Republicans are sharpening their attacks on the Democrats’ climate policy as the country races toward midterm elections in less than 100 days.
In public comments and private conversations, Republican lawmakers and strategists appear to be settling on a climate and energy message that they’ll use leading up to the November elections. They are framing policies to reduce emissions as the cause of high gasoline prices, a driver of inflation and a form of taxation on working Americans.
“We have a crisis in this country, and it’s not the climate,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters last week. “It’s an energy crisis.”
President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have spent the last week celebrating their milestone climate agreement, after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) settled on a deal to spend $370 billion on climate and energy security measures through the “Inflation Reduction Act.” The measure could be voted on in the next few days, though it has a series of hurdles to clear before hitting Biden’s desk.
Democrats have hailed it as one of the biggest clean energy investments in U.S. history. It could deliver on Biden’s promises to transform the energy sector while slashing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next seven years.
Republicans see it as an opportunity to portray their opponents as reckless spenders as inflation rises.
Since the bill’s introduction last week, Republicans and conservative media are attacking the “Inflation Reduction Act” in the same way they criticized other climate policies, claiming it would raise taxes and drive up prices.
“The Democrats’ approach to tax reform means increasing taxes on low- and middle-income Americans to fund their partisan Green New Deal,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) told reporters last week.
The bill is a pared-down version of the “Build Back Better” package that Biden laid out in the early days of his administration. That past legislation proposed spending about $550 billion on climate and energy programs.
The newest package would offset $370 billion in climate and energy spending by closing a tax loophole on large corporations, raising the minimum tax rate to 15 percent. The new spending also includes billions of dollars for energy policy that favors the fossil fuel industry, including money to clean up methane emissions, carbon capture funding and guarantees of oil and gas leasing on public lands.
Both sides see the bill as a political driver in November.
Kellyanne Conway, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, told E&E News that Democrats face a problem: Voters don’t look at climate policy in isolation.
High inflation rates allow Republicans to talk about climate policy as a net negative in people’s lives. High gas prices are making life unaffordable for many people, she said.
“It’s going to be a very difficult sell right now for the radical left to tell people now they have to pay X, Y and Z because of climate change, because they are trying to afford everyday consumables like food and fuel,” she said.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is a primary driver of high gas prices, along with global inflation, the Covid-19 rebound in energy demand and the hesitance of investors in publicly traded energy companies to support a production boom.
The GOP’s messaging on gasoline comes as prices have been slowly falling for weeks. The average price yesterday was $4.16, down from its high of $5.02 on June 14. Energy experts say prices will likely rise heading into fall.
Bernhardt: ‘Americans are concerned’
GOP energy consultants are also going after Biden’s plan to make the grid more reliant on renewable resources such as wind and solar.
“Americans are concerned about a couple things right now,” David Bernhardt, Trump’s former Interior secretary, said in an interview. “And certainly one of those things is high energy prices. I think it’s very bad to have policies where you suggest an alternative without having that alternative currently available. And so I think that’s what they’re struggling with, and they’ll figure it out, but that’s the consequence of heading in that direction.”
Since the beginning of the year, GOP lawmakers have blamed energy price spikes on Biden’s executive order that killed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canada to American refineries. The pipeline would not have been in service until next year, at the earliest.
The Republican Party has yet to endorse any climate policy that would reduce emissions at a rate that scientists say is necessary to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.
That hasn’t hurt Republican candidates during elections, however, since polling shows most GOP voters rank climate near the bottom of their electoral priorities.
Despite that, the party’s opposition to climate policies could expose candidates to risk in tight races in swing states, some polls suggest.
Surveys show that young voters, including a portion of conservatives, increasingly want lawmakers to do more on climate. Almost half of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans want the government to do more to address climate change, according to a Pew Research survey released last month.
As a result, Republicans in the House have crafted policies centered around planting more trees and investing in technological advances to reduce emissions, as well as increase domestic oil and gas production, arguing that it has fewer emissions than fuels produced by other countries. The Republican Party has not proposed ideas to cut reliance on fossil fuels, the primary driver of climate change.
It remains to be seen if Democrats can pass the “Inflation Reduction Act.” But early polling shows it has wide support, including among independents who could play an important role in a number of swing states this fall.
Americans support the climate provisions of the “Inflation Reduction Act” by a wide margin, 47 percent to 30 percent, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov survey of 1,600 adults conducted July 28 to Aug. 1. That gap increased — 61 percent to 14 percent — when respondents were informed of other provisions, such as a reduction in prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients.
Some provisions, such as charging a methane fee to oil and gas companies, have majority support. For example, 53 percent of voters overall support the methane fee, including 54 percent of independents, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released yesterday.
Some conservative media outlets have framed the “Inflation Reduction Act” as a tax on Americans and a driver of inflation, even though the bill pledges to reduce the deficit by $300 billion.
In the last year, Fox News has long been sympathetic to Manchin, who previously blocked much of Biden’s climate policy. There are signs of a shift now that the West Virginian is supporting the climate and energy bill.
On Tuesday, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner accused Manchin of disappointing people who saw him as a roadblock to Democrats’ climate efforts.
“What they see is a senator who they thought was moderate who might push back on some of the talk about forcing us into a green situation,” she said.
The interview turned hostile when Faulkner claimed that the plan would tax Americans making less than $400,000 a year, a common talking point used by Republicans.
“That’s a lie. That’s a pure, outright lie,” Manchin said.