Devin Hartman is energy policy director at the right-leaning R Street Institute. Nicolas Loris is deputy director for economic policy studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
On the surface, House Democrats’ new climate plan is long on ambition but short on bipartisanship.
The sweeping proposal bypassed Republican input, leaving the other side frustrated over the process. But the massive 547-page report has nuggets of bipartisan potential. In particular, conservatives should champion their own ideas consistent with the plan’s goals to improve electricity markets, flood insurance, infrastructure resilience and abandoned mine cleanup.
Conservatives will first have to look past, but not dismiss, the headline policies they find egregious: the zero-emission mandates, subsidies and regulations that are a nonstarter for anyone interested in averting trillions in additional costs amid a deep economic recession. But after peeling back the outer layer of the onion, some of the nuanced proposals have considerable bipartisan potential if properly implemented.
Encouragingly, Democrats are keen to expand wholesale electricity markets, which benefit consumers and clean energy deployment. This will require extensive state buy-in, especially in conservative strongholds like the Southeast and parts of the Mountain West. A bipartisan endeavor would be ripe to cultivate sweeping support for market development.
The plan also contains pro-market electric regulatory reforms. Such recommendations could reduce barriers to market entry and stakeholder process participation for unconventional clean technologies and their owners.
Some recommendations on transmission policy reform would reduce barriers to new clean power generators and enhance competition between innovative new entrants and incumbents. The proposal to amend the Federal Power Act to clarify that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should not use price controls to “fix” state subsidies is also right on point. Conservatives should refine their stances and champion pro-market, good-governance electricity reforms.
Overall, the plan does well in its recommendations to address flood risk and includes a number of reforms that in recent years have enjoyed bipartisan support. These include investments in updated maps used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP); applying flood mitigation standards to new and rebuilt federal infrastructure, including crucial national security infrastructure; and calling for disclosure of flood risk and flood history reports in real estate transactions. It also lays the groundwork for ideas that could bring more private capital to bear on flood risk, such as by working with the industry to develop property insurance products that would cover all perils.
But Republicans would be wise to think even bigger. For example, the plan does nothing to address severe repetitive loss properties that constitute only about one percent of the NFIP’s policies but account for 25 to 30 percent of the program’s losses. A good first step would be to require the program to cease writing coverage for new construction in 100-year floodplains. There is no justification for providing taxpayer-financed incentives to build in areas we already know to be at high risk.
The report also spills a lot of ink discussing the need to improve the resilience of military and civilian infrastructure. Safeguarding against future extreme weather events, no matter the cause, with more resilient infrastructure will mitigate risks and save lives.
However, the report misses the mark on solutions, endorsing net-zero emissions mandates for the Department of Defense and forcing clean-energy procurement on the military. Zero-emission technologies may be very useful to DOD, but the military should pursue alternative energy sources to enhance its mission capabilities and provide pathways for commercial use. Further, policymakers should improve the environmental review and permitting processes to allow more durable, efficient infrastructure to be built in a timely fashion.
Another rightful focus of the plan is reclaiming abandoned mines. Remediating abandoned mines will protect public health and safety and reduce environmental liabilities that the abandoned mine sites pose. Rather than throw more money at the problem, though, Congress should remove disincentives that prevent the cleanup of mines and implement reforms that encourage companies, nongovernmental organizations and other interested stakeholders to remedy the problem.
Together, these points serve as fodder for conservatives to craft a thoughtful response to the plan and for progressives eyeing areas for bipartisan opportunities in the next Congress. If we’ve learned anything from the last two administrations, it’s that quality environmental policy must be durable and pro-market. It’s time for the parties to come together on lasting reforms that enhance economic growth, improve our fiscal outlook and benefit the global environment.