Is Bipartisanship Possible?
It’s challenging in today’s polarized politics. But possibly it’s not completely off the table.
We are actually, as so often, in a time of divided government. That makes bipartisan cooperation crucial. We’re also in a time of hyper-partisanship. The issue could also be compounded by the concessions made by McCarthy to the far Right with a view to grow to be Speaker. Nevertheless, there could also be some opportunities for cooperation across party lines on climate issues. Given the urgency for climate motion, we cannot afford to neglect those opportunities.
It’s easy — and never entirely improper — to dismiss current Republican moves away from climate denial as far too little and much too late. I feel that might be a mistake. But that overlooks a very important advantage of the shift. There may be far an excessive amount of irrationality and outright craziness within the political world. We are able to only profit as a society if the controversy shifts from whether to deal with climate change to how to achieve this.
Admittedly, vital parts of the Republican party remain mired in denialism. But there are a big variety of congressional Republicans who acknowledge the necessity for motion of some kind. The Conservative Climate Caucus had 48 members last 12 months. It seems mostly focused on support for energy innovation as a way of cutting emissions. There are also bipartisan Climate Solutions caucuses within the House and the Senate. The Senate caucus seems more lively. It seems mostly involved in nature-based solutions and in climate adaptation, though members did support the Kigali Amendment to eliminate super-warming chemicals (HFCs).
Outside of Congress itself are some increasingly influential organizations backing the efforts of those caucuses. Based on E&E News, organizations like ClearPath and Residents for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) “have spent thousands and thousands on lobbying efforts and have consistently gotten an audience with lawmakers to make the case for the ‘energy innovation’ agenda.” Besides frequent appearances for Republicans at hearings, they’ve “helped prod Republicans on climate change, moving the party away from outright denialism” and toward “most of the groups’ energy policy talking points.”
ClearPath’s mission statement gives a way of those organizations’ stance:
“ClearPath’s mission is to develop and advance policies that speed up breakthrough innovations that reduce emissions within the energy and industrial sectors. . .. ClearPath (501(c)(3)) collaborates with private and non-private sector stakeholders on innovations in nuclear energy, carbon capture, hydropower, natural gas, geothermal, energy storage, and heavy industry to enable private-sector deployment of critical technologies.
ClearPath points to the 2021 Infrastructure law for instance of the sort of measures that it supports.
CRES, the opposite major organization, endorses the premise that the “U.S. has an economic and moral imperative to cut back greenhouse gas emissions for the good thing about future generations.” It describes its mission as engaging Republican policymakers and the general public regarding “responsible, conservative solutions to deal with our nation’s energy, economic, and environmental security while increasing America’s competitive edge.”
The policies espoused by these groups and their congressional supporters are limited of their vision and commitment. Nonetheless, they do suggest some possible areas for bipartisan cooperation.
One such area is defending most of the measures passed within the last Congress from attack by the Freedom Caucus and its allies. Lots of the provisions of the Infrastructure law, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act are designed to encourage the event and deployment of the sorts of modern technologies that CRES and ClearPath endorse. Bipartisan support also seems to exist for expanding energy R&D. Even through the period of unified government under Trump, congressional Republicans staunchly defended DOE’s clean tech innovation program, ARPA-E, against assaults from Trump himself. Increased funding of this and similar programs can be welcome. There is no such thing as a indication that we’re anywhere near the purpose of diminishing returns for such efforts.
Permitting reform is a touchy area but one where some room for bipartisan motion may exist. It appears to be a priority issue for CRES, but many environmentalists also recognize the necessity to speed up and simplify project approvals. Some potential remedies involve changes in substantive laws and community input, equivalent to weakening environmental impact statements. Democrats won’t support those changes. But some procedural remedies could also be more acceptable.
Other possible areas of agreement avoid hot button issues about regulating fossil fuels. On the mitigation side, they include control of non-CO2 greenhouse gases, nature-based solutions to enhance carbon reservoirs, technologies like geothermal and advanced hydro, and reduction of agricultural emissions. Although the difficulty divides Democrats, some collaboration on advanced nuclear technologies may additionally be a possibility. Adaptation is one other area where agreement could also be possible.
I don’t wish to oversell the potential for bipartisan cooperation. Republicans are farther from endorsing the sorts of broad climate policies we want than they were fifteen years ago when John McCain was their nominee for president. But we cannot afford to permit even small possible victories to slide from our hands.