Dems Push Big Climate Solutions as Republicans Repeat Tired, Years-Old Climate Denial Talking Points After Weeks of Touting New Thinking

Washington, D.C. – Republicans at today’s recently concluded hearing on the ways to address climate change with public lands repeated the same years-old climate denial talking points they’ve used to reject action in previous congresses, calling their recent attempted pivot on the issue into question and underscoring Republican leadership’s inability to produce serious plans that rank-and-file members support.

The hearing – on Chair Raúl M. Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solutions Act and Rep. Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) Trillion Trees Act – featured multiple exchanges between Republican lawmakers and witnesses almost identical to those in recent years when the GOP majority ignored climate change and held hearings packed with climate denier witnesses to reject widespread public demand for emissions reductions. No Republican, including Rep. Westerman, endorsed any form of emissions reduction or limit on fossil fuel extraction during today’s hearing, which scientists agree must be part of any real climate solution. 

Democrats and the majority of the hearing witnesses, in contrast, spoke clearly of the need for major emissions reductions from public lands and waters as a necessary piece of the climate solution, highlighting the need to pass Chair Grijalva’s bill and underscoring the urgency of taking climate change seriously now rather than waiting for new trees to grow. Video highlights of analysis of the Grijalva bill and the need to transition to a more sustainable economy are available at http://bit.ly/3a597I8.  

Westerman, who said at a 2015 hearing that “Until the [Environmental Protection Agency] figures out how to permit and regulate acts of God, there’s not really anything we can do about autogenic [sic] greenhouse gases,” is now attempting to take a leading role in Republican climate policy by touting tree-planting as a key carbon capture strategy. His approach was soundly rejected at today’s hearing by Dr. Carla Staver of Yale University, who testified that while tree planting is a laudable goal and reforestation has “a role to play” in climate adaption, “Our primary focus must be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.” 

Westerman, who holds a Master of Forestry degree from Yale, told her at one point that she simply didn’t understand his bill, which creates new exceptions to the National Environmental Policy Act and incentivizes commercial logging in some areas as well as tree-planting. Staver teaches ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and is a nationally recognized expert on the interactions between forest landscapes, climate change and wildfires.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) suggested that the Norse planted corn in Greenland a millennium ago and said there is no cause for alarm today. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) – who seemed to opposeWesterman’s bill – offered a quote from Thomas Jefferson saying he had observed less snow in 1799 than in previous years, which McClintock used to suggest we’re simply in the Modern Warm Period and there is no need for new climate policies.

Since taking the House majority, Natural Resources Committee Democrats have spent much of the past year tackling climate change from every angle. In December 2019, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and leaders from the Natural Resources Committee released their flagship legislation to fight the climate crisis. Original cosponsors and supporters from the advocacy community hailed the introduction of H.R. 5435, the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act, which directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from public lands and waters by 2040.

The bill temporarily pauses new fossil fuel leases while the agencies develop a plan to reach the 2040 goal. DOI and USFS must meet climate pollution reduction targets at specific intervals starting in 2025 and publish strategic plans every four years that detail how the agencies will meet the pollution reduction targets established by the legislation. The bill also increases royalties on fossil fuel extraction by oil, gas, and coal corporations and uses the proceeds to support workers and communities impacted by a transition away from dirty energy development.  

The full text of H.R. 5435 is available at http://bit.ly/2RZ7Qwn. A fact sheet explaining the bill’s major provisions is available at http://bit.ly/2M1wc56. A section-by-section of the bill is available at http://bit.ly/2sDNaQc

Chair Grijalva’s landmark bill is the culmination of a year of hearings, roundtables, public forums, and other public outreach efforts to discuss how best to tackle the contribution of public lands and waters to climate change.

The Natural Resources Committee’s 2019 Climate Action Report can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2sR8aTG

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