GOP's new climate gambit: Crafting a "solution" for an issue it doesn't care about

Republicans try to create their own solution for climate change -- a problem they say doesn’t exist

Published January 20, 2015 7:07PM (EST)

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma            (AP/Sue Ogrocki)
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

Republican and conservative thinking on climate change can be broken down into three broad categories: 1) it isn’t happening/doesn’t exist; 2) if it is happening, then it’s not a big deal – it might even be beneficial; and 3) it could be happening and it might be a problem, but the cure is worse than the disease. These paths may have their own distinct twists and turns, but they all lead to the same policy destination: do nothing.

That’s been the GOP’s climate change policy for as long as anyone can remember. But now that the party is back in full control of Congress for the first time in eight years, a few forward-thinking Republicans are apparently trying to come up with a climate change solution that will show the world that the GOP is a party that stands for responsible governance.

According to the Washington Examiner, progress is slow going – they haven’t yet made it past the cliché/buzzword stage of development:

The plan is still emerging, according to interviews with nearly two dozen people that included lawmakers, lobbyists, strategists and aides, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive and evolving subject.

The rough outline is that tactics to reduce emissions should not harm the economy, but what that would entail is not certain.

"They're going to try to drag their feet as long as possible, but there are certain things out there that could bring the predominant GOP position to light," said Ford O'Connell, a GOP strategist and former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "They want to at least have a unified position and they want to be able to have their ducks in a row. And if they have a solution, they want to have one that has the least impact on the economy."

It’s obviously going to be difficult for any large group of people to come to a unified consensus on anything, but for Republicans and climate change this will be impossible. Politically, they have to contend with the fact that some of the most influential members of the party just aren’t going to budge on this issue. Mitch McConnell, the newly crowned Senate majority leader, would eat a chunk of anthracite coal if that would demonstrate his fealty to Kentucky’s moribund coal mining industry. The man McConnell put in charge of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, believes that climate change is a conspiracy perpetrated by unethical scientists and refutes evidence of global warming with Bible passages. Neither man is apt to be dissuaded from these positions.

But let’s set the politics aside and focus on the actual substance of the Republican climate change solution, such as it exists. The plan, as noted in the passage above, is to reduce emissions in such a way that there will be no negative economic effects. That means they’re looking for a magic bullet – a policy that somehow brings climate change under control while still carving out space for tar sands oil and strip mining and Hummers. Also, in keeping with conservative Republican dogma, they want to roll back regulations on power plants and other polluters and put our environmental future in the hands of private enterprise. And oh yeah – there can’t be any of that “clean energy” hippy crap:

In September, communications staff for Republicans accepted a request from Rich Thau, a polling expert with a roster of industry clients, to present them with a strategy on climate change. While staffers routinely hold such briefings, those familiar with the meeting called it "unusual." Policy staff was invited, which was a break with the norm.

Staffers were also incensed that Thau's suggestions — that curbing emissions could spark a "clean energy revolution," for example, according to a copy of the presentation obtained by the Washington Examiner — sounded like they came straight from the Democrats' playbook.

All this is doubly ridiculous because there already exists a Republican plan for reducing emissions and fighting climate change. It’s called cap-and-trade, and it was once hailed by the right as a free-market alternative to onerous “big government” regulation of the economy. But then Democrats started pushing a cap-and-trade proposal and Republicans found themselves bashing their own idea for no other reason than Barack Obama supported it.

And that gets back to the root problem facing any attempt to craft a Republican “solution” to climate change: Republicans just don’t care about it. It's useful to them insofar as they can use the issue to beat up on Obama and Democrats for their "job-killing environmental regulations." And they don’t really feel there’s any political price to be paid for standing athwart the scientific consensus that we’re staring down global catastrophe if we don’t aggressively cut back the amount of carbon that we dump into the atmosphere. And until that dynamic changes, Republican policy on climate change will be limited mainly to “Al Gore is fat” jokes.

By Simon Maloy

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