In an apparent bid to win over midterm voters, House Republicans announced a climate and energy plan on Thursday that would accelerate expansion of the fossil fuel industry and other sources of pollution — and sets no reduction goals for climate-warming emissions.
Republicans say their strategy would harness the power of “entrepreneurship” to promote cleaner energy and reduce emissions. Lawmakers leading the effort have enjoyed lavish campaign contributions from the oil and gas sector.
The plan, first outlined in a brief press release Thursday morning, appears to contain few new policy ideas. What it does contain are clear giveaways to the fossil fuel lobby, according to environmental groups. Republicans would provide tax credits or incentives to controversial (and struggling) “carbon capture” projects as well as to nuclear power, while weakening environmental rules to speed up permitting for oil drilling, pipelines, natural gas export terminals, and other large infrastructure.
Republicans say their plan would also benefit the renewable energy sector, but House Democrats quickly panned the proposal, arguing it would undermine bedrock environmental laws and should not be taken seriously given that the House GOP refuses to set emissions limits based on the latest climate science. Scientists say governments must take “drastic action” to phase out fossil fuels and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
“This would be laughable as a climate agenda in 2022 except there is absolutely nothing funny about the climate crisis or Congressional Republicans’ obstruction of desperately needed solutions in the name of lining the pockets of their corporate allies and big oil polluters who fund their campaigns,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, in a statement.
The policy framework was announced by a “climate, conservation and energy” task force created last year by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has received $414,824 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in 2021 and 2022 alone, according to OpenSecrets. Leading the task force is Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican from a southeast Louisiana district that is threatened by seal level rise and dominated by the oil and gas industry. That industry was Graves’s top contributor in the last election cycle.
McCarthy is eager to show voters what Republicans would do to lower gas prices and address climate worries if they win control of Congress in the midterms. Polls show that a majority of Americans say climate change is affecting their local community, and that the federal government is not doing enough to protect the environment. Conservative pollsters say 84 percent of Americans want congressional Republicans to care about clean energy, but only 44 percent believe they do.
The GOP plan does not appear to include short-term strategies to lower rising fuel prices, a quiet sign that “free market” Republicans, who have attacked President Joe Biden over inflation and gasoline prices, know that fluctuations in the global energy market are not actually governed by the federal government.
Instead, the plan would “unlock American resources,” “beat China and Russia,” and “let America build,” along with other vague “pillars” that undergird the strategy. While a copy of the complete strategy was not immediately available at the time of publication, a website working in conjunction with the GOP task force outlines what the policies would look like based on existing pro-industry legislation.
A top concern among environmentalists is a slate of GOP plans to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to speed up the permitting process for new infrastructure, including oil and gas drilling, pipelines and export terminals. Under NEPA, regulators are required to analyze the potential environmental impacts of a proposed industrial project.
Environmentalists and Democrats have pushed for years to include climate impacts in those reviews. Lawsuits filed under NEPA can delay and even halt pipelines and other projects that threaten local communities and ecosystems, and some activists say legal challenges also help pave the way for a just transition away from fossil fuels.
Under an executive order to expedite fossil fuel expansion, the Trump White House finalized new NEPA rules in 2020 that curtailed engagement by communities threatened by proposed industrial projects in the NEPA process and ignored the long-term climate impacts of continued fossil fuel pollution, according to Adam Carlesco, an attorney for the environmental group Food & Water Watch. The Biden administration is moving to roll back the previous administration’s environmental rules.
“When a robust analysis is done of the long-range effects of new fossil fuel infrastructure, it is significantly harder for permitters to approve projects due to the grave climatological consequences of continued fossil fuel reliance,” Carlesco said in an email. “NEPA was passed as ‘look before you leap’ law, however the GOP climate plan appears to be one of leaping right off a cliff with eyes willfully closed.”
House Republicans apparently want to join the climate debate after years of peddling climate denialism, but environmentalists say their strategy’s reliance on the polluters who got us into this mess amounts to a classic case of pre-election greenwashing. Democrats are hoping midterm voters don’t buy it.