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Modest GOP foray into climate triggers backlash from the right

Ari Natter, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy had barely finished presenting his party's modest plan to fight climate change when conservatives began piling on in opposition.

The free market-group American Energy Alliance dismissed it as a "Republican-led Green New Deal lite" that amounted to a "climate messaging exercise." The Competitive Enterprise Institute called it "bad policy that will not bring any political relief."

And the Club for Growth vowed to not endorse any candidate who backs what it called the Republican "liberal" climate plan. "Besides hurting our economy, these measures will not make a single environmentalist vote for a Republican and only alienate conservatives across the country," said the group's president David McIntosh.

The swift blowback illustrates the challenges facing those trying to shed the party's climate-denying reputation that alienates young voters and polls well for Democrats. The fierce criticism also illustrates the limits of pragmatism for a party long backed by groups that question climate change.

McCarthy unveiled the first of several planned climate initiatives Wednesday with a package focused on carbon sequestration. It calls for the expansion and permanent extension of a tax credit for oil companies and others that capture carbon dioxide and bury it in the ground, money for the development of carbon capture for natural-gas power plants, and support for a plan to plant 1 trillion trees around the world.

Matt Sparks, a McCarthy spokesman, said "fighting for a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment" has been well-received during member meetings, including the party's full-member retreat last year and a policy conference earlier this year. Among the members who participated in the unveiling of the climate plan on Wednesday was Representative David McKinley, a West Virginia Republican steeped in coal country.

"The participation of members across the ideological spectrum and representing every region of the country – including coal country -- at today's event represent just how widespread the support is for House Republicans to reclaim the leadership position on the environment," Sparks said in an email.

During Wednesday's hour-long briefing, McCarthy and other Republican leaders, such as Oregon Representative Greg Walden, and Garret Graves of Louisiana, made the case that their plan could protect the environment, as well the economy, without mandates embraced by Democrats. Future components are likely to focus on climate resilience, plastic pollution and increasing energy from carbon-free sources such as nuclear and hydropower.


While the proposals have been derided by some environmental organizations, they have won praise from some right-leaning groups.

"Any debate on climate change must be rooted in political and technical realism, as well as economic competitiveness," said Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath Action, which promotes energy innovation. "It's a good strategy to focus on policies that facilitate breakthroughs relevant for the developing world, instead of divisive policies that would make traditional energy more expensive and only aid deployment of existing technologies."

(With assistance from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.)

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