Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz's New Climate "Plan" Absolutely Sucks

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz photo courtesy of Florida House of Representatives
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a man who somehow has a gigantic head but no brain inside, has spent a good portion of his legislative career claiming to believe in human-caused climate change while doing pretty much nothing to fix the issue. In fact, at times he's been downright combative with environmentalists — he once proposed abolishing the entire Environmental Protection Agency, after all.

But now Gaetz wants to be an environmental warrior, and, in trademark fashion, he's doing a terrible job at it. In response to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "Green New Deal" — a still-in-progress package of legislation that will certainly include major infrastructure improvements and strict regulations on carbon polluters — Gaetz is proposing a competing plan, snarkily titled the "Green Real Deal."

The problem with the plan is it sucks, top to bottom. If America relies solely on the provisions in Gaetz's plan, the planet will cook and the seas will swallow us whole. Period. Gaetz claims his bill is a more "common sense" alternative to Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal, but in reality, it's Gaetz who's living in a dream world.

That's because Gaetz's plan includes literally no carbon-emitting regulations at all. Gaetz did this on purpose: He's transparently stated that he hopes to save the world without all those pesky "government regulations" in Ocasio-Cortez's plan. Gaetz's ideas might have been useful in 1950, but it's simply too late in the game for Americans to consider a plan as completely toothless as Gaetz's in 2019.

"The Green Real Deal rejects regulation as the driving source of reform, and instead unlocks the unlimited potential of American innovation and ingenuity," Gaetz said in D.C. yesterday at what appeared to be a sparsely attended press conference.

He went on to make a few utterly false claims about the Green New Deal, repeating nonsense Republican talking points that Ocasio-Cortez wants to "outlaw cars, cows, planes, and buildings," provisions not included in any Green New Deal draft legislation. (While Ocasio-Cortez is potentially proposing regulating some of those industries, she hasn't suggested, for example, an outright ban on air travel, despite Republican claims to the contrary. We digress.)

Seconds later, Gaetz uttered his most worrisome point of the entire press conference.

"If we outlaw carbon emissions, do we really think that carbon-creating jobs wouldn't just move overseas, as they have already done for decades?" he asked rhetorically before dubiously stating that carbon-emission bans would somehow "export pollution, in service of our own virtue signaling." Without citing data, he claimed major carbon regulations would "unilaterally disarm" the American economy while other countries burn carbon and succeed.

Gaetz instead proposes investing in various new technologies — solar, wind, nuclear, and hydroelectric power — while also modernizing the nation's electrical grid. He wants to open federal land to energy companies, a proposal that, if mishandled, could lead to nuclear power plants or wind farms in federally protected areas. And he wants to invest in carbon-capture technologies to suck carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases back out of the atmosphere, despite there being no actual evidence that the technology can or will work on the scale needed to offset climate change.

"The Green Real Deal doesn't tell Americans what they can and cannot do," Gaetz said. He added: "I don't believe that linear carbon reductions are the path to success."
Certainly, there's no problem with some of the subsidies Gaetz is proposing — which is why Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal also includes incentives and investments in solar power and similar tech. The problem with Gaetz's plan is it's feckless: He is effectively banking on the idea that scientists will invent a magic carbon-capture technology in the next few years that will save the planet.

Even if someone invents a perfect carbon-sucking technology, the earth won't magically cool overnight. If you remove all the excess carbon from the atmosphere, the globe will still take quite some time to unheat. The ice caps will need to refreeze. Seas will have already risen. The United Nations, after all, recently warned that humans must cut their carbon emissions in half by 2030 and to zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic levels of warming — but Gaetz's plan is a signal to power companies that they can keep burning fossil fuels in the meantime. (It helps that Gaetz has taken $48,150 in campaign donations from the energy industry during his career, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.)

Activists and scientists are also critical of climate geoengineering because such solutions might still drastically alter the globe. Some plans, quite seriously, have included placing flying mirrors or reflective aerosols between the sun and earth to reflect heat back out into space. Those techniques might cool down the planet but also permanently darken the skies or impact plant photosynthesis.

As numerous scientists and environmentalists have noted recently, this is basically a pipe dream and could lead to some terrifying proposals. A February report from the Georgetown University Center for Environmental Law (CIEL) warned it will likely take decades for scientists to come up with any sort of useful method to "reverse" climate change. The CIEL report cautioned that investments in carbon capture are also, conveniently, gifts to fossil fuel companies, since an estimated 85 percent of carbon-capture subsidies will likely go to power and energy companies for research and development. Meanwhile, electricity generators will almost certainly keep burning fossil fuels.

CIEL said if the country focuses solely on developing carbon-capture methods, energy companies will likely keep emitting carbon through the year 2100. By that point, the seas may have risen as much as six feet, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Furthermore, voluntary restrictions on carbon polluters simply haven't worked. The U.S. government for years has tried to solve the climate crisis through weak regulations and largely ineffectual subsidies to clean energy producers, but fossil fuel companies have shown again and again they have little interest in weaning themselves off oil and gas. If anything, the opposite is true: Carbon emissions have steadily increased over the last decade, despite ample evidence that carbon pollution is cooking the planet. In fact, humans set the world record for CO2 emissions just last year.

Instead of reducing use of fossil fuels, energy users and producers have been lazing along at their own, far-too-slow paces. Utility companies across America have continued to invest more money in natural gas infrastructure, despite natural gas being a carbon-emitting fossil fuel. Florida's utility companies opened the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline in 2017. Just last week, Donald Trump ordered that construction should resume on the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Midwest. Florida Power and Light, the state's largest utility company, is nearly ready to open a 1,600-megawatt natural gas plant west of Vero Beach. In January, the nonprofit group Oil Change International released a report warning that from now until 2050, U.S. oil and gas drilling could unlock 120 billion metric tons of carbon stored in the ground, which alone is enough to send the globe into catastrophic levels of warming. It takes a lot of money to build new infrastructure like this — and utilities aren't about to simply give up on their massive investments without some pressure from the government.

Tellingly, the few lawmakers and advocacy groups who have said nice things about Gaetz's plan have a history of cozying up to corporate interests. This week, the think tank Third Way — a pro-corporate, centrist Democratic group that has steadfastly opposed Ocasio-Cortez and the party's left flank — told the Washington Examiner there was "no good reason" not to take Gaetz and the Republican Party up on their ideas.

But there are plenty of good reasons not to trust Gaetz, starting with the fact he wants to keep playing nice with the very climate deniers and oil tycoons who pushed us to the brink of planetary disaster in the first place. The person who best summed up Gaetz's plan was Ocasio-Cortez herself: Yesterday, she told Newsweek Gaetz's ideas were "lame" and "weak."

“Where’s the courage?" she asked. "Where’s the audacity? Where’s the daring? None of it is there."
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli