Republicans on sidelines talk climate ‘solutions’

Source: Geof Koss and Hannah Hess, E&E reporters • Posted: Monday, July 25, 2016

CLEVELAND — Is the Grand Old Party showing signs of life on climate change?

While the official platform approved at the Republican National Convention this week promises to end the Clean Power Plan and U.S. funding for international climate talks, while taking a pre-emptive swing at any carbon tax talk, there were also signals of a subtle yet distinct shift in tone on climate (Greenwire, July 19).

Curbing emissions was a recurring topic of discussion at multiple energy-themed events across Cleveland, where Jay Faison, the head of the ClearPath Foundation, publicly made the case he’s made privately in face-to-face meetings with 65 GOP members of Congress this year: The party’s positions on climate change are out of step with voter sentiment.

He appealed to fellow Republicans to set aside the divisive debate on climate science and focus instead on finding areas of common agreement on clean energy “solutions,” citing polls that show the party’s lack of a coherent policy for lowering emissions is becoming a dangerous political liability.

“We don’t have to agree on the problem to agree on the solution,” he said this week during an event sponsored by Politico. “By talking about climate change, we get sucked down into a trench warfare situation that’s been pretty unproductive for the last 10 or 15 years, when the solutions themselves, we virtually all agree on.”

Those solutions echo familiar GOP themes, with an emphasis on technology, innovation and market-based forces, rather than “command and control” regulatory schemes. It’s hardly a new argument; Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) last year expressed similar views in an op-ed (E&E Daily, July 30, 2015).

But in Cleveland there were signs of growing recognition among Republicans over the need to offer policy “solutions” beyond the usual statements questioning climate science and anti-EPA rhetoric that has emanated from the GOP for the duration of the Obama administration.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a coal booster who is serving as an informal energy adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, this week said he agrees with Faison that public opinion and the Republican Party are diverging on climate change.

“Regardless of where you feel on that spectrum, they do want solutions,” he said. “Jay is exactly right. They want some solutions and if you’re not dealing with solutions, you’re hard-pressed to oppose certain solutions.”

While Cramer noted that he believes a carbon tax is bad policy, he declined this week to completely rule out that emissions fees could play a future role in the context of a broader tax overhaul (Greenwire, July 21).

“I just think in the spirit of compromise and the realization that you do nothing without a majority of two chambers and the president, courts are going to make these determinations with the only people having input being the executive branch,” Cramer said. “So that’s why I say I want to have the discussion to save not just the planet, but to save the economy.”

While opposition to carbon pricing remains solid in most corners of the GOP, there’s also “broad agreement” among Republicans for environmental protection, said Karen Harbert, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.

“As soon as you jump into the climate debate, everybody runs into their respective corners. And if we allow ourselves to stay in ‘Are you a climate denier? Do you believe in the science? Do you not believe in the science?’ nobody’s going to get anywhere, including the environmental movement, because they’re castigating very good people that have very good ideas,” she told Greenwire. “Where I think we need to be going is ‘we’re going to talk about clean air and clean water, and how do we continue to improve our water, improve our air, improve our land, improve our environment?’ And it does not mean the small toolbox that they are representing is only wind and solar.”

She continued, “We’re optimists, we believe in the technologies that have lowered our emissions to the lowest level in 20 years. We believe that we have more opportunity to advance more technologies, make our infrastructure more efficient, build better rather than the infrastructure of the ’50s. There are things we can do that are pro-growth, very transparent, participate in the market. It does not have to be some big-government regulatory, top-down system. And lower emissions.”

Market-driven solutions

Hot topics included “clean coal,” a phrase in the GOP platform that drew fire from environmentalists; enhanced oil recovery; and other strategies to broaden the toolbox of carbon reduction technologies (E&E Daily, July 13).

Conservatives also talked about clean energy and carbon capture technologies — without delving into the relationship between carbon dioxide and global warming.

Republicans who believe in climate science see positive momentum on the right.

Earlier this month, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) added his name to bipartisan legislation that would increase federal tax incentives for large carbon capture and storage projects and expand the number of projects that would qualify (Greenwire, July 15).

The Heritage Foundation will be working with ClearPath in September on a project related to nuclear regulation, according to Faison. Money is also flowing from Koch Industries Inc. and ClearPath to the Energy Innovation Reform Project, where Executive Director Samuel Thernstrom is studying enhanced oil recovery.

“The Kochs and I would agree on a lot more than we disagree with,” Faison said.

One part of politics is convincing voters “that your solutions pass the smell test,” said Jai Chabria, a former strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

“Most people believe that climate change is happening, and we have to accept those realities as a party. We can’t be the party where nothing gets done,” said Chabria, managing director of Mercury, a public affairs and consultancy shop.

At a panel on the closing day of the convention about the energy industry’s role in building a better future, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard touted market-driven approaches to reducing the impact of oil and natural gas extraction and refining on the environment.

“The United States now leads the world in a near 20-year low in our carbon emissions at the same time we are increasing our production and consumption of fossil fuels,” Gerard said.

API’s election advocacy arm, Vote4Energy, sponsored discussions about energy by Politico and The Atlantic. The campaign was also prominently featured in The Washington Post‘s PostLive hub.

“Ten years, 20 years down the road, when most of us have moved onto other things, we’ll look back at this time as the turning point of the energy discussion in the United States,” Gerard predicted.

But there was also plenty of familiar rhetoric on EPA’s regulatory agenda and the administration’s emphasis on renewables and efficiency.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. President and CEO Gary Heminger railed against climate change advocates for ignoring the “trade-offs” of swapping fossil fuels for renewable sources like wind and solar. Heminger also took aim at EPA regulations, while emphasizing how much his company has cleaned up its act.

“We produce, process and use fossil fuels more cleanly and safely than ever before,” Heminger said. “Our emissions are lower than ever, and we are the most prosperous nation in history.”

Clean Power Plan

Republicans who are trying to persuade their colleagues to propose solutions on clean energy and climate change keep coming back to a carbon tax as the best alternative if EPA’s Clean Power Plan overcomes court challenges.

Cramer this week called carbon capture utilization and storage a “noble goal.”

Before lawmakers consider a carbon tax, the U.S. Chamber energy advocate Harbert urged them to consider the question, “What other things do we need to be considering so the solutions bring down the cost?”

If Trump wins the election, Cramer predicted the GOP presidential nominee would “stop the bleeding” by reversing Obama administration policies that he said are harmful to coal.

Then, Trump would look to bring closed production facilities back online, Cramer said, or foster new plants “that can be built based on new technologies that would in fact meet the clean standard.”

His comments, during a discussion sponsored in part by API, irked Faison.

“I don’t think calling coal ‘clean’ without explaining is a great political move, and I’m not sure I agree with that exactly,” he said. Faison agrees rules and regulations are constraining sectors of the energy industry, but he says coal can only be part of the solution with innovation and technology to make it clean.

Faison also argues voters do not need to hear the words “climate change.”

“People love the outdoors,” Faison said, and they simply want to see Republicans show sensitivity to issues like melting snowpack and water supply.