By Sharon Zhang for Pacific Standard.
Republicans in Congress are focusing climate legislation on innovation and carbon capture—two procrastination methods also favored by the fossil fuel industry.
In their efforts to combat the Green New Deal, various Republicans now say that they’re crafting their own conservative climate plans. Some commentators are encouraged to see the GOP joining this national conversation. But once you take a look behind the curtain, you’ll see that these GOP plans are utterly insufficient to address the breadth of the problem. In most cases, their main effect would be to bolster the fossil fuel industry.
Not surprisingly, most Republican plans shy away from regulating carbon emitters and instead focus on free-market “solutions” to the climate crisis. In particular, Republicans are talking almost exclusively about “innovation” in clean energy and the utilization of carbon capture. The top proposal in Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander’s “New Manhattan Project” is “American innovation” in the realms of nuclear, natural gas, and carbon capture. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming last year wrote an op-ed, titled “Cut Carbon Through Innovation, Not Regulations,” in which he suggested that carbon capture and direct-air capture “hold keys” to reducing carbon emissions. And Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska recently co-sponsored a bill (introduced by Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin) establishing a Department of Energy program that would fund carbon-capture research. All three GOP senators are involved in crafting an upcoming Republican climate bill, according to Bloomberg.
Innovation is a crowd-pleasing concept; invoking innovation is an easy way to telegraph, in a non-committal way, that you support progress without threatening to take away people’s cars. (Mainstream American thought also fallaciously associates innovation with capitalism.) According to the innovation gospel, competition leads to innovation, which will lead to clean energy beating out fossil fuels—someday.
“We keep hearing this buzzword: innovation. It’s basically code for, ‘Let’s let the fossil fuel industry and other carbon-intensive industries figure this out. Government shouldn’t get involved,'” says Jesse Bragg, media director at the non-profit Corporate Accountability. “Innovation, in that sense, is the status quo.”
Investing in research is still essential going forward, Bragg says, but progress will be slow and meaningless without legal mandates that force fossil fuels out of our energy mix.
Republicans, though, aren’t advocating for cutting fossil fuels so much as for (supposedly) cutting carbon. That distinction is important, since current uses of carbon capture technically cut carbon emissions, but they certainly don’t help diminish our reliance on fossil fuels. The most common form of carbon capture—and what conservatives are referring to in their climate plans—is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), also known as carbon capture and storage, a process that preventscarbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere via a chemical reaction that isolates the molecule at the point source. (In this piece, I use “carbon capture” to mean CCS; in other texts, “carbon capture” may also refer to direct air capture.) In the case of CCS, the point source—the place where pollution originates—is usually a coal or natural gas plant.