It took just 10 minutes for the attacks to begin.
Moments after he started speaking Wednesday morning before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) urged Democrats to “accept that proposing top-down government requirements to rapidly decarbonize the U.S. and global economies may not be the most realistic way to address the climate change problem.”
“We should be open to the fact that wealth transfer schemes suggested in the radical policies like the Green New Deal may not be the best path,” said Shimkus, who less than a decade ago deployed Bible verses to dismiss the realities of climate science.
Two congressional hearings on Wednesday morning ― the first science-based discussions in the House focused on climate change in years ― did little to move the needle on a long-stagnant policy debate on how to keep global warming from reaching temperatures with catastrophic consequences. But GOP opposition to a Green New Deal, the grassroots effort to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions that has energized activists for months, was on full display.
Speaking shortly after Shimkus, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) cited President Donald Trump’s widely-criticized statements blaming poor forest management for the increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires scorching the West Coast.
“The Green New Deal ignores many of these important elements of our energy strategy and it makes it difficult to meet our shared environmental goals,” he said.
Once a vague term for clean-energy stimulus, the Green New Deal re-emerged in the political discourse in mid-2018. A cadre of left-wing Democratic candidates began using it to describe plans to spend trillions of dollars on a national industrial strategy to zero out fossil fuel emissions and power the country with 100 percent renewables in a decade.
The proposals electrified a static debate that too often ranged from outright denialism of climate change by some to dubious market fixes offered by others. Scientists quickly praised the idea of a Green New Deal as the first policy on the scale of the climate crisis.
In November, newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) positioned herself as the champion of the Green New Deal movement. After failing to persuade House Democratic leaders to establish a select committee on a Green New Deal, she began work on a sweeping new resolution outlining a transformative policy to guarantee high-wage clean energy jobs to millions of Americans and upgrade the nation’s crumbling infrastructure to withstand already-unavoidable extreme weather and sea level rise.
Despite years of partisan bickering over the realities of climate change, the idea proved popular. Eighty-one percent of registered voters said they supported the main goals of the Green New Deal in a poll released in December. That included 64 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of self-described conservative Republicans. Last month, another poll found a narrow majority of voters said they supported a Green New Deal even if it required raising taxes to fund it.
That did little to alter the objections from conservatives at Wednesday’s hearings.
Rich Powell, the executive director of the conservative clean energy advocacy group ClearPath, complained that the emissions projected to come from new coal-fired plants in other countries, particularly India and China, would “completely offset” the climate benefits of the U.S. completely decarbonizing.
“If supporters of a Green New Deal truly believe climate change is an existential threat, they should focus on global solutions,” he said.
As HuffPost reported on Tuesday, the Green New Deal resolution Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are expected to unveil this week does just that, calling on the nation to “promote the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding and services with the aim to reclaim U.S. leadership on climate change to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal.”
During a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) dismissed the Green New Deal as an “impossible,” “top-down” proposal crafted by young, inexperienced politicians.
“You only have to be 25 years old to be a member of Congress. We have young people that bring a lot of great qualities, but maybe they don’t bring a lot of life experience,” he said. “I guess I can understand if someone has not had a lot of life experience and they’re proposing something that’s extremely unrealistic ― well, impossible. Impossible.”
“What I don’t understand is adults and grownups, who are older and more mature, who are also advocating something that’s impossible,” he added, referring to several of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls.
The panel’s Republican members also made a point, in a Twitter post, of deriding the Green New Deal as “not responsible policymaking.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) resorted to misrepresenting the Green New Del proposal in arguing against it. He said he and other Republicans “have real concerns” about shuttering military bases around the globe and cutting military spending by 50 percent ― proposals floated not by any congressional Democrats in the climate change debate but by Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein in 2016.
Gohmert told panel witness Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of the national, nonprofit Hip Hop Caucus, that he found it “interesting” at the activist would support a Green New Deal, given Yearwood’s previous service as an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Chaplain Corps.
Insisting that a Green New Deal would mean slashing military spending, Gohmert said the effect would be to leave the U.S. “basically indefensible,” unable to protect itself against Russia, China or Islamic extremists.
Yearwood reminded Gohmert that the U.S. military has made clear that climate change looms as a threat to national security.
The Sunrise Movement, the grassroots group whose protests helped propel the Green New Deal into the mainstream political debate last year, was unfazed by the Republican opposition.
“Any politician ― Democrat or Republican ― that doesn’t back the Green New Deal is out of touch with what voters want,” Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesman for the group, said by phone.
The House hearings coincided with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday releasing their annual global temperature analysis, which found that weather and climate disasters in 2018 resulted in 247 deaths and $91 billion in damages.