The GOP's New Energy Plan Looks... Oddly Familiar

Congressional Republicans have finally waded into the fray with their own detailed proposal for energy and climate change. You can download the 150-page American Energy Act off the GOP site. Here's a noteworthy provision in the "bill":

Nothing in the Clean Air Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.

And another:

The impact of greenhouse gas on any species of fish or wildlife or plant shall not be considered for any purpose in the implementation of this Act.

Okay, so it's not a climate bill. But it does have plenty of energy provisions. Specifically, a focus on expanded drilling for oil and gas—both offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There's also an all-you-can-eat buffet of tax breaks and subsidies for various industries—including carbon-heavy tar sands and coal-to liquids production, but also for wind, biomass, and solar. Now, as Keith Johnson quips, this newfound Republican support for clean energy and conservation is curious, since the GOP never had any use for renewables or energy efficiency when they actually had the votes to pass legislation. But maybe they've had a change of heart.

The heart of the proposal, though, is a goal of building 100 new nuclear plants in the United States by 2030. The bill doesn't mandate construction, mind you—it's more of a hazy aspiration. But how do we actually get there? After all, one of the biggest hurdles nuclear power faces is that new plants are expensive to build. A carbon tax or cap-and-trade system could give utilities incentive to consider nuclear generation. But the GOP doesn't want to regulate carbon. And it's doubtful that the extra subsidies they offer for nuclear can close the cost gap with coal and natural gas. Indeed, seeing as how the Republican proposal eliminates the prospect of ever addressing carbon and climate change, a likely outcome is that utilities would just keep favoring cheap dirty coal plants.

Instead, the GOP proposal promises to cut through all the "red tape" that's supposedly preventing new nuclear plants from being built. Now, a major MIT study on the future of nuclear power suggested that cost was a far bigger problem than regulatory hurdles. So it's unclear whather this would actually accelerate the deployment of nuclear power at all. (Meanwhile, the proposal would mandate Yucca Mountain as a national waste repository, and would promote the recycling of nuclear waste—on that, see this Greenwire story by Kate Ling for an overview of France's reprocessing program, pros and cons.)

In any case, this proposal seems intended as a means of providing the GOP with talking points, rather than as a piece of serious legislation. And, as Joe Romm notes, it looks suspiciously like, well, Dick Cheney's energy approach. Still, it'd be interesting to see a mainstream analysis of both the cost of the bill and of the expected reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions it would actually achieve. I'd guess the answer to the latter would be close to zero, but why not find out?

--Bradford Plumer

Posted: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 11:28 PM