Climate Policy in a Republican World
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
Geo Bernard Shaw
In recent days Republicans in the US House of Representatives released the first of what will be a six-part policy platform on energy, climate, and conservation. The strategy was the work of the Energy, Climate, and Conservation Task Force (ECC).
The Task Force was established by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as a response to the more aggressive policies of their Democratic colleagues. McCarthy is anticipating Republicans will take back the House in the coming elections and is strutting his stuff—wanting to show the man upstairs—Donald Trump that he can do the job of House Speaker.
There are those within the Republican caucus, e.g., Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who believe McCarthy is too cowardly a lion to lead the pride. Others in the ranks think McCarthy is not conservative enough.
Whether McCarthy’s hands are the ones that will hold the Speaker’s gavel in a Republican House depends on what the former President has to say about it. Trump has suggested he’s forgiven McCarthy for any problems he may have had with him in the past. It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll support the Californian for the Speaker’s post. Likely as not, Trump doesn’t even know.
At one level, McCarthy’s appointment of a 17-member task force on climate is a step forward. It wasn’t long ago that the Trump administration was wiping every reference to climate change off the federal books and websites.
It now appears that Republicans can at least talk about climate change in non-derisive terms. However, as evidenced by the proposed policy platform, the GOP has hardly changed its tune. Only the lyrics are different.
The ECC proposals are all about boosting the use of fossil and nuclear power sources. They propose doing that in such ways as expediting the permitting process for oil and gas exploration and extraction on federal lands—even intimating this is no time for NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act).
Although giving the nod to an “all of the above” approach, heavy emphasis is placed on researching ways to make coal clean and capture and utilize carbon emissions. As reported by Politico,
[House] Republicans aim to pursue the party’s well-trodden policy ideas...promoting domestic production and export of...energy resources...pipelines, LNG terminals, and mines to produce critical minerals.
Moreover, there’s no talk about the most immediate ways to increase the availability and decrease the price of fossil fuels—efficiency. Efficiency is the gift that keeps on giving. Retrofitting tens of millions of American homes, many of which are located in low-income, at-risk communities, offers multiple economic and environmental benefits—with little to no political downside.
Drill baby, drill—uh, not this time
Republican lawmakers act like the oil and gas industry is hot to drill more. With crude prices above $120 a barrel, you would think the companies would be clamoring to extract more coal, oil, and gas from off their lease holdings and from beneath federal lands. They’re not.
Why they’re not is an aversion to risk and the windfall profits they’re already making off current supplies—with no new investment. Then too, markets can change quickly; oil companies have been left holding the bag before and regretted it.
Significantly, GOP House members continue acting like wind and solar technologies are uneconomic, unreliable, and inaccessible Over the past several years, solar and wind have accounted for nearly the total of all the new power that’s come on line in the US. The trend is expected to continue. According to S&P Global Platts Analytics, new generating capacity from wind (15.5 GW), solar (11 GW), and batteries (4.2 GW) is expected to surpass 30 GW in 2022.
The growth of renewables in the power sector has happened for several reasons, not the least of which is their price competitiveness versus other energy sources. Why have renewables dropped in price so much?
Renewable energy technologies follow learning curves, which means that with each doubling of the cumulative installed capacity, their price declines by the same fraction. A characteristic not shared by fossil fuels. (See Figure 1)
Beyond price, there are the environmental, economic, and health benefits, e.g., reduced instances of respiratory disease and water conservation, associated with clean energy sources. These are also characteristics unshared with fossil and nuclear fuels.
It’s telling how different the EU and UK are responding to Putin’s war and their heavy reliance on Russian oil and gas. As reported by the Guardian—
The EU plans a ‘massive’ increase in solar and wind power and a short-term boost for coal, to end its reliance on Russian oil and gas as fast as possible.
These countries have the most to lose by even a momentary blip in the flow of Russian fossil fuels. Yet, they’re willing to risk their future on the energy technologies barely mentioned in the [Republican] House Energy, Climate, and Conservation Task Force (ECC) report.
In a twisted way, these countries are fortunate Russia needs the money. Had Russian oil and gas suddenly stopped coming, it would have global economic and environmental consequences far worse than what’s happening today.
The battle over US climate policy will continue beyond the 2022 midterm and the 2024 presidential elections. It will be interesting to hear what former President Trump will have to say in response to the ECC’s willingness to give even the slightest credence to climate science.
More interesting—still—will be Trump’s response to McCarthy’s appointing a Task Force to consider the matter. McCarthy intended the empaneling of the ECC to show his caucus and their man above he’s ready to ascend the same stairway to the Speaker’s rostrum he’s fallen down before—but will it?
Let’s face it climate policy underpins the culture war raging within the US. A war being constantly inflamed by the former President and fought by a party who’s shown a remarkable capacity to believe and do whatever he asks of them.
It’s fair to ask if there’s any future for climate policy in a Republican world? There is. However, it may not be at the federal level. That’s a topic for another day. And remember—
Words only matter if someone is listening
Energy Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
About the author
Joel B. Stronberg is a senior executive and attorney and the founder and principal of The JBS Group, a Washington, DC consulting firm. Joel is currently advising the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project at Columbia University’s Sabin Center along with his other clients.