Give Republicans the climate credit they deserve
President Biden’s energy agenda, like banning the Keystone pipeline and halting oil and gas activity on federal lands, have given Republicans a lot to oppose in these first 100 days.
However, some have wrongly interpreted that opposition to Republicans sticking their heads in the sand on climate. Headlines like that were perhaps fair a decade ago, but the opposite of where Republicans are today.
Looking back to 2009 — the infamous Cap and Trade legislation, led by former House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and now-Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), was a climate change solution du jour for Democrats. Congressional Republicans hated the plan, stating it would devastate an already fragile economy and drive up energy prices. The party used opposition prominently in political campaigns, and some say the Republican wave of 2010 was partially due to a unified front against the Waxman-Markey legislation. But, that opposition also came with a price — some branded Republicans as climate deniers.
In the years since, Republicans have made tremendous strides on climate change. We have institutionalized big, bold goals anchored by clean energy breakthroughs, and even campaign on innovation as the best approach to solving the climate challenge.
The culmination of the years of effort can be summed up in one piece of legislation — the Energy Act of 2020. The clean energy innovation moonshots in this bill took five years to refine with technical and political realism.
This was the biggest, bipartisan energy policy win last Congress, and the most significant clean energy legislation we’ve seen in over a decade. The resulting technological innovation will provide options for both American and global energy systems to go clean and address the global climate challenge. It will lead to smarter, more targeted investments by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) focused on real-world outcomes that will reduce global emissions.
The Energy Act modernizes and refocuses DOE’s research and development (R&D) programs on the most pressing technology challenges — scaling up clean energy technologies like advanced nuclear, long-duration energy storage, carbon capture, and enhanced geothermal. Crucially, across all of these technologies, DOE is empowered to launch the most aggressive commercial scale technology demonstration program in U.S. history — setting up more than 20 full commercial scale demonstrations by the mid-2020s.
It also sets ambitious goals for America to maintain global leadership and increases key clean energy program authorizations by an average of over 50 percent over the next five years.
For example, it re-gears the Office of Fossil Energy to focus on the carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is critical to reaching net-zero goals. It authorizes a comprehensive carbon capture R&D program, including six, large, first-of-a-kind demonstrations for natural gas, coal, and industrial facilities. Additionally, it starts serious R&D on carbon removal technologies via creative X-prizes on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
It reinvigorates advanced nuclear energy by formally authorizing the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program. And, you can’t run those reactors without advanced fuel — it also creates a temporary program to provide HALEU fuel.
The new law establishes a comprehensive grid scale storage demo program, effectively authorizing the Energy Storage Grand Challenge that then-Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette launched at DOE last year and that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has committed to continuing — along with a joint initiative with the Department of Defense to develop long-duration storage technologies. If variable energy sources like wind and solar are going to bring more power to the grid, we will need to store the energy for use when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
It also includes provisions for advanced always-on renewables like geothermal energy, including programs to demonstrate technologies to enable geothermal anywhere. There are exciting opportunities to transfer technologies from the oil and gas industry and demonstrate the co-production of critical minerals with geothermal energy.
In addition to those key clean energy authorizations, the Energy Act includes a comprehensive crosscutting clean industrial technologies R&D program to lower the cost of cleaner chemicals, materials, and manufacturing. Add in the important tax credit extensions for technologies like carbon capture and offshore wind, and a phase out of greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons, and you have a huge climate bill.
All of these provisions in the bill were led by, or co-sponsored by, Republicans.
By enacting this law, Republicans earned a new reputation — leading with climate solutions that strengthen the American economy, and reduce global carbon emissions. A true win-win.
Greg Walden is the former Republican leader of the House Energy & Commerce Committee from 2017-2020, and ClearPath Advisory Board Member. Rich Powell leads ClearPath, a DC-based non-profit that develops and advances policies that accelerate breakthrough innovations that reduce emissions in the energy and industrial sectors.