Republicans Bring Contentious Environmental Record — and Agenda — to Climate Summit

Republicans visited the global climate summit in Dubai this weekend — marking engagement on the issue from a party that is not typically enthusiastic about fighting global warming. 

One of the climate solutions touted by some of the GOP lawmakers that attended the conference, however, is natural gas, which is still a fossil fuel that contributes to such warming.

The lawmakers’ appearance at the summit as part of bipartisan delegations is somewhat surprising given that the GOP is not known for embracing actions aimed at protecting the climate: Republicans voted against Democrats’ major climate bill last year and have opposed a number of the Biden administration’s environmental policies, while the party’s current crop of presidential candidates has largely brushed off climate change on the campaign trail.

But Republicans say they want to show both Americans and the world that gas, nuclear and mining can be climate solutions. 

In addition to noting that natural gas is a fossil fuel whose emissions worsen climate change, critics have pointed to environmental issues associated with nuclear and mining — though minerals acquired through the latter are also crucial for renewable energy technologies. 

The GOP lawmakers, however, are pushing back against such criticisms as they look to promote what they’ve presented as avenues for their states to help counter climate change.

Several House Republicans are at the COP28 summit as part of an official bipartisan delegation affiliated with the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The group is led by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), the energy panel’s vice chair, who told The Hill last week that his objective is to show how “places like North Dakota and the United States are part of the energy solution, not part of the energy problem.”

Asked to elaborate, he pointed to U.S.-produced natural gas.

“We have it and we can provide it to people so they don’t have to get it from Russia,” he said. 

Natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits less carbon when burned than coal or oil, but still contributes planet-warming emissions. The fuel’s production is also associated with emissions, which are exacerbated by leaks. 

Asked about emissions coming from natural gas, as opposed to more climate-friendly renewables, Armstrong told The Hill that gas is “also dispatchable and reliable which does not come with things like wind and solar.”

He also said that members of the delegation would have a bilateral meeting with Australia — a leading producer of minerals including lithium, which is a key component of batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage, and uranium, which is used in nuclear power. 

“I’m pretty interested in talking to them about critical minerals and [rare earth minerals] … because if you’re going to talk about wind and solar you’re talking about batteries,” he said, noting that China has a massive piece of the global lithium market.

Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), meanwhile, touted nuclear energy during a panel discussion at the conference, calling it “reliable, clean energy” and noting that his state recently had a new nuclear reactor come online and another is expected next year. 

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a member of the bipartisan delegation, said, “I hope they’re going in the spirit,” when asked whether she believed her Republican colleagues would engage in earnest on the climate issue.

“We have to find climate solutions and reduce pollution because it’s urgent,” Castor, the former chair of the now-dissolved Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, told The Hill last week.

She added that she hoped there would be collaborative discussions that encourage Republicans to “stop focusing on repealing the clean energy bill.”

In recent years, elected Republicans have largely, though not entirely, shed prior denial that climate change is occurring. However, many members of the party have still largely embraced planet-warming fossil fuels and opposed policies aimed at tackling the issue.

GOP members of Congress have sought to repeal multiple key climate provisions of Democrats’ sweeping Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) since its passage last year.

But at the summit, at least one Republican said that the IRA legislation had benefits during a press conference. 

“OK, I didn’t vote for the IRA, I get it,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said after including the legislation on a list of bills through which the U.S. was tackling climate change. 

“But we’re seeing the benefits that are coming to our country because of that, and I’m not afraid to sit up here and tell you that we’re seeing that,” she said.

She added that she wanted to work on bipartisan legislation to address climate change, including establishing a role for an official whose job is to help the U.S. become more resilient to climate impacts and be “part of the discussions that will lead us into this energy transition.”

While the Alaska senator expressed more willingness to address climate change in her remarks than many of her GOP colleagues, she still declined to back a fossil fuel phase out, or the gradual elimination of the fuels’ use.

Asked whether she thought the U.S. should support such a goal, Murkowski said, “I’m going to punt on this and recognize that we’ve got two days here for this conference to figure out what the wording will actually be.”

“To move to a phase-out, I think, does not recognize the transition reality that we’re currently facing,” she added. “We have permitting issues, we have supply chain issues and we have other barriers that are in front.”

But some Democrats have also expressed somewhat differing opinions on that matter.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) during the same press conference invoked similar congressional debate about phasing out planet-warming hydrofluorocarbon gasses or phasing them down in a reduction that does not entirely end their use.

“If we had argued forever about a ‘phase-out’ as opposed to a ‘phase-down’ we’d still be arguing,” he said. 

In contrast, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a progressive, said ahead of the conference, “We have to turn that rising tide of fossil fuel production and exports before it sweeps the entire planet away. That’s why I support a negotiated outcome for fossil fuel phase-out.”

Source : The Hill


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