Donald Trump isn’t much for making detailed policy proposals or sticking to them but it’s pretty clear that he is hostile to efforts to address climate change. Trump refers to climate change as a “hoax.” He has promised to revive the coal industry, to ask TransCanada to resubmit its application for the Keystone XL pipeline, to cut all US spending in support of “U.N. global warming programs,” and even to “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement.
But Trump hardly speaks for a unified Republican party and ignoring the greatest environmental threat of our time hardly reflects traditional conservative values. From an historical perspective, Republicans have plenty of environmental accomplishments about which they can brag. Remember Ronald Reagan and the Montreal Protocol? Even on climate change, Republicans originally made efforts to address the problem. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Senate approved it with a bipartisan voice vote. And, over the past few years, there have been stirrings within the GOP suggesting some Republicans may be getting ready to address climate change.
The Policy Wonk.
Enter Speaker Paul Ryan. One might hold out hope that amidst the tumult in his party, he would position himself to provide a thoughtful conservative alternative to Trump wherever possible. Stylistically, Ryan presents himself as a stark contrast to Trump. Ryan fashions himself a thoughtful policy wonk, out to solve problems by applying conservative principals.
Moreover, Ryan has a tortured relationship with the Republican nominee—endorsing him one week and distancing himself from Trump’s racist comments the next. (Literally, the very next week.) Indeed, delivering his address at the Republican Convention in Cleveland two nights ago, Ryan barely mentioned Trump. He didn’t even bother to work Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan (which Trump appropriated from Ronald Reagan) into his remarks. Instead, Ryan made four references to his own theme: “A Better Way.” That’s the name of the policy proposals Ryan orchestrated, the details of which are available in the form of six booklets available on the Speaker’s website.
In other words, the Speaker is the right person to offer up a policy like Pure Cap-and-Dividend, or, at the very least, as a first step, to create the conditions and to promote the ideas that will allow conservatives eventually to embrace a bold, market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. After all, when conservatives are ready to embrace their pro-environmental heritage, they will find that Pure Cap-and-Dividend fits squarely within the conservative ethos. Indeed, it meets criteria presented in “A Better Way” and echoes several of the overriding themes of that document.
- Large portions of “A Better Way” read as a rant against government regulation and a call to roll them back. Check! If we adopt Pure Cap-and-Dividend, we can eliminate myriad regulations. (Ironically, Obama has pushed through many regulations because Congress has failed to even consider comprehensive legislation on climate.)
- “A Better Way” promotes achieving “many of the same goals” as regulations “with a market-based approach.” Check! Pure Cap-and-Dividend addresses a market failure and empowers people, not Washington, to find solutions.
- “A Better Way” emphasizes protecting the poor from price increases. Check! Pure Cap-and-Dividend has a revenue-neutral dividend mechanism built in to do just that.
- “A Better Way” notes the importance of avoiding “backward-looking” regulations. Check!
- “A Better Way” emphasizes the need to simplify the tax code and eliminate tax subsidies. Check! With Pure Cap-and-Dividend in place, we can nix myriad inefficient subsidies.
But you know where this blog is headed and sadly, on the issue of climate change, at least, there’s not much daylight between Ryan and Trump. As recently as 2014, when asked whether humans are causing climate change, Ryan stated “I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think science does either.”
Moreover, while Pure Cap-and-Dividend is consistent with the themes of “A Better Way,” Speaker Ryan’s policy reflects a Trump-like hostility to addressing climate change.
Instead of acknowledging that we might not want to burn all fossil fuels available, Ryan’s work laments that “the extreme view that America should ‘keep it in the ground’ is finding its voice through…regulations.” (Emphasis added.) Ryan and his co-authors complain that “climate concerns have been used to breathe new life into many existing regulatory programs.” Even when discussing other topics, they can’t seem to avoid suggesting that climate change isn’t important.
As for solutions? Well, they have proposed nothing. Instead of offering a comprehensive market based solution to climate change, “A Better Way” recommends “H.R. 3380, the Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2015” which “would repeal all climate-change regulations under the Clean Air Act.”
Finally, “A Better Way” echoes Ryan’s anti-science view, stating that there are “questions about the extent and seriousness of global warming.” Well, I suppose that’s true. Time and time again, it seems we have underestimated the extent and seriousness of climate change. But I don’t think that’s quite what Paul Ryan means. You see, when it comes to climate change, Paul Ryan looks a lot like Donald Trump.