Republican Energy Policies Lack Foresight

dead republican elephantOne of the first things House Republicans did after their party took control of the U.S. Senate in the 2014 elections was to pass legislation authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Congressional Republicans remain fixated on approving the pipeline despite the fact that the recent drop in oil prices threatens the economic viability of the Canadian tar sands oil industry that wants to use it. The House bill to authorize the pipeline failed in the Senate, which is still under Democratic control until the newly elected senators are sworn in. But Republicans vowed to get it approved after they take control in January.

Another way Republican politicians have shown their affection for fossil fuel energy is by voicing their opposition to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan’s goal is to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants by an estimated 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This would be accomplished primarily by getting power plants to shift from burning coal to natural gas, which is cheaper and burns much cleaner. U.S. power plants account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions and the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels have risen to their highest levels in the last 800,000 years, primarily from humans burning fossil fuels for energy. Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, this has contributed to the recent phenomenon of global warming, and the resultant ongoing climate changes. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for 2014 recently confirmed that the effects of human-caused climate change are widespread and serious, already affecting every aspect of human life.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a first draft of the Clean Power Plan in June of 2014. It proposed state-by-state carbon emissions rate reduction targets, and offered a flexible framework under which states may meet those targets. Republicans have denounced the plan as a “war on coal”, despite the fact that public opinion polls show most Americans support Obama’s initiative. Also, more than 200 U.S. companies signed a letter supporting the EPA’s proposals, and Native American tribes with reservations near coal-fired power plants have expressed their support too.

Arizona Republicans have been especially critical of the Clean Power Plan because it calls for their state to achieve at least a 52 percent reduction in power plant CO2 emissions by 2030. They say that’s unfair because it’s a higher percentage reduction than almost every other state in the country. They’ve also been sympathetic to claims by local power company officials that it would be “impossible” for them to switch to burning natural gas as quickly as the draft plan requires, even though several gas pipelines already crisscross the state.

It seems, unfortunately, that Arizona Republicans and some of the local power companies have no intention of working on plans to switch from coal to natural gas as soon as possible, and are determined to resist the EPA. They will argue that it’s a matter of cost, or a violation of states’ rights, but I suspect that many of them still don’t believe that human-caused climate change is a reality.

On the national level, if Congressional Republicans really want to improve the economy by authorizing pipelines, they should show some foresight and pass legislation to promote the construction of pipelines that can supply natural gas to power plants.

Updates

On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring a review of Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

On October 10 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan. The proposal must go through the federal government’s public rulemaking process.

On June 1, 2018, Republican President Donald Trump announced he had instructed U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to “prepare immediate steps” to keep unprofitable coal-fired and nuclear energy plants from closing. A broad coalition of environmental and business groups responded that it was illegal and would force consumers to pay more for electricity.

On April 19, 2019, a federal judge in Montana ruled that the Trump administration had violated the law when it arbitrarily removed Pres. Obama’s moratorium on coal mining on public lands.

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