At what would prove to be the final presidential primary debate in which he’d participate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was asked to respond to Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado’s concerns over climate change. His response:
I’m in favor of a clean environment, but these laws some people are asking us to pass will do nothing for the environment and they will hurt and devastate our economy.
Miami is struggling to cope with rising sea levels, which are partially attributable to anthropogenic climate change, and people on the ground have real concerns. Rubio is right that the policy prescriptions we’ve debated so far largely amount to ensuring a future in which energy is more expensive, but without much guarantee the environment would be any safer.
It’s an agenda set by the environmental left and believers in big-government solutions. We need to look at these issues in new ways and seek balance between economic growth; cheap, abundant and clean energy; a healthier environment; and a future in which we’re better prepared to grapple with a changing climate.
In welcome news on that front, 12 Republican members of the U.S. House this week announced the formation of what they’re calling the Energy, Innovation and Environmental Working Group. The group’s stated goals are to identify and advocate for “market-based reforms that will grow America’s economy, promote cleaner energy production, and preserve the quality of our air and water.”
It’s a geographically diverse group: Barbara Comstock of Virginia; Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania; Carlos Curbelo of Florida; Bob Dold and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; Chris Gibson, Richard Hanna, Tom Reed and Elise Stefanik of New York; Joe Heck of Nevada; Dave Reichert of Washington; and Kevin Yoder of Kansas.
The members also represent demographically diverse districts. Some are deeply tied to the boom in oil and gas development. Some are grappling with integrating large amounts of renewable energy. Some are benefiting from the resurgence in manufacturing.
The members themselves are likewise ideologically diverse. Some, but not all, already have broken party ranks to acknowledge the reality of climate change. But where they find common ground is in seeking new, conservative solutions to our energy challenges. Toward that end, here are five suggestions from R Street that might suit the broad agenda of the working group:
- Repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard. Intended to promote fuel security and protect the environment, the RFS program now threatens America’s vehicle fleet; drives up fuel prices; encourages farming practices that degrade wetlands and prairies; and implicitly allows the Environmental Protection Agency to operate outside the bounds of law. It’s high time to end this program.
- Cut environmentally harmful spending. The Green Scissors Coalition, of which R Street is a member, has identified tens of billions of dollars of wasteful spending each year across federal transportation, insurance, agriculture, public lands and energy policies that degrade the environment. The coalition’s report offers a laundry list of ways to shrink the size and scope of government while directly improving the environment.
- Smarter investments in energy innovation. Federal investments in energy innovation, most of them from the U.S. Department of Energy, long have been biased toward small improvements in existing technology, rather than transformative innovations that will make our future energy supply cleaner, cheaper, more abundant and more secure. There are nonpartisan, commonsense solutions to make our energy innovation engine run smoother.
- Work with our neighbors, north and south. North America has transformed the global energy economy with hugely successful investments in unconventional oil and gas resources. We can do the same with our electricity sector. Abundant high-latitude hydro resources in Canada can bring baseload renewable power to the North American grid. Mexico is exploring huge, untapped geothermal resources for the same purpose. Creating stronger interconnections with our neighbors will help create a more stable, renewable electric supply for all users.
- Reform federal crop and flood insurance. Price signals about environmental risks are conveyed through the prices we pay for property insurance. Distorted premiums set by federal insurance programs make adapting to a changing climate more difficult. By improperly pricing risk in floodplains, subsidizing overplanting and failing to offer preferred access to post-disaster dollars to those communities that make smart investments in mitigation, we are making our environment and our economy more vulnerable to current and future threats. We have to prepare for a changing climate, and that starts with letting the private sector price risk appropriately.
These areas of concern are just a start. Government overreach is destroying energy choice and security. The EPA continues to overstep its bounds, having far surpassed its statutory authority. Federal land-use agencies manage 28 percent of the United States’ land and restrict access to resources. The DOE restricts consumer choice in the name of efficiency. Current policy forces our nation’s job creators to fight a torrent of regulation, restrictive leasing and litigation while navigating the signals of the global market. These combined forces make it harder and harder to invest in our future.
Let’s start by demonstrating conservative leadership on commonsense clean-energy issues and then take bigger bites at the apple. There’s a dire need to strip polarization from the debate over energy and environmental policy, and that won’t happen until conservatives bring their own solutions to the table. The House Energy, Innovation and Environmental Working Group joins the Senate’s Energy and Environment Working Group as potential incubators of exactly those kinds of commonsense, free-market solutions that can help produce a better, more prosperous energy future.