New GOP climate plan is long on fossil fuels, but short on details

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Republican members of Congress chose to hold the first public event for their new climate plan in the nation’s No. 1 oil-producing county, New Mexico, and in front of an audience of people working in the oil industry.

It is a climate plan which consists in producing much more oil and gas.

It was immediately pilloried by conservationists and Democrats as proof that Republicans mean they’re doing something about climate change but aren’t serious about solving the real problems.

But in this local government conference room in Hobbs, New Mexico, on Thursday afternoon, those around the table talked about how the country needs to take a realistic approach to reducing emissions while promoting growth. economic. The discussion was likely a test for the arguments Republicans will make on energy and climate ahead of the midterm elections in November.

“I want to be clear on this: I fully support the move towards renewable energy,” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who leads the Energy, Climate and Energy Task Force. preservation for the House. GOP.

But Graves then quickly added that he also supports a “comprehensive energy policy” that includes oil and gas, because the world will need American energy sources to meet growing energy demands.

“We do it safer and cleaner than anyone else,” he said of U.S. oil and gas production. He was a leading proponent of the construction of additional terminals to enable the export of liquefied natural gas to Europe and other foreign markets, which Russia’s war in Ukraine has made a top priority for the ‘industry.

Where are the emission reductions in this Republican climate plan? It’s not clear.

House Republicans didn’t release details beyond a set of bullet points: “Unlocking American Resources,” which is the part of the plan covered in Thursday’s rollout; “American Innovation,” which encourages an expansion of US-based manufacturing; “Let America build”, which covers a streamlining of permit approvals for the construction of energy projects; “Beating China and Russia,” which covers the idea of ​​US energy exports as a counterweight to geopolitical rivals; ‘Conservation with a Purpose’, which covers planting trees and changing agricultural practices; and “Building Resilient Communities”, which covers adaptation to the effects of climate change.

ClearPath Action, a Republican-allied lobby group, has a website supporting the plan and also hinting at some of the details to come.

Some of the climate benefits are indirect but still important, according to ClearPath. For example, encouraging manufacturers to operate in the United States is good for the climate because the country has higher air and water quality standards than many other countries that tend to attract industry. heavy.

The plan’s biggest significance is that House Republicans feel they need a climate plan, reflecting the topic’s growing prominence across the political spectrum, said Corey Schrodt, head of of Legislative Affairs for Climate Issues at the Niskanen Center, a Washington, DC, think tank that describes itself as politically moderate.

“I think the problem at this point is that Republicans are still figuring out what policy prescriptions are going to be acceptable, are going to work for them,” said Schrodt, who previously served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney (R- Florida ), a leader of his party who has urged action to tackle climate change and who did not stand for re-election in 2020.

“But I think you’ve seen a very significant shift in the last three to five years, from just saying ‘climate change’, turning off the conversation and ending all consideration, to where you can actually have those conversations,” he says, of the talks between Republicans. “So it’s striking how different this environment is.”

But even if it is acceptable to say “climate change”, Republicans have resisted the idea of ​​a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, which puts the party at odds with the scientific consensus, defined by the Panel of Experts. intergovernmental on climate change and many others on what is needed.

Environmental groups react

From almost the time the media reported the existence of the House GOP climate plan this week, Democrats and environmental groups have attacked the effort as a cynical ploy that’s close to the opposite of climate action.

“It would be laughable as a climate agenda in 2022, except there’s absolutely nothing funny about the climate crisis or Congressional Republicans’ obstruction of desperately needed solutions in the name of lining the pockets of their trade and big oil polluters who fund their campaigns,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s legislative director, released a statement saying the plan is an attempt to “smear greenhouse gases on the American public.”

“The overwhelming majority of Americans have been calling for action on the climate crisis for years, while Republicans have scoffed at or ignored their pleas,” she said. “Attaching ‘climate’ to today’s efforts doesn’t change that.”

Mitch Jones, chief policy officer of Food & Water Action, said Republicans are unable to move away from viewing fossil fuels as the solution rather than the problem.

“What is needed now are serious plans that respond to the monumental scale of the crisis, and also deliver the economic benefits and job opportunities that are so desperately needed,” he said. said in a statement. “We need to elect climate champions this year who will prioritize moving away from the dirty fossil fuels that poison communities and enrich polluting businesses.”

Despite the heated reactions, the plan contains several elements that are popular with both sides, such as encouraging manufacturing in the United States and streamlining the permitting process for energy projects.

“There’s probably a range of policies that Democrats and Republicans could support on climate if they could see how to work together,” said Joshua Busby, a public policy professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

He lamented that the parties seem unable to agree on legislation, even on policies they both support.

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At the New Mexico event, about 20 people gathered in a conference room at the county’s economic development office, with GOP congressmen at the head of the table, including Rep. Yvette Herrell ( RN.M.), whose district includes this oil -producing region.

“The message or the storytelling needs to happen,” she said, of the need for Republicans and the oil and gas industry to better communicate the benefits of fossil fuels. (The meeting was streamed live on Herrell’s Facebook page.)

The audience, including state and local officials and people who work in the oil and gas industry, were receptive to the message. Justin Bliffen, CEO of Brigade Energy Services, a company that operates oil and gas drilling rigs, said: “It’s a bit of an echo chamber here.”

“Let’s not just end the defamation of this industry, but let’s reverse it and promote, respect and appreciate the awesomeness and goodness of this industry,” Bliffen said.

Hobbs is in Lea County, New Mexico, bordering Texas and located above the Permian Basin, one of the richest oil and gas deposits in the world.

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Rebecca Long, Lea County Commissioner, said the landscape may seem desolate to visitors, but it’s full of resources that support the community.

“Yes, we don’t have lakes, rivers, forests, but we have oil,” she said.

Schrodt of the Niskanen Center said it’s a good thing Republicans feel the need to have a climate plan, and in his experience, Graves and other Republicans leading this effort are sincere in their desire to do so. a good policy.

But he also acknowledged the politics: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) can see that many voters care about climate change and he wants to be able to say the party has a plan.

“Chief McCarthy is positioning the conference in a way he thinks is best to increase its seating and have the best chance of being a speaker,” he said.

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