While Democrats on Capitol Hill are seeking to advance sweeping plans to tackle climate change, Republicans are lobbing criticisms while promoting much more limited measures they say would help address the problem while protecting the economy.
The partisan divide -- evident at a series of recent legislative hearings -- generally echoes prior debates over climate policy, though it comes as Democrats have a real shot at enacting major legislation this Congress given their hold on the White House and slim majorities in both chambers.
In addition, Republicans and industry groups are generally offering a more supportive tone when it comes to climate policies, acknowledging that the issue needs to be addressed and that there may be some economic opportunities to do so.
Still, lawmakers and their supporters remain far apart when it comes to enacting climate policies.
The wide gulf between the two parties was evident during a recent House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on Democrats’ sweeping climate bill known as the CLEAN Future Act:
House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats kicked off their defense of a major climate change bill at a March 18 subcommittee hearing with a focus on provisions to aid industry and worker transition to a cleaner economy, calling on Republicans to cooperate and soliciting ways to improve the legislation.
During a March 18 environment panel hearing, subcommittee ranking member David McKinley (R-WV) urged Democrats to either make their bill more bipartisan or start again with a bipartisan plan, arguing the bill and its power sector decarbonization goals would be an economic disaster.
“We are going to destroy livelihoods, disrupt families, decimate communities, threaten the stability of our grid, and we will still experience the negative effects of climate change since the rest of the world isn’t following suit.”
That prompted a rebuttal from committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ). “We obviously want to do things on a bipartisan basis, but I also want to stress this is the innovation committee, this is the innovation country. [And] if we don’t innovate . . . China is going to eat our lunch and they are going to take our jobs and we are just going to be left behind in this global competition.”
Panel Republicans issued several attacks against the Democratic efforts, asserting that they represent a renewables-centric policy that goes against domestic economic interests, and calling for deregulation as an alternative.
“Our concern is that the agenda we hear being promoted right now by many Democrats is one that is focused on solar and wind and batteries that are controlled by China,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the committee’s ranking Republican, charging Democrats’ emerging policies are a “pro-China agenda.”
Republicans are touting a package of 18 bills addressing low-carbon research, nuclear power, natural gas, hydropower and manufacturing.
As is clear from their legislation, GOP lawmakers are not opposed to any climate policy measures. During another committee hearing, another key House Republican outlined his affirmative criteria for bipartisan cooperation on climate adaptation:
Republicans are holding out the prospect for bipartisan agreement on climate policy proposals that emphasize resiliency, adaptation and affordability as well as creating opportunities for U.S. businesses, though Democrats continue to tout more comprehensive approaches that include emissions control measures.
“We had a great conversation yesterday talking about areas where we can work together and cooperate, areas like resiliency and adaptation,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), top Republican on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said March 19 during the committee’s first meeting of the 117th Congress.
Graves said he hopes the committee can work in a bipartisan way on “ensuring that our research and development strategy complies or is based upon America’s resources” and “to continue reducing emissions and ensure affordable, exportable energy” as part of the “clean energy solutions” the committee will identify and recommend for legislative action.
Graves’ comments provide a clear articulation of what climate policies Republicans are generally willing to support at a time when there is a wide split between the parties on how to address the issue.
Republicans are also offering sharp critiques of majority Democrats’ efforts to significantly boost deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) to reduce transportation sector carbon emissions:
House Republicans are sharpening their critiques of electric vehicle (EV) policies as Democrats gear up for possible action on federal procurement and other incentives in infrastructure legislation, focusing on the proposed pace and funding for such efforts and highlighting what they argue would be damaging jobs effects.
“This progressive wish list which is before us today is the complete opposite of what will deliver results,” Rodgers said during a March 22 Energy & Commerce hearing on Democrats’ broad infrastructure plan known as the LIFT America Act.
“It is a whopping $300 billion for the government to regulate the cars we drive and how we heat our homes and businesses,” she added. “This is not the American way.”
Rodgers also blasted language in the bill she said “mandates” EVs and related infrastructure, which she claimed will “further burden our grid.”
Comments from her and other Republicans also signal criticism of the process for developing the bill, which Republicans contend has not been sufficiently bipartisan even as Democrats claim it contains ideas favored by both parties.
One apparent target of the GOP’s concern is a provision in the bill that would require the federal fleet to begin transitioning away from conventional light- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Among its components is a requirement that by fiscal year 2025 new federal fleet purchases of light-duty vehicles be 100 percent “alternative-fueled vehicles,” with at least 50 percent of those being zero-emission vehicles or plug-in hybrids in FY25-34, and that number increasing in subsequent years.
As House Democrats are refining their specific infrastructure plans, the White House is also readying its own proposal that reportedly will include major climate-related spending:
Top-line details are emerging about the Biden administration’s upcoming proposal for significant infrastructure and climate change investments, with one report suggesting the White House will push for $400 billion in core climate-related spending though billions more may also be sought for cutting housing-related emissions.
A recent report from the New York Times says advisers will present a plan to President Joe Biden this week that will seek as much as $3 trillion in overall spending, though it would split the measures into two broad legislative proposals. The first would focus on infrastructure and manufacturing, while the second would address education and social safety net programs.
Biden officials believe the infrastructure package is more appealing to Republicans, industry and moderates, yet Democrats’ suggestion that all or much of the spending can be offset with higher taxes on corporations or the wealthy is likely to repel GOP lawmakers.
A separate article in the Washington Post confirms the report about bifurcating the infrastructure- and education-related proposals. It specifically says the infrastructure measure would propose $400 billion in climate-related spending, including $60 billion for “green transit” and $46 billion for low-carbon research and development. It would also include spending toward a goal of making EV charging stations “available across the country.”