A group of Republican members of Congress are traveling to Glasgow, Scotland, in order to attend COP26, the United Nations’ international climate negotiations meant to galvanize global action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Several of the GOP House members, however, have a long track record of climate denial as well as of accepting large donations from the fossil fuel industry.
A review of campaign donations reveals that collectively, the five Republicans have received more than $2.5 million from the oil, gas, and mining industries throughout their elected careers. And voting records show limited support for climate legislation.
Meanwhile, at least two of the five have expressed doubt about climate science in the past. This includes David B. McKinley (R-WV) who in 2016 — just a year after the Paris Agreement was negotiated at COP21 to limit global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) — said he thought the majority of climate change was “naturally occurring” and not due to human activity like burning fossil fuels.
“What we need in this moment is bold, equitable climate policy, direct emissions cuts, and a just transition away from fossil fuels,” Swetha Saseedhar, a senior climate organizer with watchdog group Corporate Accountability, told DeSmog in an email in reaction to the news. “It doesn’t matter where politicians sit in the U.S. Capitol — if they’re getting money from the oil and gas industry and showing up to parrot the same empty techno-solutions as their donors, they can’t be taken seriously.”
The group, though, insists they are attending in good faith. “We want to show the world Republicans and conservatives do care and we care deeply [about climate change],” Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), told the Washington Examiner on October 20, which first reported about the trip. “We also want to show we have good ideas. We want a seat at that climate table. That’s been the mistake with Republicans not talking about this … our ideas are not being considered.”
The excursion will be funded by two conservative groups, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions and ClearPath, which created a separate organization called the Conservative Climate Foundation to finance the trip. The House members’ trip will be distinct from the official U.S. delegation led by the Biden administration.
“I think it’s really important to make it clear to the international community that we’re united in efforts to chart a clean-energy future and to reduce emissions globally, meaning united across this nation, Republicans and Democrats,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), the top Republican on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, told the Washington Post.
“We’re not going there just to drink,” Graves said in a separate comment to E&E News. “We plan on doing a lot of sidebar meetings.”
Along with Reps. Graves, McKinley, and Curtis, Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) will also travel to Glasgow.
The shift in tone appears to be an evolution among at least some Republicans on climate change. In 2009, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has a long history of accepting fossil fuel campaign contributions and a long track record of climate science denial, traveled to the international climate talks in Copenhagen. He went there to “make sure that nobody is laboring under the misconception that the U.S. Senate is going to do something” about climate change, he said at the time. “There’s not a chance in the world” that Congress would enact climate legislation, he added.
Twelve years later, the climate crisis no longer feels like a distant threat. Disasters have increased in both severity and frequency, and polls show that voters, including Republicans, are increasingly concerned about climate change and want the government to act.
Republicans have since tried to turn the page on years of overt climate science denial, releasing a series of proposals framed as a conservative climate agenda in the spring of 2021. But aside from a handful of “natural solutions” such as tree-planting and reducing emissions from agriculture, most of the ideas would promote more oil and gas drilling, expand liquefied natural gas, and weaken environmental protections.
And despite the newfound interest in climate change, several of the House Republicans traveling to Glasgow have accepted very large amounts of money from fossil fuel interests. Rep. Graves, who represents south-central Louisiana, has accepted $759,995 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since he was elected to Congress in 2014, according to Open Secrets, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics.
Rep. McKinley has taken in $459,325 from the oil and gas industry, along with $731,517 from the mining industry, and $357,150 from utilities over the span of his decade representing coal-rich West Virginia in Congress. Hailing from Texas, which boasts several major oilfields, Rep. Crenshaw has accepted $631,788 in donations from the oil and gas industry despite only first being elected to Congress in 2018.
Utah’s Rep. Curtis has taken in a more modest $89,000 from oil and gas interests since 2017. Newly elected Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa is the only member out of the five House Republicans that hasn’t accepted large donations from the fossil fuel industry. She has accepted $35,146 from the “energy and natural resources” sector, although it is not clear if that comes from oil and gas.
In a statement to DeSmog, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions said: “American conservatives want durable climate solutions that tackle the global issue to be both economically and environmentally viable. This group of Republicans at COP is an opportunity for the lawmakers to learn more about the global scale of and global perspectives on this problem, as well as show the world that Republicans are actively engaged on it.”
The group also said that “wealth redistribution” and “wasting resources on bureaucratic inefficiencies and central planning failures won’t solve the problem.” Instead, conservatives favor policies that “support private sector innovation,” the group added.
However, as it relates to their trip to COP26, the House Republicans have not voiced support for any specific emissions reductions target, or some other specific policy to slash emissions. The Biden administration has announced a 50-52 percent emissions reduction target by 2030, with many of the policies needed to get there currently at risk of being watered-down as the budget negotiations drag on in Congress.
Critics are skeptical on whether the GOP trip will galvanize strong climate action. “It is wildly inappropriate for Members of Congress who just discovered the existence of climate change to use the COP as a marketing exercise aimed at convincing their voters that they have genuine solutions on this issue,” Ari Drennen, a spokesperson for the Energy and Environment War Room at the Center for American Progress, told DeSmog in an email. “Actions speak louder than words, and the past statements and voting records of these men show exactly why our climate is in a crisis.”
Drennen pointed out that as recently as 2018, Rep. Crenshaw was questioning whether climate change was real. “We can’t start off the conversation saying the climate is settled. The right way to have this conversation is to actually listen to what the science says on both sides,” Rep. Crenshaw said at the time.
By 2020, he shifted his language to make it seem as if he always recognized that climate change was a problem, but opposed what he considered “extreme solutions” proposed by Democrats.
Rep. McKinley has also questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. “I think only 4 percent of the CO2 emissions are anthropogenic,” McKinley said in 2016. “Ninety-six percent is naturally occurring.”
Drennen noted that their voting records are equally poor on climate change, with Rep. John Curtis earning a lifetime score of just 2 percent with the League for Conservation Voters (LCV), an environmental group that tracks the voting records of members of Congress on environmental issues. The other members of Congress traveling to Glasgow score only slightly better, with Rep. Graves at 5 percent, McKinley at 8 percent, and Crenshaw higher at 14 percent.
Reps. Graves, Crenshaw, McKinley, and Curtis did not respond to questions from DeSmog. Rep. Miller-Meeks could not be reached in time for publication.
Campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, years of climate denial, and a voting record that does not suggest concern about the climate all raise questions about the purpose of the trip, Drennen said. “They should get on board with the serious solutions, like the climate investments in the Build Back Better Act, that scientists say that we need and end these silly little campaign stunts,” Drennen added. “The best thing these representatives can do for the climate is to stay home.”
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