More green investment hasn't softened red resistance on climate
Despite the surge of clean energy investment in Republican communities, state and federal GOP officials are continuing to resist efforts to reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels.
State and federal GOP officials continue to resist efforts to reduce America's dependence on fossil fuels, even as new clean energy investments worth billions of dollars flood into Republican-leaning communities across the country.
This stark contrast has shattered a major hope and expectation of environmentalists. They believed that greater economic opportunities in red areas would lead to less political opposition by Republicans to the shift toward a cleaner energy economy, which scientists believe is essential to reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change. The GOP's continued opposition to this transition highlights the limitations of economic incentives in overcoming ideological inclinations. It also points to years of partisan conflict which could make it impossible for the US set a consistent climate policy.
Last week, virtually all House Republicans voted to repeal clean energy incentives included in the Inflation Reduction Act Democrats approved last year. This was despite the fact that these incentives had already led to investments in 72 Republican districts, including more than two dozen districts which have seen massive investments worth $1 billion or higher in new plants and expansions of existing ones. This dynamic is also evident in the decisions of Republican state attorneys general who represent states that have benefited from new clean energy jobs and investments. They launched a number of lawsuits against the proposals of President Joe Biden’s administration to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy.
This opposition contradicts the traditional assumption of politicians supporting economic interests that create opportunities for their constituents. Republicans and conservative activists have become more bold in framing the defense of fossil fuels, and skepticism about clean energy alternatives, as a culture war. They are putting the transition to solar, wind and electric vehicles alongside transgender equality, 'woke indoctrination' in the classroom, or restrictions on gun possession as examples of 'coastal elitists' trying erase traditional American values.
The next election will show whether or not this strategy is effective.
Climate change is another fissure in the modern American political system. As with attitudes towards demographic and cultural changes, the perspectives on changing the nation's energy supply from its historical reliance on fossil-fuels to low-carbon alternatives pits the Democratic "coalition for transformation" that embraces how America is evolving on all fronts against the Republican "coalition for restoration" that resists this.
Robert McNally is a Republican energy advisor and former White House adviser to President George W. Bush. He said that the Inflation Reduction Act’s provisions encouraging carbon-free sources of energy are not a 'bipartisan domestic energy agenda', even though they are bringing jobs and investments to red areas. This is a coastal, left-wing, 'let's make the world better by having the federal governments intervene during a period of high inflation' kind of thing. It's not that a Republican does not see the benefits, but he or she sees a lot of disadvantages.
As I have written, Republican-leaning areas are more integrated in the fossil fuel economy. Trump won 20 out of 21 states with the highest carbon emissions per dollar of economic activity. These are mostly coastal states, which are either large producers of fossil fuels, such as Wyoming, West Virginia and Texas, or consumers, like Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio and Indiana, who use it to power their agricultural, manufacturing, and industrial sectors. Biden won 19 out of 21 states with lowest emissions. These were mostly coastal states, which produce less oil, coal, or gas and have a more rapid transition to a post-industrial economy based on services and high-tech employment. These same trends are also evident in state government control and representation, with Republicans dominating states with high emissions and Democrats dominating states with low emissions. About four-fifths (45%) of the campaign contributions from oil and gas companies are now directed to Republicans in Congress.
The energy transition that is now taking place has changed this picture. The emerging clean energy economy is a clear winner for red places. According to federal statistics, Texas, Iowa Oklahoma Kansas and Illinois are the only states with a solid red color. Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada are all big solar-generating states.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed on a partisan basis last year, further dilutes these opportunities.
Climate Power, an environmental advocacy group, released a report that stated, "Overall, companies announced 191 new clean energy project in small towns and larger cities across the country totaling $242.81 Billion in new investments." The group estimated that these investments will create 142,000 new jobs. The group discovered that only two of the 10 states with the most announced projects in clean energy are reliably Democratic (New York, and California). The remaining states are either battlegrounds (Michigan Arizona and Georgia), or Republican-leaning. (Texas Ohio North Carolina South Carolina Tennessee and Tennessee).
