As I See It: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s climate plans miss the mark

As originally published in The Telegram

September 2, 2019

Recent Democratic presidential primary debates have featured plenty of talk about how to address climate change. While the commitment to spend trillions is certainly a common denominator for the candidates, Senator Elizabeth Warren is addressing the matter in more detail in a series of Medium posts. Unfortunately, they are greatly overreaching and miss the mark.

Senator Warren describes climate action plans that cover public lands, the military, manufacturing, and corporate climate-related risks. Each introduces a sweeping role for the federal government to enact change from the top down. The proposals on public land and corporate climate risk disclosures are especially problematic because they are driven by a fundamental misunderstanding of geopolitics and capitalism.

Senator Warren’s public lands proposal would end all new fossil fuel land and offshore leases, effectively halting domestic drilling operations where they stand. What’s more concerning is that this proposal is shared by many other Democrats on the debate stages. Americans need to be realistic about the future of oil and gas.

Even with the most ambitious climate change policies in place, global oil and natural gas demand will continue to grow through 2040. Walking away from the oil and gas market is a direct aid to geopolitical adversaries in Russia and the middle east whose economies — and ability to repress others — depends on the sale of petroleum.

However, Warren’s “Climate Risk Disclosure” plan offers the biggest headache. It showcases a poor understanding of how markets work, and what the government could do to help businesses reduce carbon emissions. It mandates corporate reporting on the effect of the Paris Agreement.

It doesn’t focus on emissions (the cause of the climate problem), or what business costs or opportunities might be from reducing emissions. It just focuses on the problem, not how companies could contribute to the solution. The “Climate Risk Disclosure Act of 2019” proposed by Democrats in the House is similarly problematic.

The federal government needs to establish a voluntary framework for carbon emissions reporting and offset exchange. This would be better than Senator Warren’s climate change plan because it’s voluntary, data-driven, and would promote corporate transparency to reduce emissions. It would also promote a “race to the top” in environmental performance without mandates from Uncle Sam.

The proposal includes creating voluntary greenhouse gas emissions registry, federal standards for carbon offsets, and a voluntary registry for corporate procurement of zero-emissions energy. These measures allow state, private sector, and individual efforts to be recognized and supported in a single comprehensive system.

A renewed focus on corporate responsibility and clean energy will do wonders for cleaning up the private sector, but the real catalyst is the free market. Clean energy technology is getting less expensive to implement every day, and our business leaders have taken notice. Clean and renewable resources have spread throughout our country simply because it’s become the more viable economic option.

A voluntary framework legitimizes all of the work in clean energy that has already been accomplished by countless Americans. It will reward further action on the national stage and create more positive momentum to expand clean energy development.

Climate change warrants immediate action, but Senator Warren’s climate plans are fraught with negative consequences. Republicans are stepping up and articulating market-oriented solutions to climate change. Any lasting federal policy on clean energy and climate change must be organic — it must grow upward. Administrations change, lawmakers lose favor, and plans of best intentions are lost to the fickle winds of Washington politics, but entrepreneurship and inventiveness endure.

Charles Hernick is the director of policy and advocacy at Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to educating the public and influencing the national conversation about clean energy.

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