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Republicans Playing Climate ‘Me Too’ Risk Big Losses

February 21, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #351

Members of the Republican congressional caucus seem not to have learned the lessons of the 2018 election cycle: Climate change doesn’t rank high on most voters’ list of policy concerns, and it is a loser for Republicans trying to play the “me too” game by offering policies intended to demonstrate liberals aren’t the only ones fighting climate change.

To be fair, the bevy of climate bills offered by various Republicans in recent weeks is a far cry from the socialist, top-down, command-and-control laws, including the Green New Deal, offered by radical Democrats such as each of the remaining candidates for the party’s nomination for the presidency. There are no carbon taxes in these bills, or cap-and-trade schemes, or specific technological mandates.

Instead, these Republicans are offering a range of proposals, such as planting trees and offering big government spending on research and subsidies and support for particular technologies to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Fiscal conservatives and those who believe in limited government should oppose these bills on principle. Unless one already buys into the delusion that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, dangerous to human health or the environment at some foreseeable levels—it’s not, and Republicans are supposed to be smarter than to believe it is—there is no reason the federal government should be intervening in energy markets more than it wrongheadedly already does to fight climate change.

The bills some Republicans are sponsoring would encourage and subsidize greater use of technologies to sequester carbon dioxide produced at power plants. As Steve Milloy, founder of JunkScience.com writes in an article at American Greatness,

While it is technically possible to capture ... and inject underground CO2 from smokestacks, that is all that can be said for it. Not only is the process very expensive—the cost of extra smokestack technology, the additional 30 percent energy required, the pipelines etc.—it simply can’t be accomplished on a large, utility scale. …

And did I mention that it’s not even clear that there is enough space underground to store large amounts of CO2? It has been estimated that storing the CO2 emitted by a single large coal-fired power plant would require an underground area the size of the state of Maryland.

The federal government and private utilities have already wasted close to $10 billion chasing the fantasy of power plant CO2 capture. Even small-scale projects have failed. Little-to-no CO2 has been stored. But lots of money has been wasted.

The same Republican proposals would also toss subsidies to technologies already in use by the oil and gas industry. Oil producers have long pumped compressed carbon dioxide, captured from power plants, into wells to enhance resource recovery. “Enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) often makes economic sense, with the oil produced covering the additional cost of using carbon dioxide to recover it. Operators already receive a federal tax credit of $35 per ton when they use this recovery method. So there is no need for additional support.

Government should no more give special subsidies to fossil fuel energy sources than to renewables. Instead, a sound energy plan would cut subsidies to renewables, allowing each energy source to compete on its own in the marketplace on its own merits without government tipping the scales. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) has definitively established carbon dioxide is not a threat to human life or the environment and is quite the opposite, in fact. Even if NIPCC’s research is wrong, as Milloy points out, government subsidizing the increased use of EOR will not actually reduce carbon dioxide levels, because the additional oil recovered, when it is burned, will produce more carbon dioxide than the amount pumped underground to enhance well production. In short, EOR produces, on balance, a net increase in carbon dioxide.

Another Republican proposal is to plant a trillion trees.

Active forest management has great merit, but this particular proposal is not the best way to provide it. The truth is, many federal forests have more dead and dying trees than growing, thriving ones. Simply managing forests for sustained economic profit by allowing increased logging along with required replanting, like states and private foresters do, would create jobs, provide a sustainable supply of timber, improve air and water quality and habitat for species, and reduce the damage and high costs of wildfires. In the process, it would increase the amount of carbon dioxide stored in forest soils and within the trees themselves, and it would prevent the massive release of carbon dioxide that occurs during wildfires.

In truth, this plan may or may not result in lower temperatures, because some research suggests increased green cover actually warms locations, at least locally. The localized warming, however, is no more proof of the theory of an anthropogenic global warming catastrophe than the urban heat island effect is. The good that cities and thriving forests produce more than outweighs any discomfort from localized warming.

Unfortunately, the trillion-trees bill is largely just another big-government solution to the nonproblem of climate change. It sets specific targets for tree planting regardless of other considerations or productive uses of land. It would also give money to foreign governments to plant trees. Why should U.S. taxpayers subsidize often-corrupt foreign governments more than they already do? Domestically, instead of a big government tree-planting effort, the federal government should simply allow private industry to increase the harvest of timber from suitable federal lands and, as required under existing law, reforest them. Sound forest management requires removing regulatory hurdles to increased sustainable use, not more and bigger subsidies and arbitrary tree number targets set by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

In truth, these bills are less about preventing climate change, which humans cannot in fact control or prevent, than about giving Republicans political cover on the climate issue. As an electoral ploy, however, these bills are likely to fail. Public opinion surveys consistently show (see the article below) climate is just not an issue of concern for most people, and it is even less important to Republican voters than to voters in general. Republicans playing climate “me too” are likely to lose more support from their own base than they will gain from independents worried about climate.

James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, explored this theme as it played out in the 2018 midterm elections. Before 2018, 43 Republicans were part of the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of federal legislators that supported climate change reduction policies such as increased taxes on oil, gas, and electricity and increased regulation of the coal, natural gas, and oil industries.

