On April 19, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the beginning of a week-long campaign to promote the Republican “alternative” climate agenda. “Democrats often dismiss Republicans as being disinterested in addressing global climate change. This is just false,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.
In the video, he announced the roll-out of roughly three dozen bills that “focus on solutions that make American energy cleaner, more affordable, and also reduce emissions around the world.”
In the following days, multiple House members posted videos to Twitter, which in turn were retweeted by McCarthy, promoting their individual pieces of legislation that together make up a new Republican climate platform.
The announcement comes ahead of the Biden administration’s international climate summit on April 22 and 23. The House Republican plan is aimed at positioning the party’s ideas as fresh alternatives to what they see as the Democrat’s platform, which “kills jobs” and “makes American energy more expensive,” as McCarthy framed it.
Accompanying the new GOP climate push — dubbed “America’s Energy Innovation Agenda” — is a splashy new website, which lists all the proposals, falling under three overarching categories: “Innovation,” “Clean Energy Infrastructure,” and “Natural Solutions and Conservation.”
But upon closer inspection, the opening salvo of the new House Republican agenda is a doubling-down on fossil fuels.
One of the proposed bills, the “PARIS Act,” would require the president to submit a report to Congress prior to taking any actions under the Paris Climate agreement – such as President Biden’s pledge set to be announced this week to cut emissions in half by 2030. It would also allow Congress to block such action. The GOP lists its PARIS Act under its “Innovation” bucket, and there isn’t much information about how such a move would address climate change.
In the House Republican’s “Clean Energy Infrastructure” category is a bill sponsored by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) called the “Keystone XL Pipeline Construction and Jobs Preservation Act,” which does only one thing: it greenlights the Keystone XL pipeline.
There are other proposals framed as promoting clean energy that seem to do the opposite. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced legislation to “streamline” the approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals. In a video posted on Twitter, he says U.S. emissions declines are the result of natural gas, not solar and wind.
“In order to continue down the path of environmental success, we don’t need to change the formula,” Johnson said, citing former President Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda that consisted of extracting and exporting as much oil and gas as possible. Instead, pushing for more LNG exports would allow other countries to “share in this prosperity and the associated carbon emissions reductions,” Johnson said.
It is important to note that while natural gas carries a lower carbon dioxide footprint when compared to coal, it also results in methane leaks up and down the supply chain. Methane is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time-frame, and global methane emissions spiked last year, in part because of leaks from fossil fuel extraction. Methane arguably wipes out the perceived benefit of gas over coal.
Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX) also posted a video as part of this campaign to promote “clean-burning natural gas” from the Permian basin. He did not promote any particular legislation, but said “President Biden’s attack on American energy must be stopped.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), meanwhile, introduced legislation that would ban the president from declaring a moratorium on fracking, which is something President Biden has consistently said he has no plans of doing and is also not something a president has the authority to do; a ban on fracking would need to come from Congress.
Rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions, all of the Republican bills aim to protect and expand gas drilling.
But building new gas infrastructure with operational lifespans that last for decades locks in emissions well into the future at a time when the science says fossil fuels need to be phased out.
“Relying on fossil fuels and in some cases, enhancing the production of fossil fuels, is not the direction we need to go in order to achieve the targets set forward in the Paris climate agreement,” Heidi Roop, assistant professor of climate science at the University of Minnesota, told DeSmog.
Another set of bills launched as part of the GOP’s climate campaign target “streamlining” the permitting process for energy infrastructure. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) proposed a bill that “modernizes” the environmental review process as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock environmental law that requires federal agencies to assess environmental impacts before approving major infrastructure projects. The bill would shorten the timeframes that agencies have to conduct environmental assessments. Graves said it would be a win for the environment because highways could be built more quickly, thereby cutting the fuel that would otherwise be wasted by motorists sitting in traffic.
Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) also has legislation to boost the mining of critical minerals needed for a wide array of technologies, including renewable energy, by reducing the permitting time for new mining projects.
There are other proposals that do seem calculated to address the energy transition, but they rely heavily on speculative technologies – hydrogen energy and carbon capture, for instance – which may eventually help reduce emissions, but are largely not commercial technologies today.
Another tranche of bills is aimed at supporting nuclear energy. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) has a bill that would require the Treasury Department to instruct the World Bank to extend international financial assistance to nuclear power plants around the world. And Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) sponsored legislation that would set up a uranium reserve, which he says will support the production of uranium mining. These proposals come as the nuclear energy industry has fallen out of favor in energy markets because new plants have proven to be too costly and too time-consuming to build.
Some of proposals could see support from a Democratic-controlled Congress, such as Rep. Rodney Davis’ (R-IL) “NO EMITS Act,” which would provide funding for farmers to improve soil health, or Rep. Ashley Hinson’s (R-IA) “PRECISE Act,” which would improve rural broadband and access to precision agricultural technologies. Rep. Cliff Bents (R-OR) has proposed legislation that would direct the U.S. Forest Service to develop a national seeding strategy to reforest areas following wildfires. On its face, these bills under the “Natural Solutions and Conservation” category in the House Republican plan don’t push obvious partisan agendas, but are also relatively small initiatives that do not stand up to the scale of what’s needed to tackle the climate crisis.
Conspicuously, the platform says very little about solar and wind, the technologies that are growing fastest and are increasingly the cheapest source of clean energy. Instead of trying to accelerate renewables, which are already scaling up today, the Republican plan bets on speculative and unproven technologies (hydrogen, carbon capture) and technologies that have fallen out of favor (nuclear).
The Republican plan also pays a lot of lip service to emissions reductions, but includes no emissions reduction target. Congressman Kevin McCarthy could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
Heidi Roop of the University of Minnesota said that without having “looked under the hood” of the GOP plan in great detail, at first glance, it appears to be a “reframing of what was previously a very hardline stance [on climate change]: that it is not a real issue, that it is a hoax. Which is, of course, patently false.”
The fact that Republicans are proposing some solutions at all, represents a “shift in the narrative,” Roop said. “I’d like to hope that there is also a shift in actual legitimate concern,” on climate policy, she said.
However, Roop added, “I think the main point here is just how critically important it is in today’s world to be critical consumers of information, because many, many people are savvy communicators and can package things to bury some critical details.”