GOP green groups want climate action. But not reconciliation

Last year, a conservative environmental group convinced minority parliamentary leader Kevin McCarthy to endorse his vision for climate action. The plan included innovation in clean energy and natural forms of carbon removal.

Today, the same group, the American Conservation Coalition, opposes legislation that would devote hundreds of billions of dollars to these efforts.

The turnaround underscores the challenge facing Republican climate groups: their party has never supported aggressive carbon legislation when it comes time to vote.

In the ongoing debate over the Build Back Better Act, the ACC and other environmental groups that have been formed in recent years to promote free market climate policies have had little success in persuading the GOP to soften. its obstruction of climate legislation, according to interviews. , lobbying disclosures and other documents.

“It is clear that Republicans have no political interest in doing anything about the climate,” said Sanjay Patnaik, who studied climate policy as director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution, a left-wing think tank.

Time and time again, he noted, Republican policymakers linked to the fossil fuel industry have worked to thwart Democrats’ efforts to stop global warming, which is primarily caused by the burning of oil, natural gas and of coal.

In 2001, former President George W. Bush, a former oil tanker, announced that the United States would not implement the Kyoto Protocol, an international climate agreement negotiated with the help of his Democratic predecessor.

During the Obama administration, the universal opposition of Republican senators helped condemn a landmark law passed by the House that included a cap-and-trade program to reduce the country’s global warming emissions.

And in June 2017, President Trump decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.

That same month, an undergraduate student at the University of Washington named Benji Backer founded the ACC.

One of many conservative environmental advocacy groups to form since the failure of the cap-and-trade bill, the ACC says its mission is to mobilize “young Americans behind good solutions. sense, market-based and government-limited in climate and environmental policy “.

Backer, who is now 23, quickly gained the attention of Republican lawmakers. In 2019, he was invited to testify alongside Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee audience was titled “Voices Leading the Next Generation on the Global Climate Crisis”.

The following year, Backer’s group formalized their conservative vision of reducing emissions in what they called the American Climate Contract.

“There is an undeniable link between human activity” and the rise in global temperatures, indicates the commitment of the ACC.

“To fully face the threat of climate change and progress towards the goal of net zero carbon emissions globally by 2050”, the Contract calls for embracing energy innovation, modernizing the country’s infrastructure, supporting natural methods of sucking carbon from the atmosphere and partnering with other countries to reduce emissions.

After running a six-figure advertising campaign on Fox News, the group got McCarthy and Representative Garret Graves (R-La.), A leading member of the Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, to back his contract. Eight other Republicans also signed (Green wire, June 29, 2020).

Tear up the contract

Benji Backer, President of the American Conservation Coalition, testifies in Congress in 2019. | Alex Wong / Getty Images

The $ 1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act follows in many ways the plan promoted by the ACC last year.

This understand tens of billions of dollars in wind, solar and nuclear tax credits; similar sums for the modernization of the national rail network; and it directs funding towards the protection of forests that “offer significant natural carbon sequestration benefits”.

But rather than trying to convince Republicans to support the “Build Back Better Act” – or at least its climate provisions – the ACC has attack Democrats for “forcing hyper-partisan votes” to pass a bill that would throw money “on a wide variety of favorite projects, many of which have nothing to do with climate change.” The ACC specifically opposed the subsidies included in the bill for electric vehicles made with unionized workers, a provision that would likely benefit Detroit automakers over upstarts like Tesla Inc.

The legislation, which Democrats aim to push through the Senate via budget reconciliation to avoid Republican obstruction, also includes hundreds of billions in social security spending and higher corporate tax rates. Republicans have expressed opposition to both.

“At ACC, we believe bipartisan climate action is sustainable climate action. We also believe climate policy should be measured in tons of carbon emissions reduced, not billions of taxpayer dollars spent,” said Quill Robinson, the group’s lead lobbyist, at E&E News. in a report. “We will continue to fight for sustainable climate solutions that will create a stronger economy and a healthier planet for future generations.”

