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Bill Straub: McConnell will pass on serious climate change discussion, go right to Green New Deal vote

WASHINGTON – Oh, that Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, such a clever boy.

Progressive lawmakers, growing increasingly concerned over the impact of global climate change and the inability to address the catastrophe because of no-nothing legislators who refuse to acknowledge its looming impact, have offered up what has come to be called the Green New Deal.

The package, offered by Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY (you may have heard of her, she’s driving all the right-wingers batty) would, among other things, transition the most energy-profligate nation in the history of the universe by replacing pollution-creating coal and oil with renewable, zero-emissions sources “as much as technologically feasible’’ by 2030, thus reshaping the entire U.S. economy.

Green New Deal proposes national investment in electric cars and high-speed rail systems and the imposition of a carbon tax, or something akin to it, on those fossil fuels that continue to pour emissions into the atmosphere. It also seeks to upgrade existing buildings to make them more energy efficient. The non-binding resolution provides a broad outline of the campaign’s goals absent concrete legislation.

For some reason the proposals veer from making key global climate change points to address questions of universal health care, a fair minimum wage, a crackdown on monopolies and jobs for all, which tends to dilute the overall message and provide no-nothings with an argument that has nothing to do with the basic soundness of the environmental plan. Otherwise, the stated goals are necessary to address an approaching climatological crisis.

Despite its shortcomings, the resolution is infinitely better than anything congressional Republicans have suggested, which is basically nothing and is worthy of consideration. Instead, the GOP is getting behind President Trump’s (good lord) Environmental Protection Agency which is looking to roll back many of the initiatives imposed during the Obama administration, including carbon reductions from utility plants.

So, of course, McConnell, the Senate Republican leader from Louisville, sensing some sort of political advantage, which is obviously the only thing he knows or cares a fig about, has announced plans to vote on the resolution in that smug manner that has made him the most reviled member of the once proud upper chamber.

“I’ve noted with interest the Green New Deal,” McConnell said with a smirk during a recent press availability. “We’re going to be voting on that in the Senate. It will give everybody an opportunity to go on record and see how they feel about the Green New Deal.”

The gambit is obvious. Ol’ Root-‘n-Branch knows the resolution in its current form will not pass. Yet it has gained early support from several Democratic lawmakers who intend to run for president in 2020 — Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Kamala Harris, D-CA, Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Bernie Sanders, I-VT, are all co-sponsors.

A vote at this point, absent serious talk on the global climate crisis, is intended to display divisions within the Senate Democratic caucus. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, whose state still relies heavily on the coal industry, is unlikely to go along and several others probably will follow. Consideration also will provide the GOP with an opportunity to bray over the fumbled roll-out of the package – Ocasio-Cortez’s office mistakenly released an FAQ sheet that ran counter to the language in the resolution, promising economic security even to those unwilling to work. It also seemed to indicate the resolution would eliminate air travel – a problem if you’re planning a holiday in Australia.

“Don’t let Mitch McConnell fool you — this is nothing but an attempt to sabotage the movement we are building,’’ Markey said. “He wants to silence your voice so Republicans don’t have to explain why they are climate change deniers. McConnell wants this to be the end, this is just the beginning.”

Regardless, there exists some legitimate criticism of the plan. Experts maintain the 10-year timeframe to transform to total renewable energy is way too short. And the cost, unstated but likely in excess of $1 trillion, gives pause even though investment is vital.

The real question here, assuming the GOP only intends to mock the Green New Deal, how are Mitch and his cohorts planning to proceed to clear the atmosphere and assure that earth someday doesn’t grow so hot that its denizens will come to be like so many fried eggs.

Well, it appears ol’ Root-‘n-Branch’s plan is to burn more coal.

McConnell has joined with the empty suit in the White House and that other empty suit in Frankfort, St. Matt of New Hampshire, the duly constituted governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in calling for the Tennessee Valley Authority to continue operating the 49-year-old Paradise Fossil Plant #3 in Muhlenberg County, which utility officials are thinking about closing after determining the coal-burning electricity facility is no longer needed and that upkeep is too costly.

Shuttering the plant would prove a boon for TVA customers in parts of Western Kentucky who wind up having to pay for frequent expensive repairs. Closure would also reduce emissions by an estimated 11.5 percent across the utility’s seven-state system, and cut greenhouse gas by 4 percent.

Those emissions, of course, contribute to global climate change. But Mitch wants to keep the lung-damaging smoke wafting just in order to make sure the TVA keeps using coal aplenty.

“Kentuckians strongly oppose moving away from coal, and I would hope that the TVA listens to our voices,” McConnell said in a videotaped statement.

In furtherance of his desire, McConnell is prevailing on the seven-member TVA board to postpone any decision until Trump has an opportunity to replace two members whose terms are expiring. Those two appointees will almost certainly vote to keep Paradise #3 open.

Ol’ Root-‘n-Branch was joined by Trump, who tweeted, “Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!”

A TVA review of the Paradise plant found that it will require “significant’’ investment in order to comply with EPA regulations regarding waste and water discharge. The utility has in recent years been shutting coal boiler plants like Paradise in deference to plants utilizing natural gas, which provide fewer noxious emissions.

While McConnell is sniggering about an honest effort to come to terms with global climate change, something congressional Republicans have assiduously refused to do, he’s out there trying to convince the TVA to continue pushing poison into the atmosphere in behalf of a dying coal industry.

Oh, and one possible reason? Much of the coal burned at the Paradise plant come from Murray Energy, a company chaired by Robert Murray, a big donor to Republican campaigns, including that of Trump in 2016. It was Murray who wrote a $300,000 check to Trump’s inaugural committee.

Such a clever boy.

A hopefully quick point of personal privilege.

I enjoy reader comments to this column, both pro and con. Pro because I enjoy knowing some folks appreciate what I write, and con for those who raise points I may have missed.

I generally don’t respond, letting commentators have their say. But I was recently accused of lying by a reader, and that needs to be addressed.

In my column of Jan. 31, in part regarding Rep. Thomas Massie’s ties to the John Birch Society, reader Thomas Tren took exception to several points. He rejected my assertion that William F. Buckley Jr., the late and noted conservative commentator, dismissed the John Birch Society. Tren also denied that Buckley was the founder of modern American conservatism and quarreled with my definition of Dreamers as “young folks born outside the U.S. who arrived here illegally as infants and know no other place to call home.’’

“Why lie?’’ he asked.

Point 1: I’m well versed in Buckley v. John Birch Society, but I refer you to an article in the National Review, the conservative journal founded by Buckley, with the title, “The Inside Story of William F. Buckley Jr.’s Crusade Against the John Birch Society,’’ written by Alvin Felzenberg and published on June 20, 2017.

Point 2: I know very few who fail to credit Buckley’s role in the modern conservative movement, but permit me to cite a National Public Radio piece from Dec. 12, 2011, titled, “William F. Buckley, the Father of American Conservatism.”

Point 3: According to CNN and various other sources, Dreamers are “undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.”

Good morning, good afternoon and good night.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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