable energies. But the congressman said he has not had the chance to talk to Trump "directly" about his climate agenda, nor has he spoken to the National Security Council officials tasked with assembling the panel of scientists who may cast doubt on the administration's earlier climate report.

"But we've had thermometers for hundreds of years," he said. "We know the temperatures are changing; we know there will be variation. I happen to believe that humans and industry are contributing factors."

— By Allan Smith, political reporter for NBC News