Climate science deniers fear the building momentum behind the Green New Deal will force Republicans to introduce their own version of climate action, a so-called “Green New Deal-lite.”
Speaking at a policy forum Wednesday hosted by the Congressional Western Caucus and chaired by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), longtime climate science deniers and opponents of the ambitious climate resolution expressed concerns that calls for climate action will push all politicians to the left.
One of the “dangers” of the Green New Deal, said Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is that “by expanding the political spectrum of what’s in the debate, it’s moving the debate left and it’s creating a very large space for a certain class of people, many of them in the Republican Party, to start talking about how we need to have moderate solutions, or reasonable solutions.”
The Green New Deal resolution was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). The plan mandates rapid and widespread decarbonization of the U.S. economy. Calls for climate action have grown since the November midterm elections, but Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — which has strong support from youth activists — has now forced lawmakers to grapple with climate change as a top political issue.
The featured panelists at Wednesday’s forum came from organizations with long histories of spreading misinformation about climate change and working to roll back environmental protections. This included speakers from CEI, the Heritage Foundation, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), and the American Energy Alliance. All of these organizations have opaque funding networks; donations in the past have come from the fossil fuel industry as well as Koch-funded foundations.
Marc Morano, CFACT’s director of communications, echoed Ebell’s concerns about the effect the Green New Deal might have on the broader landscape of climate politics, saying the resolution has become a “litmus test” for each Democratic presidential hopeful.
Indeed, at least six Democratic presidential hopefuls have voiced support for the proposal, which draws on decades of scientific findings. In particular, the resolution cites a 2018 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warns of catastrophic consequences — from mass migrations and deadly heat stress to economic losses — if global temperatures rise past 2ºC above pre-industrial temperatures.
Morano, on the other hand, believes that the increased focus on the Green New Deal “has shifted the Democratic Party into serious, unscientific, nutty territory.”
As a result, he continued, “The greatest danger we face right now with the Green New Deal… is very simply the Republican Party coming up with the Green New Deal-lite.”
“We need to oppose it and oppose it firmly,” Morano said. “We don’t need to come up with the lite version of the plan.”
Among the potential policies panelists mentioned conservatives might propose as alternatives to the Green New Deal: a carbon tax and cap-and-trade policies.
“The only thing the Green New Deal could possible hope to achieve is to lull policy makers into accepting less draconian, but certainly damaging policies, like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program as quote, ‘reasonable alternatives,'” said Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance and a former Koch lobbyist.
Another speaker on the panel was former EPA deputy assistant administrator Mandy Gunasekara. Gunasekara resigned from the EPA just weeks ago to set up the Energy 45 Fund, which aims to promote “America First” policy approaches and educate the public and policymakers on the environmental successes of the Trump administration.
Repeating a popular line of attack from opponents of the Green New Deal, Gunasekara described the resolution as “Karl Marx’s Christmas list.” She then went on to argue that what’s “routinely overlooked is that the entire premise of the the Green New Deal ignores the United States’ current standing and leadership on environmental issues today.”
“Not only are we taking proactive steps to protect the environment and lower emissions,” she said, “we are doing it better than anyone else in the world.”
Gunasekara’s biography on the Energy 45 website, however, touts her as the “chief architect” of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. It also credits her with orchestrating the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Prior to joining the Trump administration, Gunasekara famously handed a snowball to well-known climate science denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) on the Senate floor in 2015 in an effort to disprove the existence of climate change.