One of the few positive stories in American politics in recent years is the GOP finding its voice on climate policy. The days of Republican lawmakers embracing “climate denial” are largely over. The argument that carries the day goes something like this: To the extent that climate change is a risk, the best way to protect the planet and grow the economy is to protect the engine of innovation. The policy framework includes supporting an “all of the above” energy strategy, working toward permitting reform, supporting property rights, improving access to American sources of energy and critical minerals, and celebrating bottom-up solutions already being practiced by American farmers and ranchers. Republicans can now unapologetically fight for conservative policy goals while promoting environmental stewardship without watering down their principles. This progress should not be taken for granted.
For instance, H.R. 1 – the designation traditionally given to the majority party’s signature agenda item – could have been about many things Republican voters care about. Instead of engaging in short-term base pandering by calling H.R. 1 “Finish the Wall,” “Down with Disney” or “Stop the Steal,” House Republicans passed the “Lower Energy Costs Act” that lowers inflation, combats energy poverty, improves our national security and lowers emissions.
The economy or the climate? Why not both?
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Yet progress in politics rarely follows a neat upward line. Instead, it’s often two steps forward, one step back; then three steps forward, two steps back, and so on.
Unfortunately, the state of Texas is poised to move the conservative climate conversation three steps back. By the end of the week, the Texas legislature may send a package to Governor Greg Abbott that plays into the hands of the radical degrowth left by pushing welfare for fossil fuels producers.
Contrary to what some in the legislature argue, Texas’s 2021 blackouts weren’t caused by an overreliance on wind and solar but by a failure to winterize natural gas facilities. The package likely to land on Governor Abbott’s desk isn’t designed to address that problem as much as it’s geared toward advantaging fossil fuels at the expense of not just renewable energy, but Texas consumers. The package includes a $9 billion taxpayer handout to gas and coal generators that will result in a 40-50% increase in the cost of wholesale power.
This is tax and spend liberalism, cronyism and special interest power politics that is a political Bridge to Nowhere for conservatives.
It isn’t clear what will land on the Governor’s desk but one particularly onerous proposal under consideration is SB 624, a bill that will erect new barriers to renewable projects. The bill, which passed the state Senate 21-9, would force landowners to pay a new yearly renewable energy project fee for their operations and undergo a new lengthy permitting process. Neither requirement would apply to fossil fuels projects. In Washington, conservatives are trying to undo such top-down command and control heavy-handedness. Yet some “con”servatives in Texas believe it’s their right to tell private landowners what they can and can’t do on their own land. Solar and wind doesn’t make sense everywhere – and they’re hardly a viable replacement for fossil fuels – but in many places in Texas, renewables do make sense. Who empowered Texas policymakers to decide otherwise? This thinking shows how 1380s nostalgia is a bigger problem in the modern GOP than 1980s nostalgia. You can do what you want with your land as long as the lords say it’s okay. Feudalism isn’t the best response to oppressive authoritarian progressivism.
Unfortunately, given its sheer size geographically and economically, what happens in Texas never stays in Texas. The Lone Star State has been a success story for the “all of the above” energy strategy. Governor Greg Abbott and state legislators should think twice before throwing that advantage away.
The Texas debate is happening at a time when freedom is under assault in America and around the world. Too often, Democrats in Washington get away with peddling the silly, cartoonish caricature of “Big Oil” obsessed policymakers who pour crude oil on their cheerios every morning. Some Texas policymakers are giving that caricature new life by brazenly putting their thumbs on the scale in favor of fossil fuels at the expense of other energy solutions.
Meanwhile, the radical degrowth left in America and around the world is using the debate about climate change to wage a proxy war against capitalism. The best way to combat the dogmatic “everything but fossil fuels and nuclear” wing of the progressive movement is with a credible “all of the above” strategy rather than an orgy of special interest spending for fossil fuels combined with new fees and penalties punishing farmers and ranchers who want to put solar or wind on their own land.
If Texas voters wanted messianic complex politics, they would have voted for Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke. By validating O’Rourke’s top-down instincts, Texas policymakers are giving voters permission to vote for Beto or someone like him next time.
Conservatives are right to be frustrated by the continuous picking of winners and losers among energy sources and technologies. In Washington, the solution to a failed subsidy is always a bigger subsidy. When politicians play venture capitalist with other people’s money, they tend to punish winners and reward losers. Attempting to correct one bad policy (subsidies for renewables) in Texas with another bad policy (gratuitous counter-subsidies with a feudal approach to property rights) is only going to burn ratepayers in Texas. Conservatives should unify in the fight against subsidies for all mature energy technologies and let the market determine what will provide the most affordable, reliable and clean power.
In a time of soaring inflation and economic and national security peril, conservatives need to fight smart on climate policy. Texas policymakers should consider the stakes and reject their current approach which is myopic, clumsy, retro and dangerous.