Republicans Take Dead Aim at Obama’s Climate Change Initiatives
Policy + Politics

Republicans Take Dead Aim at Obama’s Climate Change Initiatives

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for years only half-jokingly insisted that global warming was “a hoax invented by the Chinese” aimed at weakening the U.S. economy through tough anti-pollution rules on utilities and manufacturers.

Trump has voiced serious doubts about the threats of global warming throughout the campaign and has threatened to eliminate or significantly downgrade the Environmental Protection Agency if he becomes president.

Related: The Climate Change Crisis Trump Refuses to Acknowledge

While stopping short of fully embracing Trump’s skepticism of climate change science, the new  platform approved by the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week would go far towards dismantling the Obama administration’s historic initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while opening the door to expanded oil, gas and coal production on federally protected land.

The 66-page document approved by delegates on a voice vote Monday night makes the startling claim that coal is a “clean” fuel, when in fact coal and other fossil fuels are the chief contributors to climate change and public health problems including asthma and heart problems.

“The Democratic Party does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource,” the platform states. “Those who mine it and their families should be protected from the Democratic Party’s radical anti-coal agenda.”

The platform, which has received scant attention in the early days of the convention, contains a cornucopia of energy industry-inspired provisions that would shred much of what Obama has achieved over the past seven years in trying to slow the rate of growth of carbon emissions. The platform, for example, vows to somehow reverse a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that expanded the EPA’s power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.

At the same time it hailed the high court’s recent action to hold in abeyance Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to sharply reduce power plant emissions, pending the outcome of a lower court challenge. It strongly opposes a proposed carbon tax to discourage the production of coal, oil and other fossil fuels, saying such a tax would invariably lead to higher utility costs, to the detriment of lower-income families.

Related: Is This ‘the Last Generation’ That Can Stop Climate Change?

And the platform would torpedo the latest international effort to control climate change by demanding an immediate halt to funding U.S. participation in a United Nations-sanctioned global climate change agreement, a document negotiated last December in Paris and ratified in April by President Obama and 170 other world leaders. The sweeping agreement commits most countries to slowing global warming in the coming decades and assisting poorer nations most seriously affected by climate change.

“We firmly believe environmental problems are best solved by giving incentives for human ingenuity and the development of new technologies, not through top-down, command-and-control regulations that stifle economic growth and cost thousands of jobs,” the GOP platform document states.

The Republican platform devotes just four pages of the overall document to global warming and energy production issues. But those few pages bring into sharp focus the huge stakes for Republicans and Democrats alike in the outcome of the presidential contest in November.

Obama has declared climate change one of the most pressing national security threats of our time, and has expended huge amounts of his political capital in forging a domestic and global strategy for slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and heavily promoting alternative sources of energy, including solar and wind power. Even after Congress rejected a cap and trade program for encouraging industry to reduce carbon emissions early in his first term, Obama has made alternative energy efforts a capstone of his presidency.

Related: Obama Warns of Costly Public Health Crisis Spurred by Climate Change

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has embraced many of the president’s initiatives, at times to her political disadvantage. She suffered serious political setbacks in Kentucky, West Virginia and other coal-producing states during the primary season by vowing to accelerate the closing of coal mines and encouraging the development of cleaner alternative sources of energy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Republicans denounced Clinton for moving to put more hard-pressed coal miners out of work, and her main Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, beat her in coal-country primaries.

Obama is counting on Clinton’s victory over Trump to preserve key elements of his agenda, including many of his global warming and clean air provisions that are currently under assault by the Republicans in the courts and along the campaign trail.

Trump and GOP party leaders, meanwhile, are highly dismissive of Obama’s energy and global warming strategies, arguing that they are a major drag on the economy and have produced a nightmare of government regulations that discourage industry from expanding and creating new jobs.

Should Trump and the GOP succeed in reclaiming control of the White House and retaining majorities in the Senate and House this fall, that would likely lead to a disastrous setback for the environmental movement.

Related: Obama and Critics Battle Over Climate Change Costs

“If this extremist platform were ever actually implemented, it would imperil clean air and clean water for all Americans,” Khalid Pitts, political director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “Donald Trump has vowed to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and now the Republican Party has codified a radical and dangerous path to enable Trump and his anti-environmental ideology.”

The Republican platform substantially reflects the views of the coal, oil, gas and nuclear power industries, and calls for substantial deregulation. Republicans insist that advances in technology and equipment – including devices to capture and store carbon dioxide emission-- are far better than tough new environmental rules.

“We assert that private ownership has been the best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while some of the worst instances of degradation have occurred under government control,” the document states.

The oil and gas industry is a major player within the party and regularly pours the vast majority of its campaign contributions into Republican coffers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Some of the biggest donors during 2015 and 2016 include Koch Industries ($4.6 million), Chevron ($3.9 million) and Stewart & Stevenson ($3.1 million).

Related: Cities Face Costly Projects to Cope with Climate Change

The GOP authors of the platform were highly dismissive of Obama’s warning that climate change poses the gravest threats to U.S. national security and public health, something that Trump once called “one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard in politics.”

The GOP platform made it clear that with Republicans back in control, fossil fuel development will be part of this country’s energy mix for years to come.  The document said that responsibility for environmental regulations would be largely transferred to the states, which typically have far fewer financial resources to aggressively regulate pollution.

As the party platform states, “We support the development of all forms of energy that are marketable in a free economy without subsidies, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower.”