The U.S. Senate’s recent passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act is remarkable not just for its overwhelming bipartisanship, but because it is the first stand-alone climate bill to emerge from the chamber. Ever.
If the Growing Climate Solutions Act is passed out of the House and signed into law by President Biden, it will be an important indicator for how government can do a lot on climate by harnessing the power of free enterprise, not saddling future generations with debt. On the other hand, if Democrats cave to progressive special interests and go at it alone to impose mandates and earmark trillions for spending on a partisan basis, it will prove that their metric for climate success is measured in dollars, not greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
The Growing Climate Solutions Act is a commonsense approach to tackling climate change. It would reward the men and women who grow America’s crops and manage our forests and ranches and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By selling carbon credits they can diversify their incomes and help other companies and people achieve their climate change goals. It is an approach that is heavy on empowering people and markets and light on government which is why numerous conservative organizations support the program. And because it is a strong climate policy, the bill is also supported by dozens of companies and conservation and environmental organizations.
In the spirit of Independence Day, I’d argue our Founding Fathers would be supportive of the Growing Climate Solutions Act too.
First, President George Washington would have been pleased that the national government could step up to confront a contemporary issue. Second, President John Adams would have been pleased that the program empowers people and businesses to act. And third, President Thomas Jefferson would have been pleased that the program is voluntary, assuring the maximum degree of personal liberty, and government intervention in the least.
This type of voluntary, empowering approach for people and companies could be applied to other sectors too. Investment funds and companies of all sizes are intent on reducing emissions and delivering clean energy and products that consumers want to buy: from airlines and electric vehicles to carbon-neutral vodka. But accounting for carbon in consistent and comparable ways can be difficult. And while American companies are generally cleaner than Chinese competitors, more data are needed to balance the climate-trade equation. Time is limited as the European Union moves ahead with plans to assess tariffs on carbon-intensive goods at their border.
Republicans have shifted their posture and are eager to build a climate plan that will work for all Americans. This year House Republicans have introduced nearly three dozen bills to unleash innovation, clean energy infrastructure and natural conservation solutions. And nearly 25 percent of House Republicans came together in a Conservative Climate Caucus to learn together and lean in further.
Some of these commonsense approaches may end up in the infrastructure package being hotly debated in Congress right now. President Biden, Republicans, and Democrats seem to have found common ground on streamlined permitting, alternative fuel vehicle infrastructure, targeted energy tax credits, carbon capture utilization and storage, and the direct capture of carbon from the air. While bipartisanship is possible to create and secure jobs, keep energy costs low, and address climate change—pressure for progressives is strong to pursue an alternative path towards mandates and reckless spending.
It is no surprise that the Founders anticipated these types of factional pressures. John Adams called it the tyranny of the majority.
Progressive’s concern for climate change is valid but using parliamentary tricks to pass climate change legislation with one party alone will only further polarize the issue. Their policies risk making energy more expensive and crowding out private sector innovation, which could cost American jobs and fail to bring American clean energy solutions—including natural gas—to the rest of the world.
Republicans are paving the road for durable bipartisan climate solutions. They are early in the process of developing new policy ideas to bring to the table. Americans of all political leanings who want to pass to future generations a healthy environment and robust economy should be eager for Republicans to deliver climate solutions. And should expect Democrats to meet in the middle. The Growing Climate Solutions Act proves that deliberation and compromise can yield real climate policy.
The history books are waiting to see if liberty and minority interests—the interests of all Americans—are protected in the process of tackling climate change. Or if they are lost.
Charles Hernick is a vice president at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum, a nonpartisan, 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to educating the public and influencing the national conversation about clean energy.