Fourteen of the 43 Republican CSC members, including caucus cofounder Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), lost their reelection bids. Seven Republican CSC members retired—five of whom were replaced by Democrats—and one caucus member was ousted in the primary. As a result, CSC lost more than half of its Republican members.

Taylor noted the defeat of so many Republican CSC members was entirely predictable.

“It is completely unsurprising less than half the Republican CSC members will be returning to Congress in 2019,” said Taylor. “Republicans who attempt to appease the Left will never gain enough support from the Left to offset the depressing impact their betrayal of conservative values has upon the Republican voter base.”

The moral of the story is, on an issue of disproportionate concern to radical leftists and progressives seeking ever-greater control over peoples’ lives, Republicans can’t out-liberal liberals, and they shouldn’t try.

—    H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Fox News; CEI; American Greatness; USA Today; The Heartland Institute


IN THIS ISSUE …

U.S. public ranks climate change near bottom of concernsUse of shared-ride services increases carbon dioxide emissions


U.S. PUBLIC RANKS CLIMATE CHANGE NEAR BOTTOM OF CONCERNS

Despite the concerted effort by environmental scolds, politicians cowed by them, and the leftist media doing their bidding, opinion surveys continue to show the public ranks the so-called climate crisis very low on the list of issues they think are most important.

As discussed on the blog No Frakking Consensus, each month since 2001 the Gallup opinion polling group has asked a thousand people to name what they believe is “the most important problem facing this country today.” Never once has climate change entered the top four issues of concern. From 2001 through 2019, “The Economy” and “Government” dominated participants’ stated concerns, each being listed among the top four concerns of participants 14 times in the 19 years the question has been asked. “Jobs” made the top four list 12 times. No other issue made the top four more than seven times, and of the 13 issues listed at least once among the top four issues facing the country, climate change never made the list.

No Frakking Consensus concludes, quite rightly, “Climate change has never been important to ordinary people living their lives, raising their kids, and paying their bills. Never mind being a contender for first place, it isn’t even on the chart.”

A recent Pew Research Center opinion survey identifies a similar lack of concern about climate change among the vast majority of the public. Since 1994, Pew has read thousands of members of the public a long list (15 to 20) of preselected topics in random order, asking them which of the topics should be a “top priority” for the president and Congress to address.

Pew placed global warming on its list of priority candidates for the first time in 2007 (renamed as climate change in 2016). “Dealing with global warming” ranked second-to-last in 2007 and ranked last every year from 2008 to 2013. Global warming or climate change has never ranked higher than third-to-last—which happened only once, in 2016, when Pew first started referring to it as climate change.

In 2019, despite major media outlets running even more news stories in newspapers, magazines, on the radio, and on television than in any year previously—thousands, if not tens of thousands of times—of the 18 topics Pew offered for consideration as priorities for the president and Congress to tackle, “Dealing with climate change” still came in second-to-last. Strengthening the economy, reducing health care costs, and improving the education system were neck-and-neck as the top three priority issues. Dealing with climate change came in 17th, behind “Improving the country’s roads, bridges and public transportation systems,” and just ahead of “Dealing with global trade issues.”

Per No Frakking Consensus, “Moral of the story: There has never been any evidence that climate change is a top concern for most Americans. This is not a crowd pleaser or a vote getter.”

SOURCES: No Frakking Consensus; No Frakking Consensus


USE OF RIDESHARE SERVICES INCREASES CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS

In a surprise to those worried about climate change who’ve pushed the use of rideshare services as a way of reducing carbon dioxide emission from the transit sector, a new study from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) finds ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft emit 50 percent more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than regular cars, despite often using more energy efficient vehicles, because they travel without passengers much of the time.

In a study of transit emissions in Los Angeles, CARB found even though Uber and Lyft vehicles make up a relatively small share of the cars on the city’s streets, they produce a disproportionate share of carbon dioxide emissions because 62 percent of the time they are on the road, the vehicles lack passengers. The report’s authors found ridesharing vehicles in California emitted 301 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger mile traveled, almost 50 percent more than private passenger vehicles. In fact, from an emissions standpoint, the news may even be worse than the report concludes. Other studies have found as many as 60 percent of the trips taken using rideshare vehicles in large cities would likely have been made on foot, via bike or scooter, or by taking mass transit had rideshare services not been an option.

In 2018, California enacted a law requiring ridesharing companies to allow CARB to track their contribution to overall vehicle emissions, enabling the agency to set a baseline to be met to ensure California can meet emission reduction targets set in state law. With this report having found ridesharing services are emitting much more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than private vehicles, CARB is now developing the first-ever regulations aimed at reducing emissions from their use.

Among the rules CARB is considering are establishing centralized rideshare pickup and drop-off locations, meaning instead of a passenger being picked up or dropped off at their front door and the exact location they are travelling to, they might have to walk a while to be picked up at the nearest central hub; encouraging or incentivizing shared trips, with multiple riders taking the same car to their varied drop-off points; and encouraging greater use of zero-emissions vehicles, meaning electric vehicles, by rideshare drivers.

The new regulations could come into force in 2023.

SOURCES: California Air Resources Board; LA Curbed; Bloomberg
Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org

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