An enduring stigma exists that Republicans are against clean energy and climate policies. But as the recent CRES Forum webinar revealed, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In the webinar titled, “How Conservatives are Planning to Tackle Climate Change,” moderator Charles Hernick and panelists discussed what is driving the recent climate and energy policy successes in Congress and what this looks like for the party moving forward.
Conservatives have had major wins with climate policy in 2021. In advance of Earth Day, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced the Energy Innovation Agenda: Conservative Solutions for a Better Climate. The summit featured over thirty bills and policies addressing climate change. And at the end of June, the Senate passed the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA) by a remarkable vote of 92 to 8, while House Republicans formed the Conservative Climate Caucus. This momentum set the backdrop for last week’s forum.
The first question of the webinar: how did this huge bipartisan success come to be?
Payne Griffin, Deputy Legislative Director to Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), one of the original sponsors of the GCSA, explained that while Senator Braun was in his first year of office, he received several suggestions from farmers and used that feedback to create a strong bipartisan bill fully backed by those same farmers.
“Senator Braun is a fellow conservative, but he also really valued making a lot of the things in the bill structured in a way that they wouldn’t violate his principles or the principles of other conservatives,” Griffin explained.
He did so by creating a voluntary but real solution that did not increase spending or create a deficit. The GCSA checked every box of popularity: good policy, proper procedure, and the process was robust—stakeholders and agencies were consulted to ensure credibility and every line of the bill was vetted to ensure legitimacy.
But perhaps most important, the legislation was conservative-driven. Griffin believes that this conservative backing put skeptics at ease that this was legislation they could trust and buy into.
Kellie Donnelly, Executive VP and General Counsel at Lot Sixteen, agreed that process with energy legislation is critical. Before her current role, Donnelly was chief counsel for Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). During her tenure, she saw just how important process was to pass strong, conservative energy policies. Senator Murkowski championed the Energy Act of 2020, which included measures from over 70 members. When it passed at the end of 2020, it was the first time Congress updated comprehensive energy laws in over a decade.
The Energy Act was a huge bipartisan success. Donnelly explained that part of Murkowski’s approach to gaining conservative support was the recognition “things don’t necessarily need to be labeled ‘climate change’ to actually have a positive result in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The Energy Act contained several provisions to realize the goal of reducing emissions and established new authorization levels that set the foundation for this Congress.
Rich Powell, Executive Director of ClearPath, applauded the Energy Act and encouraged policy makers to not stop there. The Act set up some of the most aggressive project demonstrations of new technologies over the next few years—what Powell described as a “huge gauntlet thrown to clean energy innovators of this country.”
These projects mean more innovation in the clean energy sector, more jobs, and a more robust economy. One area of concern moving forward, however, are regulatory barriers. While most projects are technologically possible and economically feasible, they become procedurally impossible. Hall promoted the idea of “cheaper faster” to shorten timelines and remove red tape for clean energy projects.
Climate policy is an action point for House Republicans as well. Marty Hall, the Republican Staff Director of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, described new committees in the House that work directly on climate issues.
Hall believes the interest from House Republicans in climate issues “is due in large part because Republican members are becoming more comfortable with getting engaged in this issue and recognizing that their conservative principles actually work to solve this particular issue.”
Hall described how the House is making climate policy more accessible to members. The Conservative Climate Caucus, founded by Representative John Curtis (R-UT) is open to any Republican member with the goal of educating members on climate issues and providing avenues of engagement. To complement the caucus, the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) created a Climate Task Force of a handful of members chosen by House leadership. The task force will spend the next 18 months taking a deep dive into climate issues and establishing an agenda for the next Congress.
Despite all of this popular conservative backed clean energy legislation, the question remains—do conservatives have a credibility issue when it comes to climate change? Hall believes that historically, yes, there was an issue with Republicans and climate change. But the historical issue is just that: history. The credibility issue today is based on decades-old assumptions.
“We need to change that narrative,” Hall explained, “as Republicans understand those facts, they do become more engaged, and they realize that conservative principles are what’s going to solve this issue long term.”
Watch a recording of the full webinar here.