Republican lawmaker who wants to abolish the EPA joins bipartisan climate caucus

Florida congressman also supports Trump's withdrawal from Paris climate agreement.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R), a freshman House member from Florida, introduced legislation earlier this year to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Cannon
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R), a freshman House member from Florida, introduced legislation earlier this year to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Cannon

A freshman Florida congressman, whose first piece of legislation would have abolished the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, a group formed in early 2016 to bring Republicans and Democrats together to advance meaningful climate change legislation.

In February, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), introduced H.R. 861, which would “terminate” the EPA on December 31, 2018. Nine months later, the same Republican lawmaker is now a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus.

From complaining about EPA regulations to questioning the scientific consensus on climate change, Gaetz fits easily into the mold of the modern anti-environment Republican lawmaker.

In June, Gaetz also applauded Trump’s announcement that he planned to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, a stance that makes the Florida lawmaker’s decision to join the Climate Solutions Caucus even more bizarre. The United States is the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, and thus bears much of the responsibility for the current warming that scientists are already measuring.

The House Climate Solutions Caucus includes an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and currently stands at 62 members. If a Democrat wants to join the caucus, the lawmaker must find a Republican counterpart to become a member at the same time  —  and vice versa. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) invited Gaetz to join the caucus in tandem with him.

Gaetz’s office did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment regarding his anti-environmental record by time of publication.

The caucus includes a few Republicans who sincerely want to act on climate change. But most of the group’s GOP members appear to be joining to improve their image among constituents, not to develop climate change solutions. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is expected to face a tough reelection bid in 2018, is a prime example of a Republican who joined the caucus for political reasons. Issa was elected to Congress in 2000 and has a 4 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters.

The Climate Solutions Caucus was formed after a volunteer with the advocacy group Citizens’ Climate Lobby approached Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) about establishing a bipartisan group to develop climate solutions. Deutch eventually teamed up with Curbelo to co-found the caucus. Both members represent south Florida, one of the regions scientists predict will be hit the hardest by climate change.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby spokesperson Flannery Winchester told ThinkProgress that lawmakers do not need to pass any type of evaluation before they can join the caucus. They just need to have interest in a bipartisan discussion on climate change solutions.

“The idea of abolishing the EPA is preposterous,” Winchester said of Gaetz’s bill. “With that said, it is valuable to have a diversity of views on the caucus. That speaks to the strength of the group that it is somewhere where a legislator like this who has that history can come to the table and join the conversation.”

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby is pushing for Congress to pass legislation that creates a market-based, carbon fee-and-dividend system that would place a steadily rising price on carbon. This type of approach has the best chance of success because Republicans “don’t want to go the regulatory route” to address climate change, Winchester said.

Members of the caucus have introduced climate-related legislation but have yet to succeed in getting any legislation passed that would curb greenhouse gas emissions. One of the caucus’ biggest successes was its ability to get enough Republicans to help defeat the Perry amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this year.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced an amendment to strike all climate change language from the bill, meaning the military would not be required to assess and prepare for climate risks. Together, 24 Democrats and 22 Republicans from the caucus voted to defeat this amendment. Another 24 Republicans who were not on the caucus also voted against the amendment.

In the July vote, Gaetz voted for the amendment; in other words, he supported preventing the Department of Defense from analyzing and addressing climate change.

Before he was elected to Congress in November 2016, Gaetz served in the Florida House of Representatives, where he had a history of opposing environmental safeguards. As a state representative, Gaetz said there is no denying the planet is warming, but that more needs to be done to determine whether it is a natural cycle of warming and cooling or if humans are irreversibly harming the planet. Furthermore, no climate legislation should be enacted in Florida if it harms jobs, he said.

The scientific consensus on the existence and causes of climate change is overwhelming  — scientists are about as certain that climate change is primarily man-made as they are that smoking causes an increased risk of lung cancer.

DeSmog Blog explained that Gaetz wants to abolish the EPA to give states sole authority to regulate their own environments. During his successful congressional bid last year, Gaetz campaigned on the concept that environmental regulations are killing business. “It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently,” Gaetz wrote in an email to fellow lawmakers in Congress to drum up support for the legislation, according to HuffPost.

Gaetz’s Florida constituents have rallied against his anti-environment policy stances. Earlier this year, when the potential repeal of Obamacare was the top concern at most town hall meetings, Gaetz was targeted for his positions on the environment. At the freshman congressman’s first public meeting in February, audience members chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Matt Gaetz has got to go” and “EPA is here to stay.”

If protecting the environment and fighting climate change were a policymaker’s goal, putting all authority into the hands of the states would be a disaster. States do not have the financial means to enforce environmental regulations or enact rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And many states don’t have the political will to take actions that will protect the environment and human health.

“State and local governments cannot perform all the functions that a national environmental agency can,” Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, wrote in response to the Trump administration’s proposed EPA budget cuts.

Given the fact that the majority of states in this country either have a climate change opponent as governor or attorney general, “it appears increasingly unlikely that many states would enact protections approaching what we currently have from the federal EPA,” DeSmog reported.