At the end of July, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum hosted a webinar that began simply by asking the question: How do conservatives plan to tackle climate change? The discussion focused on Republican proposals and principles and reviewed the House Democrats’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and considered the possibility for bipartisan or conservative approaches to energy policy.
We heard opening remarks from David Banks, the Chief Strategist for the Minority, House Select Committee on Climate Change. Banks laid out the history of Republican climate policies, pointing out that historically, climate change was a non-partisan issue.
“The politics as an issue within the GOP is definitely changing, which is a good thing. It’s happening for several reasons. First of all, we have members [of Congress] who accept the science and they’re inclined to support a more proactive approach for the party. Second, we’ve got members who look at the polls and the importance of the issue with the younger voters,” he said.
For Banks, good climate change policy should be globally focused and ensure energy and economic security for the U.S. Banks would like to see the GOP focus on developing a carbonization pathway for low-carbon electricity in developing countries.
“We’re focused on answering the big question: How do we leverage a U.S. climate policy to maximize global emissions reduction?” he stated. “We have to harness our R&D programs [and] unleash the private sector to develop the technologies that [developing countries] will buy. That means those technologies have to be affordable and competitive with conventional fossil fuel technology.”
Three climate change experts spoke on our panel. Christopher Guith, who is the Senior Vice President of the United States Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute, David Hartman, the Director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the R Street Institute, and Dr. Mary Beth Tung, the Direct of the Maryland Energy Administration.
Vice President of Policy and Advocacy for CRES Forum, Charles Henrick moderated the panelists. He focused the discussion on five of CRES’s climate pillars: innovation, signaling markets, empowering states, reducing regulations, and international accountability.
Devin Hartman affirmed the global perspective that Banks stressed. The Majority Report was heavily focused on subsidies to address climate change, which is “a turn off for principled conservatives,” according to Hartman.
“We need to start reframing climate change from a very strict economics perspective and to start thinking about this from a strategic global lens,” he explained. “It’s about driving the catalyst of global emissions reductions. [The report] is very aggressive on domestic emissions reductions without connecting the dots on how that affects the global emissions trajectory.”
Hartman suggested that if we want to reduce emissions in the United States, we ought to coordinate with other countries who also contribute to climate change. We need to consider the institutional component of how to reduce emissions at a low cost and increase economic productivity.
Dr. Mary Beth Tung offered a wealth of experience and knowledge about climate change policy and the environment. She was specifically interested in bipartisan solutions that could reduce our environmental impact. “Everything has an environmental impact,” she pointed out. A bipartisan solution, from Dr. Tung’s perspective, is one that reduces that impact at a low cost.
But she added, “Are we emphasizing carbon-free or reduced carbon or are we picking chosen technologies?”
Dr. Tung spoke to Maryland’s Clean and Renewable Energy Standard as an innovative way to reduce emissions: “We are looking to multiple avenues for reducing the footprint of various energy sources.”
Examples of these avenues in Maryland include combined heat and power, which is an electricity generator that reuses energy waste and provides on-site resilient generation. Overall, Dr. Tung believes that expensive and “over the top” policies won’t generate the conservative support we need.
Christopher Guith affirmed that the economy is directly intertwined with energy and environmental policy. Guith included business perspectives in his discussion of conservative energy policy.
“The business community has evolved rather precipitously on this issue. The goal on climate is not always easy . . . but we consistently look for ecumenical solutions.” Those solutions, according to Guith, include remaining at the table in Paris, increasing efficiency, and promoting innovation. Innovation may perhaps be the most important.
“We don’t have the technologies necessary to meet any of these goals. We have seen many commitments to net zero emissions by 2045, 2050, but every single one of them understand that this is a bet on the technology being there when they get there, but we don’t have it right now.”
Guith echoed Banks and Hartman’s sentiments that this climate policy is also a global issue. “Even if the U.S. and all the developed countries in the OECD decarbonize, emissions are going to continue to rise. We need technologies that we can not only use at home but deploy abroad, and that’s why it’s a huge economic potential for the U.S. manufacturing base.”
As the U.S. starts to rebuild after the pandemic, Guith believes that good climate policy can support stimulating our economy.
The speakers largely echoed recent polling that shows a majority of conservatives and conservative-leaning independents believe that clean energy investments, clean energy innovation, and clean energy jobs are important to rebuilding the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that accelerating clean energy innovation in the U.S. is important to becoming a world leader in clean energy technology.
The economy is clearly the key talking point for conservative climate policy. But so is a global perspective that holds other countries accountable to reducing emissions, as we do the same. This global perspective aligns with an all-of-the-above approach to energy policy, which promotes American innovation and moves us forward as a global energy leader.
You can watch the full recording of the webinar here.