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Politics

Republicans’ Brainless Energy Strategy


The GOP says no to the jobs and growth of the future.

An elephant with a smokestack trunk.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Republican-controlled House is struggling to figure out what to do with its control of the chamber. GOP representatives are sure they want to take the debt ceiling hostage, but they have thus far presented no list of demands because they can’t agree on what they want.

However, they did recently pass an energy policy bill, in the form of a repeal of several provisions of President Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), plus some deregulation of environmental protections. It would delete the EPA’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund as well as a new incentive for efficient appliances, and remove new fees on oil and gas drillers. Many parts of the environmental review process would be removed (as compared to Democrats, who want to speed it up with more money and staffing).

In short, it would increase production of carbon fuels, delay the energy transition, cause more environmental damage, and harm the green energy industry. The package is dead on arrival in the Senate, and President Biden has already promised to veto it as well. But it’s still a good window into the thinking, or more specifically the incoherent oppositional defiance disorder attempting to resemble thinking, that dominates the Republican worldview.

The bill is so senseless that many of the backfilled arguments from Republicans in favor of it can be read, verbatim, as criticisms. Representative Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, claimed that his bill would reverse the damage of the IRA, which has caused “more dependence on the worst polluters in the world.”

Yet this is precisely what the Republican bill would accomplish. As I have previously written, the bender of oil and gas infrastructure construction under Obama and Trump got America hooked on cheap oil and natural gas — which put us all at the mercy of global market trends, even for natural gas thanks to rapid construction of liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals. Big fossil fuel companies don’t frack Pennsylvania and Texas into Swiss cheese out of some sense of patriotic duty. If they can make a nickel shipping that gas to Europe where the price is higher, they will do it, and have done so over the past year because Putin cut back gas supplies to the continent.

If the U.S. had conducted a crash energy transition during the 2010s, accelerating the rollout of zero-carbon electricity, industrial processes, electric vehicles, and so on, today it would have a lot less dependence on foreign sources of energy controlled by insane dictators. It follows that slowing down the transition would directly benefit Vladimir Putin and Mohammad bin Salman. Europe has learned the same lesson even more painfully (though to their credit they are making up for lost time).

Then there is the international angle. “We just found that a majority of [Democrats] are so extreme that they would rather stand with China and Russia than with the American energy worker,” said Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. The IRA will “wreck our own economy, sending our wealth and jobs overseas,” said Westerman. But the explicit intention of the IRA is to stand up a cutting-edge clean technology and energy sector in America itself and in friendly countries. China currently dominates most of this sector thanks in part to mercantilist policies and savvy past investments. The IRA is designed to change the dynamic, so as to reduce dependency on a hostile dictatorship, create jobs in the U.S., and increase redundancy in the supply chain.

More broadly, it’s obvious that the technological frontier for the next couple decades will be all about harnessing green energy. Wind and solar are now the cheapest energy source in human history, which is opening up new innovative possibilities in core industries that were thought to be mature decades ago. We’ve got new companies combining dirt-cheap renewable energy with clever new processes to produce zero-carbon steel, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and putting it in concrete, and revolutionizing everything from paper to food production to smelting with renewable-powered thermal batteries — and this new industrial revolution has barely gotten started.

This kind of thing is going to be where the growth and jobs of the future are created. If all goes well, the IRA will put the United States and its allies at the forefront of real technological innovation — as opposed to over-hyped Silicon Valley garbage — with attendant domestic production and jobs.

But if Republicans win power anytime soon, they’ll likely tear it all up. While this current bill doesn’t repeal the tax credits that are the core of the IRA, the GOP is clearly gunning for them. Republican Representative Andy Ogles of Tennessee has introduced a bill repealing the entire thing. “It’s the beginning of starting to roll back some of those things,” his colleague Jeff Duncan, Republican congressman of South Carolina, told E&E News. “It’s the first bite of the apple here … it’s just the beginning.”

The underlying premise of the GOP’s position here is that Biden, no doubt influenced by a Soros-led Cultural Marxism conspiracy, has strangled American oil and gas production to punish red-blooded Real Americans who have no choice but to drive MRAPs to work. The reality, once again, is the exact opposite. Under Biden, America remains the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, and he has approved drilling leases on federal land faster than Trump did — including the huge Willow project in Alaska most recently.

To be clear, this is bad for the reasons detailed above. One would think the fact that Republicans give Democrats no credit for doing what they want, and instead accuse them of doing the opposite, might prompt Democrats to stop appeasing them, but never mind.

It’s honestly a bit baffing why Republicans are so resistant to the technology of the future, given how much of the new investment is going into red states. At a guess, it’s down to Republicans’ long history of climate denial, belief that renewable energy is hippie stuff, reflexive opposition to everything Democrats do regardless of what it is, and above all their increasing lack of traditional policy goals. The party is frantic with excitement over vindictive culture war red meat like stomping on LGBT people, banning books, and installing Donald Trump as president for life, but their eyes glaze over when anyone starts talking about the electric grid.

In any case, for now the Inflation Reduction Act is secure. But Democrats shouldn’t sit on their hands. In recent poll commissioned by Heatmap, 63 percent of respondents — including 53 percent of Democrats — said they knew “not much” or “nothing” about the IRA. Forty-five percent had no idea about the clean vehicle credit, 50 percent of the residential clean energy credit, and 44 percent of the energy efficiency credit. Clean energy policies are popular, but only if people know they exist.

If more is done to publicize the IRA, in time perhaps Republicans will come to accept what’s best for the country.

Ryan Cooper profile image

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is the managing editor at The American Prospect, and author of the book "How Are You Going to Pay for That?: Smart Answers to the Dumbest Question in Politics."

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