The group backs a Republicans-only climate plan that calls for expansion of national natural gas production and fails to embrace the goal of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century, which ACC already has supported. It is the speed and scale of emission reductions that scientists believe are necessary to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

The “US Plan for Energy, Jobs and the Climate,” by Senators Kevin Cramer (RN.D.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Aims to reduce emissions global by 40% by 2050. Analysts say such a result would likely lead to an average warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more above pre-industrial levels.

On the ground, the impacts could be catastrophic: many more heat waves, droughts, forest fires and sea level rise as well as the virtual elimination of coral reef ecosystems on which half a billion people depend for their food and income (Climate wire, November 4).

When Republicans in fossil fuel-dependent states unveiled their plan last week, Backer, the founder of ACC, praised Senators for “their commitment to tackling climate change while maintaining a strong and vibrant US energy industry. “.

Conservative Greens on the sidelines

Two other conservative environmental groups – Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions and ClearPath Action – also applauded lawmakers and their plan.

Meanwhile, lobbying records and public statements show that Republican climate groups have largely remained on the sidelines of the “Build Back Better Act” debate. President Biden is building on the reconciliation plan to help halve U.S. emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century.

Neither the ACC nor the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions mentioned the bill in their latest lobbying disclosure reports, which cover their activities between July and the end of September. CRES was founded in 2013 to “engage Republican policymakers and the public on responsible and conservative solutions” to environmental problems, its website says.

A lobbying firm hired by ClearPath Action revealed that it contacted lawmakers on tax issues related to the reconciliation package during the same period. But the conservative advocacy group, which was launched around the same time as CRES, declined to elaborate on the specific tax provisions it was referring to.

The Build Back Better Act, which for months has been tied to a more popular $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, is hanging by a thread.

On Friday night, most House Democrats and 13 Republicans sent the Senate infrastructure bill to the president’s office.

A bloc of progressive Democrats had delayed the final passage of the infrastructure bill by denying its support until the reconciliation bill could be worked out. They only relented after receiving verbal assurances from Biden and a written statement from a group of centrist Democrats, which at 10:17 p.m. Friday sworn to vote in the coming weeks for the climate and social spending package or to settle their differences.

The reconciliation bill remains deeply unpopular with Republicans and many professional associations (Climate wire, October 4).

McCarthy led the opposition to the bill, fire it is a 2,145 page “socialist spending scam”.

Graves, the Republican of Louisiana, has a more nuanced view of the bill.

In a maintenance with C-SPAN last month, he praised the “carrot-type approach” to legislation to cut emissions, which he said builds on “what Republicans have done with tax incentives to try to ” move forward in a clean energy future [direction]. ”

But Graves hesitated at the price of the bill and its potential impact on the national debt. The oil and gas industry has donated $ 677,000 to the Louisiana Republican since his first candidacy in 2013, more than any other industry, according to federal data analyzed by transparency group OpenSecrets.

“I still think overall the package is an overspend,” he said in October. “We need to be more thoughtful, deliberate and focused on the limited resources we have. Otherwise, we are really going to question the future of our children and grandchildren.”

The non-partisan joint committee on taxation estimated last week that the bill would be fully paid by tax increases and other savings.

After the infrastructure bill passed on Friday, Graves and all other Republicans in the House rejected or refused to vote on a rule to debate the reconciliation bill. This could foreshadow the GOP’s approach to reconciliation when it comes to a final vote.

Brookings’ climate policy expert Patnaik doesn’t expect many GOP lawmakers to break ranks.

“It is unfortunate that when the rubber hits the road there is simply no political will in the majority of the Republican Party,” he said. “For them, there is nothing wrong with doing nothing about the climate. But there would probably be a downside to angering a lot of their donors if they started putting a carbon price in place or something like that. that.”

Journalist Nick Sobcyzk contributed.

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