Members of the Republican caucus seem not to have learned the lessons of the 2018 election cycle: Climate change is a loser for Republicans trying to play the “me too” game by offering policies intended to demonstrate liberals aren’t the only ones fighting it.
Unless one already buys into the delusion that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a pollutant—it’s not, and Republicans should be smarter than to believe it is—then there is no reason the federal government should be intervening in energy markets more than it wrongheadedly already does to fight climate change.
To be fair, the climate bills offered by various Republicans in recent weeks are a far cry from the socialist, top-down laws—especially the Green New Deal—being pushed by radical Democrats, including each of the remaining Democratic candidates for the party’s nomination for the presidency. There are no carbon taxes, cap-and-trade schemes, or specific technological mandates in the Republican climate bills. Instead, some Republicans are pushing tree-planting programs and offering subsidies and support for particular technologies to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Some Republicans would subsidize the greater use of technologies to sequester carbon dioxide produced at power plants. But—as Steve Milloy, founder of JunkScience.com, notes in an article on American Greatness—although it is technically possible to capture carbon dioxide and inject it underground, there is not enough space underground to store significant amounts of carbon dioxide produced each year permanently.
Additionally, the so-called carbon-capture process is expensive. The federal government and private utilities combined have already dumped approximately $10 billion down the blackhole of carbon capture and storage. Despite that investment, Milloy notes, “Little-to-no CO2 has been stored. But lots of money has been wasted.”
The same Republican proposals would also toss subsidies to technologies already in use by the oil and gas industry. Oil producers have long pumped compressed carbon dioxide, captured from power plants, into wells to enhance resource recovery. Indeed, “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) often makes economic sense, with the oil produced covering the additional cost of using carbon dioxide to recover it. Operators already receive a federal tax credit of $35 per ton when they use this recovery method. So there is no need for additional support.
Arguably, government subsidies for the increased use of EOR will not actually reduce carbon dioxide levels, because EOR produces, on balance, a net increase in carbon dioxide. The additional oil recovered, when it is burned, will produce more carbon dioxide than the amount pumped underground to enhance well production.
Another Republican proposal is to plant a trillion trees. In truth, I’ve only got a few complaints about the trillion tree bill. Active forest management has its merits. Many federal forests have more dead and dying trees than growing, thriving trees. Simply managing forests for sustained economic profit by allowing increased logging, along with required replanting, like states and private foresters do, would increase jobs, provide a sustainable supply of timber, improve air and water quality and habitat for species, and reduce the threat and high costs of wildfires. In the process, for those worried about it, it would increase the amount of carbon dioxide stored in forest soils and within the trees themselves, and prevent the massive release of carbon dioxide during wildfires.
Rather than a big government tree planting effort, however, the federal government should simply remove regulatory hurdles to the sustainable harvest of timber from suitable federal lands and, as required under existing law, have logging companies reforest them. There is certainly little justification for giving money to foreign governments to plant trees, as the bill does. Why should U.S. taxpayers subsidize often corrupt foreign government programs more than they already do?
In truth, these bills are less about preventing climate change, which humans cannot, in fact, control, than about giving Republicans political cover on the climate issue. Public opinion surveys, however, consistently show climate is just not a top issue for most people, and it is even less important to Republican voters than to voters in general. As a result, Republicans playing climate “me too” are likely to lose more support from their own base than they will gain from independents worried about climate.
As evidence, James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute (where I also work as a senior fellow), noted in the 2018 mid-term elections that more than half of 43 Republicans who were part of the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC), a bipartisan coalition of federal legislators who supported climate change reduction policies, lost their reelection bids.
On an issue like climate change, one used by radical leftists and progressives to gain ever greater control over people’s lives, Republicans can’t out-liberal the liberals. Nor should they try.