Republicans’ new climate plan was meant to show voters the party cares about climate change, but it’s also illustrating the difficult tightrope the GOP walks on green issues as it faces internal pushback.
“The Democrats have trained everybody to think that the only people who care about climate change are the ones who engage in hysterical alarmism or engage in real high-minded but ultimately false aspirations of ‘we’re going to decrease this much’… but they forget about the actual solutions,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who is leading a bill on carbon capture research and development.
But the bill was immediately condemned by the powerful Club for Growth PAC and elicited grumbles from a handful of lawmakers.
“The next step needs to be the trash can for this stuff,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has advocated for more carbon in the atmosphere, arguing it will spur plant growth.
In the first of three eventual proposals, the package focuses on carbon capture, hoping to sequester pollution by planting trees and expanding tax credits for and boosting research on technology that helps remove carbon as energy is produced.
The legislation hasn’t been embraced by environmental groups, who argue it’s not a serious solution to climate change. And it’s gotten a tepid response at best from Democrats who, despite their concerns about the approach, have scheduled a hearing for the tree legislation.
But the conservative Club for Growth has pegged it as “stifling liberal environmental taxes, regulations, and subsidies” while threatening to withhold support from any lawmaker who backs it.
“Besides hurting our economy, these measures will not make a single environmentalist vote for a Republican and only alienate conservatives across the country,” the group wrote in a statement.
Massie is likewise concerned Republicans are falling into a trap, being pushed by Democrats to address issues that are unpopular within the GOP base.
“Moderate Republicans are doing what they do when Democrats introduce a gun bill. They feel like they have to introduce their own gun bill even though constituents don’t want it and it won’t make them safe,” he said.
One GOP aide told The Hill that the bill shouldn’t be thought of as the Republicans’ effort, as many members of the broader conference have concerns.
But Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist, said whisper campaign aside, he sees little political downside for members who chose to support the legislation, even if it means losing some endorsements.
“Outside groups don’t get press off milquetoast statements, so when the rubber meets the road we’ll see if they follow through on their threat, but I think they hope they don’t have to. The idea is to try and scare members from it,” Gorman said.
McCarthy’s leadership on the effort gives Republicans easy cover, he added, and backing the legislation could be a good move for those in swing districts.
“I think this is something that can show voters you’re taking action. I don’t think voters at the end of the day are going to be voting against you because of this plan, no matter what people say,” Gorman said.
Concerns expressed by hesitant members include spending money on tax breaks as well as government involvement in an effort that could be led by citizens.
“I have no aversion to planting trees, I just don’t think the government needs to be in that business,” Massie said.
Other members fear the ultimate package would raise the costs of energy or focus too heavily on renewables.
“Here’s the problem: It can’t be addressed this way,” said Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), adding that the country must rely on fossil fuels to ensure consistent electricity generation. “We’ve got to have an all-the-above type solution.”
House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who helped roll out the bills, was surprised by some of the resistance.
“Who’s against planting trees?” he asked.
Walden sees the legislation as fully in line with GOP values.
“They’re positive, they fit in a conservative mantle. They’re not regulatory, they’re not taxes. They’re good things we all ought to be able to embrace,” he said.
Other Republicans involved in the legislation expressed optimism at getting further GOP backing.
“What we did is entirely consistent with conservative ideology. If folks are out there that are complaining about this, it’s because we’ve obviously failed to accurately communicate with them, and so we’ll redouble our efforts to do so. We’ve done extensive outreach with members of Congress and outside groups. We’ll continue doing it,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) told The Hill this week.
The legislation’s first test comes at the end of this month, when the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the portion of the package that would commit the U.S. to the “Trillion Trees Campaign.” It would require planting some 3.3 billion trees each year over the next 30 years, an increase of about 800 million trees per year.
The hearing will kick off a discussion on both sides of the aisle about how natural carbon capture through trees can and should be used.
“Fighting for a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment has been the subject of countless member meetings,” a spokesman for McCarthy’s office said in a statement the day the policies were rolled out. “The participation of members across the ideological spectrum and representing every region of the country — including coal country — at today’s event represent just how widespread the support is for House Republicans to reclaim the leadership position on the environment.”