Ahead of climate conference, U.S. House panel tussles over curbs on emissions

Republicans on a U.S. House panel argued Wednesday against aggressive moves to meet carbon reduction goals, saying U.S. fossil fuel companies are working to make their products cleaner.

Democrats on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals countered that to achieve further reductions, federal policies should be continued to encourage the development of renewable energy and consumer products such as electric vehicles.

Coming the day before the 28th annual United Nations climate conference was set to begin, members of the panel battled over the U.S. role in curbing emissions. The conference is often a venue for world leaders to discuss global solutions to climate change. President Joe Biden is not scheduled to attend this year’s conference.

Republicans argued that the United States was not as problematic for emissions as countries like China and should be allowed to continue developing cleaner uses of oil and gas, downplaying the need to transition away from those fuels.

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U.S. fossil fuel companies have produced more energy in recent years while cutting emissions, several Republicans on the panel said.

Subcommittee Chairman Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican, criticized Biden and congressional Democrats for demanding “a radical reordering of American society and a reduced standard of living” to meet climate goals.

“Becoming more prosperous and secure as a nation is possible while also decreasing emissions,” Johnson said. “We’ve proven it. We’ve done it. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

But Democrats said that progress on environmental goals, including air pollution, was achieved because of federal policies.

Subcommittee ranking Democrat Paul Tonko of New York said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations and other federal policies drove major reductions in automotive emissions, and particulate matter, ozone and sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.

“Innovation is often not possible without a mix of carrots and sticks,” he said. “There are countless examples of EPA rules playing a driving factor in emissions reductions.”

Standards and goals

Karl Hausker, a senior fellow with the World Resources Institute, an international environmental nonprofit, said the government’s role in developing a regulatory framework for industry was helpful in pushing the private sector to meet high standards.

“When we collectively decide to attack an environmental problem and reduce it, we set standards, we set performance goals and then the incredible scientific and engineering talent of the United States comes into play,” Hausker said.

Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat who is the ranking member of the full committee, said Republicans promoted a “polluters-over-people agenda,” and sought to undermine climate programs in recent infrastructure and climate laws and by opposing regulations.

Democrats also rejected the idea that fossil-fuel primacy was responsible for a growing economy. Federal spending and tax breaks to encourage renewable energy production, as envisioned in Democrats’ climate and policy law last year, would have several positive impacts on the economy, Pallone said.

“These policies are already creating new jobs, cutting costs for working families and advancing homegrown clean energy — all while tackling the climate crisis,” he said.

Ceding to China

Members of each party disagreed about how best to counter Chinese influence on energy production.

Republicans argued that transitioning to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would benefit China, which produces many of the parts needed for renewable energy products.

“This forced transition will leave our economy dangerously dependent upon supply chains from China and make energy less affordable, less reliable for Americans,” committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, said.

China has poor environmental and labor standards and “does not share our concerns about climate change risks, nor our value of environmental stewardship,” Rodgers said.

“Moving to 100%, wind, solar and battery-powered energy, as some have proposed will cede our energy future to China, and could have perverse effects on increasing emissions,” she added. “We should instead be working to build on our remarkable legacy.”

China emits more greenhouse gases than the rest of the developed world, and its emissions increased this year, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Iowa Republican, said. She criticized Biden administration policies that she said would promote Chinese industry.

“It’s problematic that the Biden administration is continually turning to the Chinese Communist Party to produce energy components,” she said.

Democrats countered that the world would be well served by a U.S. leadership role on climate.

“We need to demonstrate our nation’s commitment to standing with our allies in the fight against climate change,” Pallone said. “We’re out of time for denialism and obstruction. The science on climate change is indisputable.”

The agreement the U.S. and China reached this year on reduction targets for greenhouse gases was the first time China committed to reducing its emissions, Pallone added.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said the U.S. was in danger of falling behind developing economies, such as China’s, if it cedes leadership in industries like electric vehicle and clean energy manufacturing.

“If we sit back and do nothing, what is the danger of letting countries like China lead?” asked Dingell, adding she would “never let them.”

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