Republicans, Democrats finding common ground to fight climate change

Tucked into the spending measure President Donald Trump signed this week was the biggest energy bill in a decade, and a tacit admission by Republicans that the nation must do more to fight climate change.

While Trump and GOP leaders may remain largely silent on humanity’s biggest challenge, conservatives are quietly recognizing that climate denial no longer works but innovation does.

Climate compromises are the order of the day as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, and House members from West Virginia and Oregon have already introduced a bipartisan follow-up.

This week’s omnibus spending bill included the energy measure along with the latest COVID relief. The 5,000-page package came with bells and whistles so it could pass both chambers with veto-overriding majorities.

The senior senator from Texas, Republican John Cornyn, inserted his Launching Energy Advancement and Development through Innovations for Natural Gas (LEADING) Act. He promises it will “incentivize research and development of carbon capture technology for natural gas to ensure a reliable, affordable and environmentally sound energy supply.”

Another section will phase down the use of refrigerants known as hydrofluorocarbons over the next 15 years. The only reason to capture carbon and others gases is if you believe they are warming the planet.

The bill also came laden with tax incentives. Congress extended a production tax credit for onshore wind projects for two years at 60 percent of full value. Offshore wind and solar projects will also receive additional investment tax credits.

While these are big wins for the clean energy and carbon capture businesses, lawmakers only managed to pass the bill due through horse trading. Not only did Cornyn get money to help natural gas producers manage their carbon emissions, but other Republicans won tax credits for coal mines on tribal lands.

“This bipartisan agreement is a major win for American energy consumers, providing more opportunities for them to receive reliable, zero-carbon and pollution-free electricity in their local communities,” Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, insisted. “We also applaud Congress for recognizing the enormous potential of offshore wind, America’s largest untapped electricity source.”

The bill is exactly the kind of solution supported by new conservative groups dragging recalcitrant Republicans into the climate change conversation. The Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions is a new public relations and lobbying shop dedicated to “a growing economy and a healthy environment.”

“We reject the tendency to frame this debate as one of ‘alarmism’ vs. ‘denial’ and instead want to facilitate a respectful, measured and reasoned debate about risk assessment and solutions,” the group’s web site declares. “We believe people of good faith can find common ground regardless of their level of concern or ideological orientation.”

That kind of thinking brought together U.S. Reps. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) to draft the Clean Energy Future through Innovation Act of 2020.

“No policy can succeed without certainty, and certainty requires bipartisan consensus,” McKinley said in a statement this week. “Our approach will reduce carbon emissions while ensuring affordable and resilient power, and it will make America a global leader in clean energy technology development.”

Schrader and McKinley spent most of 2020 talking to business people and politicians on all sides of the energy debate. The problem was not the business community, which understands that technology and an all-of-the-above approach is needed to address global warming.

Politicians who have turned climate change into a political rather than a scientific issue were the biggest obstacles.

“We need a climate bill that can pass the Senate, be signed into law and make a real difference,” Schrader said in the same press release. “We can keep fighting each other, but I’d rather tackle some problems. This bill will cut carbon emissions quickly, it will invest in a better energy system, and it will empower entrepreneurs and industry to create new technologies and new jobs.”

Their proposed bill is a grab-bag of programs that offer a little something for everyone. They offer incentives for carbon capture, advanced nuclear, renewables, efficiency and storage. In a nod to the GOP’s bias against regulation, the bill does not require emission reductions for another decade.

The proposal won support from groups as diverse as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United Mine Workers and the National Wildlife Federation. And predictably, many progressives and conservatives will fight the measure tooth and nail for different reasons.

The big news, though, is that reasonable people from both parties agreed that the federal government must do something to fight climate change. The first step, as they say, is often the most difficult, but hopefully, it will not be the last.

Chris Tomlinson writes commentary about business, economics and policy.

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