Brownback’s plan is not promising
He hasn’t released a detailed plan yet, but Republican presidential contender Sam Brownback gave a speech yesterday to the Set America Free coalition that outlined his thoughts on energy policy. (There’s more info in this Greenwire story, but it’s subscription only.)
Republican candidates haven’t talked about climate and energy as much as their Dem counterparts, but Brownback’s comments are more or less representative. Consider this a critique, then, of mainstream Republican climate/energy policy.
Brownback — like Romney and McCain, at least — acknowledges global warming and the need to reduce carbon emissions. He says that "we need to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. This is possible using our ingenuity, resources and determination."
But that acknowledgement is grafted awkwardly atop a policy that predates it. Republicans have long favored their usual mix of realpolitik and corporatism: geopolitical maneuvering to secure the world’s remaining reserves of fossil fuel, ramping up domestic energy production through oil drilling and increased use of coal, and avoiding anything that would impose costs on big business.
But that framework does nothing to take climate change into account. The result is a set of unresolved contradictions.
Consider the major proposals:
Drill for oil in the Arctic Refuge; drill off the continental shelf; boost R&D money for oil exploration.
Put aside the alleged benefits of all this drilling for "energy independence" (they are minimal). Needless to say, anything that puts more oil in circulation or holds down the price of oil encourages the burning of oil. Thus: more CO2 emissions.
Boost oil-sands and coal-to-liquid (CTL) technology.
Again, put aside the alleged energy security benefits (which are, again, minimal). Oil sands are an environmental nightmare. Recovery requires massive infusions of energy and water and emits enormous amounts of CO2 — and that’s before the oil itself is burnt.
As for CTL, best case scenario — every CTL plant is accompanied by a carbon sequestration facility — it is neutral with regard to GHG emissions, since liquefied coal emits roughly as much CO2 as gasoline when burnt. The more likely scenario — the coal industry wiggles out of sequestration requirements with vague promises and back-room dealing — has CTL as a massive source of emissions.
By the way, Greenwire reporter Debra Kahn makes a massive and elementary error in this paragraph:
Energy independence should also come from replacing petroleum with electricity, he said. "Consumers need a choice in the transportation fuel market," he said. "They need another option beyond petroleum. That choice should be electricity." The country should continue producing energy-independent electricity from coal, he said, with an emphasis on coal-to-liquids (CTL) technology.
That’s a confused mess. CTL is not electricity. It’s a liquid fuel alternative. Much like …
Ramp up ethanol production.
The shortcomings of corn ethanol have been well-covered on this blog; I won’t rehearse them. Brownback waves his hands at cellulosic ethanol, like they all do, but in the unlikely even that we take the proposed path — subsidies for corn ethanol > establishment of ethanol infrastructure and market > transition to cellulosic ethanol — it will be a long, long time before we see any notable decline in GHG emissions.
Boost nuclear power and plug-in hybrids.
This plank of the plan (and I strongly suspect the latter bit was a sop to his audience) does all the work in reducing CO2 emissions. That’s it. That’s Brownback’s plan for fighting the great threat of our age.
Again, Brownback is not unique — this is roughly the energy/climate plan you see from mainstream Republicans. There’s an enormous (and in my view, deceptive) focus on energy security, but no indication that climate change is taken seriously. Indeed, Brownback makes a point of opposing any mandatory carbon caps or reductions.
Global warming fundamentally changes the energy situation. With the possible exception of John McCain, I don’t see Republican leaders coming to terms with that fact.