Baker Institute: Climate action must be bipartisan to be effective

HOUSTON – (Jan. 25, 2020) – Climate action and policy must be bipartisan to be effective and durable, according to a new brief from the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The brief, authored by Jim Krane, Ken Medlock, Mark Finley and Michael Maher, proposes a number of actions that could play a role in a bipartisan approach to carbon neutrality, such as continuing incentives for carbon capture, regulating the reduction of greenhouse gases and funding energy transportation infrastructure.

“The best-case scenario would see a roster of complementary efforts led by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate working with Republican colleagues for broad constituent benefits,” they wrote. “Done right, bipartisan cooperation could morph into comprehensive climate-focused legislation on the scale of the Clean Air Act.”

The Biden administration’s goals of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a carbon-free electric power sector by 2035 hinge upon wide support for renewables, upgraded infrastructure and increased funding for research and development. Many of these measures already appear in different forms of draft legislation, according to the authors.

“It may be possible to capture an easy bipartisan win by pairing continued incentives for carbon capture with new incentives for wind, solar and utility-scale batteries,” they wrote.

Several legislative pathways already have varying degrees of bipartisan support and each would play a role in reducing emissions, according to the brief.

Additional recommendations include explicitly pricing carbon emissions, regulations on methane and other greenhouse gases, and supporting research for hydrogen production and for extending the operating lives of existing nuclear power plants, the country’s only fully dispatchable source of zero-carbon electricity.

“Of course, the Biden administration and its congressional allies can pursue some goals without the support of the substantial Republican minority,” the authors wrote. “This would be unfortunate, however, because the president would be left to pursue a truncated climate agenda that would ultimately be less effective and durable, since it would engender active opposition within Republican-led states.”

They argue climate policies should not be a battleground. Many of the clean energy options typically identified with Democrats are most prominent in Republican-dominated parts of the country. Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma, for example, have the highest operating wind capacity in the country – with Texas representing more than 25%.

“So, while a Democrat-led but closely divided Congress could obstruct some climate ambitions unveiled in Biden’s campaign, there are enough potential pathways for major (greenhouse gas) reductions that should receive backing from both sides of the political divide,” the authors wrote.

The brief is part of a series intended to provide decision-makers in the new administration with relevant and effective ideas for addressing domestic and foreign policy priorities. Read the entire series at www.bakerinstitute.org/recommendations-2021.

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