One of the more dispiriting trends of the political left in recent years has been the growing tendency to do battle, not by engaging with ideas, but through a kind of proxy war over donors. You see it in the mean-spirited and unfair attacks that seek to pressure prominent donors to defund groups like ALEC and the Heartland Institute. You see it also in the left’s rabid and hyperventilating obsession with “exposing” any group that may receive financial support from a certain prominent Kansas family.
Which is why it’s especially disheartening to see one of the groups most-often maligned by these sorts of smear campaigns turn around and deploy precisely the same sorts of tactics against us. Proving that these kinds of ad hominem attacks are not the sole province of the left, R Street was attacked by the American Energy Alliance’s Thomas Pyle, in a peculiar Nov. 14 post, for our support of a revenue-neutral carbon tax that preempts EPA greenhouse gas regulation.
It’s not surprising that AEA disagrees with us on that policy. It is, frankly, a little surprising that, instead of engaging with us on the specific policy where we disagree, they have chosen to play a game of “six degrees of separation” in an attempt to link us to a noted liberal funder of campaigns. The argument is presented as though establishing such connections, however tenuous, is more important to establish what R Street “really” believes than the large body of public research and statements we’ve released on the relevant issues.
So in an effort to clear up Mr. Pyle’s evident confusion about where we stand on energy issues (and in the conservative policy movement more broadly), let’s briefly review R Street’s positions and research. I suspect he might find we agree on much more than he thought when drafting that post.
Let’s start with the stuff I know Mr. Pyle agrees with, because our organizations are signatories to the very same letters. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, R Street joined AEA and many other conservative allies in opposing the extension of the Wind Production Tax Credit, because we share their belief that wind power should compete on its own merits in a free market without taxpayer support. We’ve echoed that sentiment in solo work of our own as well. AEA and R Street have also partnered to urge Congress to end the wasteful and damaging Renewable Fuel Standard. I guess we weren’t so odious when we shared their viewpoint on an issue.
And really, we share their viewpoint on probably 90 percent of energy issues. Beyond opposing green energy subsidies, we have been vocal (like AEA) in our support of building the Keystone XL pipeline. We have expressed support (like AEA) for natural gas exploration generally, and would be particularly encouraged to see the rules limiting natural gas exports liberalized.
We have issued research on hydraulic fracturing, which specifically refutes the alarmism of environmentalists regarding so-called “fugitive emissions.” On the matter of climate policy, we have (like AEA) been loudly critical of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulation plan as an expensive command-and-control scheme that will impose enormous costs in order to achieve its carbon-emissions reductions. While we acknowledge that climate change is real and deserving of a policy response, we have (like AEA) derided the hypocrisy of many liberals in Congress relating to climate change.
Where we disagree, of course, is on the matter of carbon taxes. In our view, the EPA’s greenhouse gas rule is likely to be a costly disaster. We thus have engaged in repeated attempts to lay out a limited-government approach to securing the kinds of emissions reductions the law requires. I wrote a piece in The American Conservative laying out what that should look like: a revenue-neutral swap that eliminates damaging taxes and fully preempts EPA’s regulatory authority. We have specifically noted the ways in which the political left will have to compromise in order to avoid the impending disaster of EPA’s scheme. We have also stated publicly that we would oppose any carbon tax that expanded budgets, since a core tenet by which R Street operates is the pursuit of a more limited government.
AEA disagrees with that, and that’s fine. We respect their view and are happy to have that debate. In fact, we literally had that debate last year, when we engaged in a vigorous discussion with our friends James Taylor from the Heartland Institute and David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation. Perhaps ironically, one of our first calls to potential partners for that debate was to AEA, but they declined to participate.
Outside the realm of energy, R Street has consistently been at the forefront of conservative policy on some of the most important debates in recent memory. We just issued groundbreaking research that graded 50 American cities on their regulatory openness to various hired transportation methods, including innovative companies like Uber and Lyft. We have testified to Congress in opposition to misguided Internet sales tax bills like the Marketplace Fairness Act, and conducted polling demonstrating its unpopularity.
We were the leading voice opposing Congress’ attempt to gut common sense reforms that phased out flood insurance subsidies. We spearheaded the conservative coalition fighting to enact reforms to agriculture policy in the bloated $1 trillion farm bill. We have written widely-praised pieces on poverty and income mobility in hopes of laying out a conservative agenda to tackle them. We have distributed primers to lawmakers on e-cigarettes, urging them to avoid knee-jerk regulatory crackdowns. We have written in support of extending key constitutional protections to electronic communications. We have embarked on a project to improve governance and rationalize the role of Congress from a distinctly conservative perspective.
Does this look like the agenda of any leftist you’re familiar with?
If you can’t imagine a world in which you would say or do things that don’t comport 100 percent with the wishes of your donors, perhaps that says more about you than it does about us. The identity of our donors is no more material to the substance of debates over energy or other policy than is the identity of AEA’s donors.
R Street is an avowedly “conservatarian” organization that works hard to achieve smart, pragmatic reforms that make government more limited and effective. I’m surely biased, but I think we do a damn good job of it. We are not our donors; we are our work. And our work speaks for itself.