The same red-tilt on investment is also evident at the level of congressional districts. Climate Power discovered that more than half of the clean energy projects announced after the passage of the bill were located in Republican congressional districts. Stunningly, the projects in Republican districts account for almost four-fifths (or $4.50 billion) of all clean energy investments announced. The group discovered that 22 House Republicans have seats where clean-energy companies have invested $1 billion or higher since the passage IRA. Brandon Williams, a Republican from New York (whose New York district is home to a massive semiconductor plant for EVs), holds the district with the highest investment. The Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei's district is projected to have the most jobs (four separate projects). The Georgia district of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Republican representative from Georgia, is home to a $2.5billion solar panel manufacturing plant built by a South Korean company.
There are many reasons why the majority of new clean energy investments have gone to red areas. The most important reason may be the fact that Republican districts and states tend to favor rural areas, where it is easier for large factories to locate. Taxes are usually lower in these states and regulations are more relaxed. In most red states, some companies are attracted by the lack of unions.
Environmentalists hoped, whatever the motives of the companies, that the distribution of more economic benefits from energy transition to red areas would reduce the resistance by Republicans towards a deemphasis on fossil fuels. Some cite the example of how the distribution of defense contracts over virtually all congressional districts maximizes support for Pentagon budget.
Lori Lodes is the executive director of Climate Power. She believes that this precedent will be crucial to sustain a federal effort for promoting clean energy over a long period. She says that if it becomes the Defense Authorization Act, every congressional district will have a piece. It can't undo and we're set on this path to reach our goals due to how diffused it is.
She acknowledges that establishing these political roots will take some time. In the short term, however, the new investments have not decreased Republican opposition. Republicans' opposition is only increasing as Biden pushes for measures that will accelerate the energy shift.
Heather Reams is the president of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (a conservative group which supports climate change action).
Last week, nearly every House Republican voted in favor of the sweeping debt ceiling bill that repealed the extensive incentives offered by the IRA to both consumers and producers to switch to cleaner energy sources. In an act that allows Congress to challenge federal regulation, all House and Senate Republicans voted earlier this year to overturn the Department of Labor rule allowing pension fund managers consider ESG goals (environmental social and corporate governance), when making investment decisions. This is seen as a way to encourage investment in green industries.
Ron DeSantis (a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2024) recently organized a coalition consisting of 19 Republican Governors to oppose such ESG measures which he calls 'woke capitalism'.
A coalition of Republican-controlled states successfully sued to stop former President Barack Obama’s regulations on this topic. It seems inevitable that the Republicans in Congress will try to override both the EPA's fuel economy regulations and its power plant regulations when they are completed. McNally predicts that Republicans will oppose the Biden climate regulations on every front. It will be a kitchen sink attack - it will involve everything.
Reams, a cautious optimist, is confident that if Republicans gain control of both the White House in 2025 and the Congress they will preserve some of the IRA clean energy incentives. This would be part of a 'all-of-the above' strategy aimed at encouraging more domestic production for fossil fuels as well as low carbon sources. McNally predicts, as does Lodes from all sides of the political spectrum, that if Republicans gain unified control they will 'gut the IRA's clean energy incentives they voted to eliminate this week. He says that 'ninety eight percent' of the IRA clean energy incentives will be eliminated if Republicans win unified control.
Most House Republicans either refused to respond to my question or did not reply when I asked them why they voted against the IRA incentive despite their districts receiving large clean energy investments. John Curtis of Utah, the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus, whose district received $11 billion worth in clean energy investments according to Climate Power, was among those who refused to comment.
Amodei, a Nevada Republican, was one of those who responded. He is a perfect example of the Republican's skepticism towards the Democratic agenda in combating climate change. In his northern Nevada district, not only is there a massive (and growing) Tesla plant but also another battery company's factory, Redwood Materials. According to reports, both the Redwood Plant and Tesla's expansion will create 4,600 permanent manufacturing positions as well as a large number of construction jobs.
Amodei voted to repeal the IRA incentives last week, which were designed to increase production and consumption. In an interview he stated that the speed at which Biden, and Democrats, want to transition from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones is unrealistic. Amodei said that despite the billions of dollars spent on subsidies and penalties, the rate of which Biden wants to move Americans towards electric vehicles is 'bordering on suicide'.
He also said that Nevada companies were largely excluded from construction jobs created by the large plant expansions within his district. The greater concern, he said, was the possibility that increased spending on the IRA would fuel inflation. He says that 'the benefits' of the bill do not outweigh its negative aspects, such as debt, inflation, and, by the way... how much money really went to Nevada?
Amodei, a Republican member of Cl