What is the Republican strategy regarding climate change? From the White House to individual statehouses around the country, conservatives have — at best — adopted a See-No-Evil attitude toward one of our planet’s most-pressing issues.
At worst, the GOP approach includes obstruction, belittlement, and threats of violence.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was replacing a robust, Obama-era rule governing grubby coal-fired power plants. Billed as a job-saver, the new EPA rule requires older, pollution-spewing coal plants to, well, keep doing what they’re already doing.
The Obama rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, had some bite to it: forcing closure (or modern retrofit) of excessively dirty coal-fired power plants, and requiring new ones to use cleaner, more-expensive technology. Its replacement, with the feel-good name of the Affordable Clean Energy rule, isn’t much concerned with air pollution. Its intent is to prop up a declining coal industry.
Did I mention the head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist? And a former vice president of the Washington Coal Club? During his time in Washington, Wheeler has consistently sought to reduce federal regulation of greenhouse gases; at one point, he even pushed for the Energy Department to subsidize coal-fired power plants.
And this man is now the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency? With Republicans in charge, down is up, one plus one equals zero, and foxes are assigned to protect henhouses.
Even when they’re not in the majority, conservatives are doing their best to deny, derail, and misdirect any efforts to combat climate change.
Take Oregon, for example.
One week ago, the Oregon Senate was poised to vote on a major cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. Democrats are in firm control of Senate, so the legislation was clearly headed for approval. Unable to win a vote, Republican senators prevented a vote altogether by fleeing the statehouse – thereby denying Democrats a quorum.
That’s what passes for GOP leadership on climate change. Delay, obstruct, and when all else fails, threaten violence.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered state troopers to return the AWOL senators to their workplace, prompting one of the fugitives, Brian Boquist, to issue a thinly-veiled threat.
“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist told a TV news crew. Though he was playing to the cameras, his remark was a dog whistle to right-wing militia groups that are quick to brandish rifles, pistols and shotguns when things aren’t going their way. Recall that in 2016, armed militia members hijacked the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for a month and a half.
Given that history, last week’s threat of violence worked perfectly.
The Oregon State Police told Senate leaders “the safety of legislators, staff and citizen visitors could be compromised” by the militia groups. Faced with credible threats of violence, state Senate President Peter Courtney canceled Saturday’s session; the errant senators were still on the lam nearly one week later.
The irony is that a cap-and-trade policy for carbon emissions was the apple of the GOP’s eye about 15 years ago. Spawned by free-market economists, the idea was hailed as a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is solution to what everyone agreed was a problem.
Good ol’ capitalism at work.
Even Democrats came to like the idea, which was the kiss of death because cap-and-trade clearly was gaining traction. Fast forward to today and it is a pantomime villain for conservative politicians.
So they run from climate change, and they stall, and they deny it even exists. And they belittle those with the moral courage to stand up and work for meaningful improvement.
Despite the GOP’s rope-a-dope tactics, a change is gonna come. Neither the Ugly American in the White House, nor his corporate cronies can turn back the clock to the days when smoke-belching factories were the embodiment of the American dream. As fuel prices rise, inexorable market forces are driving consumer demand for greater efficiency in everything from lightbulbs to pick-up trucks.
Proud coal miners, faces streaked with soot and sweat, are photogenic pawns in the fight to preserve a declining industry. Sure, their daddies and granddaddies were coal miners, but society doesn’t owe them a living. Change is coming, whether Republicans like it or not.
Remember when the Underwood Typewriter Co. made typewriters? And the Eastman Kodak Co. made film for cameras? Those industries had their day, but nobody saved them when the sun finally set.
By obstructing efforts to fight climate change, America’s conservatives are making an enemy of our own future.
William Brock lives in Pullman.