The Obama administration’s ongoing campaign to regulate climate-change causing pollutants under the Clean Air Act deserves all of the withering criticism it has gotten from the political right. That said, the GOP’s current efforts to undo the administration’s bureaucratic power grab without offering a substantive alternative will do little more than delay an all-out Democratic Party victory on climate change. Republicans need a strategy that lets them both win the climate change policy debate and advance other small-government conservative goals.
The facts first: For all the talk of climate change “denial” on the right, nobody who has looked at the issues seriously doubts that global temperatures have risen. Indeed, not even Charles Koch, the bête noir of the environmental movement, actually denies the impact of human carbon dioxide emissions on the climate. Every serious scientific assessment of the problem indicates that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to outweigh the positive ones.
So why all the skepticism? The fact is, the environmental movement has a terrible track record when it comes to predictions of apocalypse. Although it’s a far more measured document than many give it credit for, even a few passages of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change veer into this territory. Conservatives have good reason to be concerned when the president and his allies use the threat of catastrophe to expand the size and scope of government.
And what they want to do is pretty bad from a conservative perspective. The Clean Power Plan the administration has proffered under the Clean Air Act is a disastrous mix of unfunded state mandates and economy-killing regulation. The other proposed “solutions” to climate change offer huge production subsidies for trendy forms of power and restrictions on traditional energy development. Both of these policies deserve a quick and merciful death. So do “green jobs” efforts that are just a vehicle to provide handouts to unions, academics and environmentalists connected to the Democratic Party.
At the same time, several court decisions have made clear that the Environmental Protection Agency use of existing laws to limit emissions are not only legal, but more-or-less mandatory. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican leaders have expressed optimism that the courts will somehow swing their way. Such a dramatic reversal is quite unlikely and Congress appears equally impotent to get the president to back down. If Republicans actually want to stop the Obama administration’s damaging policies, they’re going to need more than blind faith in the eventual arrival of some landmark future decision or clean electoral sweep.
That’s why conservatives need to offer their own solution. It should start with getting government out of the way. The agenda must include an absolute end to bureaucratic rules to regulate greenhouse gases, the administration’s ever-growing restrictions on energy development, and “green jobs” efforts of all stripes.
It also should include tax cuts on both labor and capital. We should cut both the payroll tax, which penalizes working Americans, and the corporate income tax, which is the highest in the world and hurts our global competitiveness.
Once they’ve cut taxes, reduced spending and trimmed regulations, Republicans can concede a simple, transparent tax on greenhouse gas emissions with every dollar above budget baselines recycled into additional, automatic tax cuts. The result would be a much smaller government that charges lower taxes on productive activity. In short, it’s a repeal-and-replace plan similar to what Republicans want to do with the president’s bloated health-care bill.
Obviously, the political left does not have a history of supporting less regulation, fewer subsidies and lower taxes. But if the climate change alarmists actually believe what they say, they should be willing to give up far more than this in exchange for a strong national climate change policy. Indeed, conservatives concerned about climate change can and should ask for much more, from repeal of gasoline blend standards to federal preemption of state limits on natural gas development.
Conservatives have a lot to gain and nothing to lose by offering their own credible solution to climate change. Their current strategy is a loser that, at best, will just delay a liberal victory. Conservatives can win if they offer a climate change solution that also advances the key priorities of conservative governance.