Cleaner by the Dozen: Twelve Reforms to Make Texas Cleaner, Stronger and Freer
Conservative principles are more than up to the task of solving important environmental issues, but a lack of a positive policy vision can make the opposite seem true.
Conservatives should embrace the many policy options at their disposal that align fully with foundational conservative principles.
There are many ways in which Texas could improve its emissions profile and become more resilient to extreme weather while simultaneously making the state freer, more prosperous and more economically dynamic.
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Texas conservatives should look to fundamental principles in crafting a positive policy agenda on climate change. Though often overlooked, many of the best ways to improve the state’s emissions profile and make us more resilient to extreme weather involve cutting regulation and taxes, and increasing the scope of markets. By removing regulatory barriers to lowering emissions in the electricity, transportation, and energy production sectors, Texas can leave the next generation with a government and an economy that is both leaner and cleaner. Similarly, reforms to the way Texas deals with extreme weather can lessen damage from extreme weather. Advancing this conservative agenda will be good for the environment and the economy of the state, and will leave all Texans more free.
Climate change is a political issue that often generates more debate than insight. Discussions around this topic and the role of human activity as a causal factor are polarized and are often conducted through a partisan lens of red or blue.
All too often, the baseline assumption in discussions about climate is that any response to the issue has to involve liberal policies and priorities: more government regulation and more taxes, less individual liberty and less energy. While there are a number of open questions in the climate debate, it behooves conservatives—as believers in market innovation and as good stewards of the environment—to develop their own set of policies with respect to climate change.
Polling indicates widespread support for policies that address climate change. According to a recent poll, 82 percent of all respondents and 66 percent of Republican respondents favored government action to reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions. At the same time, polling shows strong support for innovation and market-based approaches to tackling climate change as an issue. While there can always be debate around scientific questions, the lack of a positive policy vision can make it appear as though conservative principles are not up to the task of solving important environmental issues, but conservative principles can translate to good environmental policy.
The truth is that conservatives have plenty of positive contributions to add to the debate. Many of the most promising developments in terms of emissions reduction and clean energy technology are the result of market-driven innovation, rather than central government planning. Technological advances like digitization can be a powerful factor in improving consumers’ ability to make decisions that are both good for them and good for the environment. Market-incentive structures provide consumers with products while creating smaller environmental footprints.
The last decade has seen a growing movement among business leaders, consumers and civil society toward voluntary emissions-reduction efforts. One particularly noteworthy pronouncement came from BlackRock, which manages $7 trillion in wealth, when they declared that climate change is causing a “fundamental reshaping of finance.” For instance, voluntary markets are emerging for carbon-removal processes in the agricultural sector. Not all voluntary efforts such as this will bear fruit. Business efforts to “go green” can sometimes be more a matter of hype than substance. Other strategies within the business community focus on virtue signaling for minimal or negligible progress. Still others are spent counterproductively chasing subsidies and preserving a regulatory framework that protects them from competition. But, at the same time, many bottom-up, decentralized developments are challenging the fundamental premises behind environmental subsidies and regulation, as well as the notion that top-down measures are always necessary to induce firms to undertake environmentally responsible behavior.
However, these market-led efforts to drive innovative and economical emissions reductions often face roadblocks from the government. Extensive regulatory obstacles, counterproductive subsidies and information deficiencies inhibit the natural development of the market. To avoid this, conservatives should place a strong emphasis on reducing regulatory barriers to entry, which are often sector-specific. A deeper dive into particular sectors reveals the potential for targeted regulatory reforms to bolster the American economy, lower emissions and abatement costs and make communities more climate resilient.
Clearly, whether it is adapting to a changing climate or reducing emissions, it is imperative that policymakers unleash free enterprise, not restrict it. This undertaking is necessarily sector-specific, given the institutional and policy landscape, and has the objective of cultivating open, competitive markets and facilitating technology development. A reasonable priority is to identify reforms that remove impediments to productive capital flows and efficient risk management.
Because of its leading position as an energy-rich, economically thriving state, Texas is an obvious choice to use as a model for this approach. Though Texas has a well-deserved reputation for valuing limited government, reforms can be made to the current system that would further reduce not only its carbon but also its governmental footprint. To that end, in this paper, we offer recommendations to reduce emissions in the electricity, transportation and energy production sectors. We also suggest ways to increase the state’s resilience to drought, flooding and storms.