Investing in renewable energy has long been politicians’ favorite solution to the political difficulties of weaning society off fossil fuels. If we just stimulate the renewables market, the thinking goes—an easier policy to implement than forcibly shuttering fossil fuel plants, which Republicans and others would try to block—eventually renewables will outcompete oil and gas and the country will gradually switch over without the need for sacrifice.
That thinking is misguided for the simple reason that our window to slash emissions or suffer catastrophic consequences is too brief for investing in renewables to save the day. But recent news stories show why it’s also not a viable political solution.
As renewables start to overtake fossil fuels in the United States, the GOP is fighting to reverse that progress: House Republicans are sticking to their proposal to only agree to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts that include most of the clean energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ signature legislative achievement this term.
Taken at face value, this is a nonsensical position for two reasons totally unrelated to climate change. First, as TNR’s Kate Aronoff pointed out several weeks ago, these tax credits overwhelmingly will benefit Republican districts because that’s where most renewable energy installations are located. (Analysis published Sunday by the Financial Times finds that, since last summer alone, Republican districts have secured over five times the investment in clean energy projects that Democratic ones have.) Second, if fiscal responsibility were really the point, then it would make sense to cut some of the biggest federal spending categories—like defense, next to which energy spending is minuscule. The Republican plan exempts defense cuts.
The GOP’s crusade against renewable energy goes well beyond Congress. Republican legislators in Texas are proposing a variety of regulations to hamper renewable energy installations—from a difficult approval process to a yearly fee, and even mandating wind turbines be situated more than half a mile from property lines. This last one is particularly ironic given that it’s oil wells and fracking waste injection, not wind turbines, that stand accused of poisoning nearby properties and water supplies. (The mandated distance of a new oil well from a property line, by contrast, is 467 feet.)
These kinds of regulations could change the course of energy generation in Texas, which leads the nation in wind generation and has the second most solar installations, as of 2022. Supporters of these new regulations have their reasons—or at least reasons that they give others. “While some landowners have cited environmental concerns,” The Washington Post reports, “others have claimed that nearby renewable projects are lowering their property values.” Both these things are arguably more true of fossil fuel installations than renewables. (Other reasons cited are a little wilder, for example billionaire Dan Friedkin reportedly arguing that an electric transmission line on his property would “lead to increased illegal drug trafficking.”)
This war on renewables, a recent Texas Monthly piece argued, has the potential to really hurt residents, a majority of whom “support greater access to green energy”:
One recent estimate found that renewables lowered the cost of electricity to Texans by $11 billion last year, or $423 for every customer served by the state’s predominant power grid. Over the past five years, Texas has added 2,800 jobs to support wind and solar power generation at the same time that the state has lost 44,000 oil and gas extraction jobs, in part because automation has allowed producers to drill more wells while employing fewer roughnecks.
The people who profit from trashing renewables, the piece notes, are less numerous. There are the fossil fuel executives who donate heavily to Republicans, of course. And then there are right-wing politicians who are either ideologues or who think portraying themselves as lone warriors against the fictitious forces of “woke” investment is the key to electoral success.
Right now, all evidence suggests that policies to stimulate renewable energy growth are working about as well as or even better than their proponents hoped. They’re creating jobs and saving consumers money. They’re giving both red and blue America a reason to care about wind and solar power.
And now the GOP wants to roll them back.
Skepticism of the liquefied natural gas industry’s expansion in recent years (read TNR’s coverage of how the war in Ukraine benefited the industry) is going mainstream: On Monday, 44 Democratic lawmakers pressed the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to “include greater scrutiny on the entire LNG supply chain” in its forthcoming guidance on existing environmental laws.
Food crops in the U.S. aren’t just loaded with pesticides, a new study finds: Those pesticides are in turn contaminated with PFAS, termed “forever chemicals” because they take so long to break down.
While the Inflation Reduction Act represented a huge victory, Alyssa Battistoni writes for Dissent, it also seems to have lulled a lot of people into a false sense of security, believing that climate policy is on the right track. We’re not out of the woods yet—in fact, we’ve barely entered.
While climate is far more central to mainstream politics than it was fifteen years ago, carbon emissions have continued their steady rise. Recent models suggest that temperatures are more likely to stabilize somewhere between 2–3ºC of warming than at 3º or more. But if this has prompted a surprisingly optimistic turn amongst some commentators, it hardly counts as good news. Even this ostensibly “moderate” level of warming significantly exceeds the demand of “1.5º to stay alive” long made by small island states and other vulnerable countries—a goal that a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has stated is all but out of reach.… The struggle to decarbonize is just beginning. So too is climate change itself, which will spur novel political developments of its own.
This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.