Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn called New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal a "solution in search of a problem."
The proposal by the freshman Congress member aims to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Those impacts could have catastrophic effects in the coming years if the world does not take immediate and ambitious steps to address them, UN and U.S. government agencies warn. Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal calls for a massive spending program that would overhaul the U.S. economy, energy system and transportation sector to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
"In some ways, it's a proposed solution in search of a problem," Cornyn said on Friday at CERAWeek by IHS Markit, an annual energy conference in Houston. He compared Ocasio-Cortez's aggressive approach to climate change to Paul Ehrlich's warnings in the 1968 book "The Population Bomb." Ehrlich predicted that overpopulation would cause mass starvation in the following decades. To be sure, warnings about the potential impacts of global warming are not based on the predictions of a single author, but on scientific conclusions by scores of climate scientists.
Agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association say climate change is already intensifying natural disasters and costing the United States billions of dollars in damage.
Cornyn said he is concerned about the environment, but disagrees that climate change is the single most urgent issue.
"I could think of more urgent issues, like the nuclear weapons," Cornyn said. Like potential food shortages in the 70s, climate change can be addressed with intellectual firepower, innovation, hard work and good science, he said.
"I think, really, to me it's a question of are we going to turn over control of the economy to Washington and the political class in a sort of command and control form, or we going to rely on what has brought us to where we are today, which is a country of innovators?" he said.
Cornyn said he would not support a resolution in support of the Green New Deal that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to advance after lawmakers return from next week's recess.
"I think Sen. McConnell thought it would be good for this proposal to be voted on to see how sincere and how serious the proponents were or whether this is more a matter of political messaging than policy solutions."
Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC during CERAWeek that he would be willing to meet with Ocasio-Cortez to discuss the Green New Deal. The plan faced significant skepticism from energy executives and thought leaders at the conference.