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Analysis

GOP congressman retreats to party talking points after calling climate science ‘irrefutable’

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida says he supports strong climate action, but still wants to shut down the EPA.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) unveils climate change legislation dubbed the Green Real Deal, on, April 3, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) unveils climate change legislation dubbed the Green Real Deal, on, April 3, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol. CREDIT: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

Another day, another meaningless Republican climate plan that celebrates “innovation” but doesn’t do anything to set specific targets to reduce carbon pollution.

This time, the plan is from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who dislikes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) Green New Deal so much that he called his own proposal “The Green Real Deal.”

His Wednesday rollout began with promise, as Gaetz paid strong lip service to the science of climate change and the threat it poses.

“I represent Florida’s First Congressional District while it is above water,” said the congressman, who represents the state’s Panhandle. He noted that top military leaders view climate change as a serious threat, adding, “History will judge harshly my Republican colleagues who deny the science of climate change.”

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But his remarks quickly devolved into tired talking points from a playbook developed two decades ago by Republican pollster and messaging expert Frank Luntz — a plan built around repeating the poll-tested words “technology” and “innovation” over and over and over.

In his remarks, Gaetz managed to repeat some version of the word “innovation” 11 times in 10 minutes. At one point, he described his proposal as “my love letter to the American innovator.”

The essence of the plan, his press release explains, is “harnessing the power of free markets, embracing technological innovation and entrepreneurship, and cutting excessive governmental red tape.”

In short, the Green Real Deal is just business as usual for Republicans. The actual resolution itself does not have a single specific target.

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For example, one goal listed in the proposal is “to create more clean energy options through a commitment to innovation.” Another strategy is “establishing a voluntary framework for reporting and tracking carbon emissions, renewable energy procurement, and energy efficiency investment.”

This resolution could have been written a quarter century ago. Indeed, it essentially was, since it follows the exact script of Luntz’s infamous 2002 memo to President George W. Bush about how conservatives can sound like they care about the climate without actually proposing to do anything about it.

We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation,” wrote Luntz (emphasis in the original).

“The Green Real Deal rejects regulation as the driving force of reform, and instead unlocks the unlimited potential of American innovation and ingenuity,” Gaetz said on Wednesday.

Much of Gaetz’s remarks were aimed at mocking, demonizing, and misrepresenting the Green New Deal. “Do we really believe that if we outlaw cars, cows, planes and buildings that the rest of the world will follow?” said Gaetz. “Of course not, they will laugh at us.”

Of course, the Green New Deal resolution says nothing of the sort. Indeed, it is aimed at accelerating innovation in the marketplace to achieve specific emissions reduction targets consistent with the science — including a 100 percent renewable grid by 2030 and net zero greenhouse gas emissions for the entire economy as soon thereafter as is feasible.

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While Gaetz hid behind poll-tested platitudes in his remarks, the question and answer period of his press conference revealed his true intentions: After someone asked if Gaetz still supported shuttering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — something he proposed in 2017 — the congressman responded in the affirmative.

The reality is that the EPA is the only federal agency actually responsible for enforcing regulations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions with specific targets. Gaetz, however, opposes specific targets. In a response to one reporter’s question on that topic, he said “I don’t think linear carbon emission reductions are the path to success.”

The science, however, says the opposite; immediate carbon emissions reductions are the only path to success. The world’s leading scientists made clear in a major report last year that if we do not have a sharp decline in emissions by 2030 we will not be able stop catastrophic climate change.

Gaetz talks a good game. “I didn’t come to Congress to argue with a thermometer and I think that more of my colleagues need to realize that the science of global warming is irrefutable,” he said.

But we are long past the time for vague words without specific goals and immediate actions.