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House Republicans’ fossil fuel-friendly energy agenda panned by environmentalists

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A group of 17 House Republicans released an agenda Thursday for boosting domestic energy production, which, they argued, will also benefit the environment.

Led by Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., the GOP task force on energy, climate and conservation drafted the first of what will eventually be six components of what Graves referred to on a Thursday press call as its “framework for unlocking America’s resources.”

Rep. Garret Graves
Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

While Graves said the task force, which was selected a year ago by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., accepts the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels causes climate change, he made clear that its No. 1 priority is lowering the price Americans pay for oil and natural gas, both of which emit carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

In contrast to most economists and energy policy experts, who point to factors such as surging global demand for energy and reduced production on existing leases by American oil and gas companies, Graves — like other House GOP leaders — placed the blame for high gas prices on the Biden administration.

“The ‘why’ here is primarily because of what we're seeing with national energy prices, with the sustained spike since this administration took over and the incoherent, irrational policy decisions that have caused the energy crisis we're in right now,” Graves said on Thursday.

To reduce those prices, Graves said House Republicans will embrace policy proposals that meet a three-part test of “affordability, emissions reduction and energy security.”

Chief among those will be increased domestic oil and gas production, largely through more sales of oil and gas drilling rights on federal lands and waters, something the Biden administration has curtailed as part of its effort to combat climate change.

Oil pump jacks near Derby Acres, Calif.
Oil pump jacks near Derby Acres, Calif. (Ian Tuttle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

House Republicans also want to remove environmental review processes for energy-related infrastructure projects such as pipelines and hydropower dams, which they say impede the development of domestic energy. Similarly, the GOP agenda includes making it easier to mine for minerals that are needed for clean energy technologies such as solar panels and electric cars.

Graves also called for building capacity to export more liquefied natural gas, also known as LNG, something the Biden administration has recently embraced in an effort to help Europe wean itself off Russian gas in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’re going to see numbers — for example, in developing countries — of natural gas demand to increase up to 80% over the next three decades,” Graves said, citing figures from a Biden administration study.

One might think that increased fossil fuel production would increase, rather than decrease emissions. In October 2021, a United Nations report found that current plans for fossil fuel production among the world’s nations are “dangerously out of sync” with the need to dramatically reduce fossil fuel usage to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Evergreen Action, an advocacy organization dedicated to combating climate change, issued a statement dismissing the House Republican climate agenda as misleading “greenwashing” for precisely that reason.

“Kevin McCarthy’s so-called climate strategy appears to be little more than a how-to guide for accelerating the climate crisis,” said Evergreen Action executive director Jamal Raad. “Real and effective climate solutions are at our fingertips, but McCarthy and his caucus are so beholden to their donors in the fossil fuel industry that they’d rather double down on the technologies of the past that are poisoning our communities and cooking our planet.”

Solar panels
Solar panels at a winery near Santa Ynez, Calif. (George Rose/Getty Images)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 50% by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050. The Biden administration has endorsed those targets and laid out an agenda that, if passed by Congress, would put the United States on that pathway through a combination of incentives for increasing solar and wind energy production and switching drivers to electric vehicles. Congressional Republicans are unified in opposition to those plans, however, and the budget reconciliation bill, of which Biden’s climate agenda is a part, is stuck in the Senate due to opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the coal- and gas-heavy state of West Virginia.

Graves argued Thursday that — because the United States has methods of producing oil and gas more cleanly than other countries, such as Saudi Arabia — providing U.S. oil and gas to foreign consumers would reduce global emissions. For example, although the energy-intensive process of freezing gas, shipping it across the Atlantic Ocean and re-gassifying it increases the emissions of natural gas, Graves said that a 2019 Department of Energy study found that LNG from the U.S. has lower life cycle emissions than natural gas piped there from Russia.

Although the first-ever introduction of a congressional Republican climate change plan might have been cause for celebration among environmentalists, activists were unimpressed with the agenda, as it does not attempt to ensure U.S. emissions cuts consistent with the IPCC’s warnings and the international climate agreements the U.S. signed in Paris in 2015 and in Glasgow, Scotland, last year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, right, with President Biden at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, right, with President Biden at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021. (Alastair Grant/AFP via Getty Images)

“In the face of public demand to address the impacts of climate change, I think it is telling Republicans feel compelled to put out something with the word ‘climate’ slapped on,” Melinda Pierce, legislative director at the Sierra Club, told Yahoo News. “But if you look under the hood, it’s more of the same fossil fuel-focused proposals. Their plan does not set [greenhouse gas emissions] reduction targets and would continue to drive up dangerous emissions.”

“This would be laughable as a climate agenda in 2022, except there is absolutely nothing funny about the climate crisis or congressional Republicans and their Big Oil allies obstructing desperately needed solutions,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, told Yahoo News. “Unfortunately, they are simply doubling down on the failed energy policies of the past instead of supporting common-sense clean energy investments that will address the climate crisis and environmental injustice, create good-paying union jobs and save people money on their energy bills.”

Graves contends that while the GOP approach may not reduce U.S. emissions, it will reduce global emissions by displacing foreign fossil fuels with cleaner ones from the United States.

“We are looking at a global scope rather than a U.S. scope,” Graves said on Thursday’s press call. “Our commitment is, this is going to result in lower global emissions as a result of our efforts than those done by the Biden administration.”

Conservative energy policy experts are enthusiastic about that approach.

A drilling site in Morris Township, Pa.
A drilling site in Morris Township, Pa. (Justin Merriman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Historically what’s been the biggest chunk of U.S. emissions reduction, and also making a big difference globally, has been natural gas replacing coal,” Philip Rossetti, a senior fellow in energy policy at the R Street Institute, a right-leaning think tank, told Yahoo News. Therefore, he argues, increased U.S. gas exports could reduce global emissions by displacing coal in other countries.

“It's understandable that [Republicans] would look to U.S. opportunities to reduce foreign coal consumption abroad,” Rossetti said.

Some experts would question that strategy because a number of studies have found that U.S. gas wells and pipelines leak more methane — a highly potent greenhouse gas — than has been assumed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Rossetti said that methane leakage requires further study to determine the exact rate, as it can vary between different gas producers, but expressed skepticism that the average is high enough to wipe out the climate benefits of gas over coal. He added that the simplification of siting and permitting of clean energy sources such as wind and solar might do more to boost domestic clean energy production than the tax credits Biden proposes.

All of this, it should be noted, is quite at odds with many in the Republican Party who reject the science of climate change. Former President Donald Trump, for instance, has called climate change “a hoax.” Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise to revitalize the coal industry, but it continued to decline during his tenure.

Graves said that forthcoming agendas on the remaining six pillars of the Republican energy and climate framework will be beating China and Russia, letting America build, American innovation, conservation with a purpose, and building resilient communities.

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Global temperatures are on the rise and have been for decades. Step inside the data and see the magnitude of climate change.

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