Congress Blog

Palmer's Paris agreement bashing lacks policy basis

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Some observers were a little confused when Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) was selected this spring to serve on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. How would Palmer, with his 1 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, deal with the policy challenges of global climate change?

Any uncertainty evaporated on June 13 when Palmer delivered a floor speech to offer an amendment to H.R. 2740 that would allow President Trump to follow through on his plan to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. According to Palmer, the Paris agreement would "only set us back with onerous regulations while also doing nothing to actually address climate change."

This harangue about the Paris accords is particularly unfortunate because Palmer is not only on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, but is also the chair of the House Republican Policy Committee. It would seem that he has defaulted to rhetoric and talking points, rather than to sound policy-and that's too bad for the people of Alabama's 6th District, and for all who look to him for leadership.

The Paris deal aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and in his floor speech, Palmer cited a well-discredited Heritage Foundation study attributing job loss to Paris compliance. Referencing the Heritage report, Palmer suggested that adhering to Paris emissions goals would, over a 20-year period, cost the U.S. Gross Domestic Product $2.5 trillion. Sound policy making requires more than merely brandishing large numbers. That total is less than 1 percent of the aggregate American GDP over those two decades.

Palmer, who calls the Paris Accords "overbearing," ought to have better economic and analytical tools at his disposal. The Heritage Foundation work he relies on ignores many of the positive effects on the economy of proactive climate policy. American leadership and economic growth both benefit from strengthening our clean energy industry. And our workers can produce more when they aren't breathing air pollution from fossil fuel emissions. Any model worth relying on is one that considers benefits, as well as costs.

Last month, the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority announced a $125 million solar project to be built near Montgomery. Alabama Power's parent company, Southern Company, has announced plans to decarbonize its entire electricity fleet by 2050. The economic forces are aligning in favor of Paris compliance, not in conjuring economic fears about limiting emissions. We can achieve more by leaning into these trends and accelerating clean energy growth and taking fossil generation off the grid. 

People across Alabama are looking to the next generation of jobs-installing fields of solar panels, implementing energy efficiency programs and weatherization, building additional microgrid and storage networks. Free market conservatives are ready to see clean energy technology compete head-to-head against inefficient and outdated fossil technology, letting the invisible hand pick winners and losers. Folks who are intellectually honest about energy policy know that it's past time to cut out subsidies of fossil-fired generation, and it's time to join the rest of the world in complying with the terms of the Paris agreements. 

For Palmer and Trump, it's probably hard to scramble back to a moderate rhetorical middle ground. They've both called for abandoning the global consensus about the virtues of emissions limitations. Perhaps as a political calculation in a dwindling few congressional districts, that posture makes some sense. But it's not a position that serves well the folks looking to break out of the stale and outdated dichotomy between environmental protection and economic growth.

The economics have already swung against burning coal and fracked gas for electricity, and policy initiatives to electrify the transportation sector are also underway. The question now is whether the policy leaders in Congress will stop bashing the Paris accords and start doing the right thing for those of us who are seeking to head off the worst consequences of inaction.

Stephen Stetson is a Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club. He is based in Montgomery, Alabama.

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