Climate commitments waver as GOP navigates Trump’s influence

In the wake of a shifting climate narrative, even staunch conservative voices acknowledge the reality of climate change. Yet, as the spectre of a Trump presidency looms, GOP-led initiatives for renewable energy and green jobs face a troubling reversal. From Florida to Georgia, the once-promising landscape for clean energy dims as policies are gutted and investments deferred. With the clash between progress and political loyalty intensifying, America’s future hangs in the balance.

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By Mary Ellen Klas

After decades of refusing to acknowledge the link between human activity and a warming planet, most conservatives no longer deny that climate change is real. Republican-led states have advanced proposals for developing renewable energy and are investing in clean fuel technology. Southern governors have embraced the green jobs boom created by President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act by proudly taking credit for it while cutting ribbons at new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing plants.

But as it becomes clear that Donald Trump will win the Republican presidential nomination, there has been a notable retrenchment in the commitment of many GOP clean-energy advocates. Republicans across the country are now reversing course for fear of triggering Trump, who has repeatedly called climate change a “make-believe problem,” even suggesting that the concept was a “hoax” concocted by China.

In Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis broke with Tea Party-led climate deniers in 2016 during his first campaign and acknowledged that “humans contribute to what goes on around us,” the Republican-led legislature has sent him a bill that requires all references to “climate change” be deleted from state statutes. DeSantis is likely to sign it.

The legislation also strikes provisions that encourage state agencies to use energy efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels. It rescinds language designed to encourage state workers to contract with “green lodgings” for meetings and conferences. It rolls back regulations on natural gas pipelines, and inexplicably bans offshore wind turbines even though the state has no operational wind farms.

To DeSantis and Republican legislators, climate change may be menacing their state, but it’s someone else’s problem. 

Republican House Speaker Paul Renner, who represents the Palm Coast area that was pummeled by Hurricanes Idalia and Ian, defended the silly retreat from use of the words “climate change,” by claiming the bill’s intent is to keep energy cheap and reliable. For him, it’s fine to throw taxpayer money into fortifying homes and businesses against windstorms, floods and rising seas instead of focusing on policies that would help prevent the damage in the first place.

“So if  the climate’s changing, if  that’s going to have negative consequences, [then] we put aside a bunch of money for flooding and resilience,” Renner told reporters.

There is no “if.” Earth’s climate has changed because of decades of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Property insurance rates in Florida have risen 57% between 2015 and 2023 and its residents already have wasted, as Renner says, “a bunch of money,” because people keep building  and rebuilding in places prone to these natural disasters.

Maybe Renner, who is rumored to be considering a run for statewide office, is hoping to extract campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry — like Trump and DeSantis.

The clean-energy backtracking is costing jobs. Trump has called for the elimination of the clean-energy tax credits contained in the Inflation Reduction Act and promised to slash incentives for electric vehicles if he is elected. It’s become uncool for anyone who supports Trump to own an EV. So it’s no surprise that EV sales are far below expectations and that automakers, including Tesla, Ford and General Motors have scaled back or delayed production.

The decline in EV sales led Rivian Automotive to indefinitely pause construction of a $5 billion production plant in Georgia. And in South Carolina, Albemarle Corp. suspended plans to break ground on a $1.3 billion plant to manufacture EV batteries.

This short-sighted thinking is going to hurt more than jobs. Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina who lost his seat in 2010 because he campaigned on fixing the climate crisis, says precious time is being lost in the fight to adopt policies aimed at halting the damaging changes.  

“The scientists are ringing in my ears saying, ‘Faster, Inglis faster.’ We don’t have time for to wait,’’ he told me. He founded an advocacy organization, republicEN.org, to work with conservative climate activists, particularly young Republicans.

“A majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, and an even larger majority of young Republicans, believe the science of climate change, and want to see our leaders put forward serious solutions,” George Behrakis, vice president of Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends said in an email.

Despite being out of touch with most Americans, Trump has doubled down on his derision for climate change “because it excites some part of his base,” Inglis said.

The result is a Republican Party stuck between advancing an optimistic market-driven solution to the problem and angering the retribution-driven Trump.

With the loudest mouth on the planet spewing misinformation and lies with his anti-clean-energy narrative, it’s no surprise that Trump’s followers are parroting him. Of course that won’t matter when another hurricane blows through the South this summer — which is predicted to be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record.

But never mind talk of policies aimed at preventing the destruction these events bring. It’s all just a hoax we should ignore if we want to make America great again.

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