Politics & Policy

It’s Time for a Conservative Global-Warming Agenda

Big-government progressives are destroying the economy and not saving the environment. Conservatives can do better.

Conservatives should adopt a new strategy in the battle over global warming. Rather than falling back on the claim that global warming isn’t a problem, conservatives should take a page from liberals’ playbook and use the issue to pursue policies they already favor. What we need is a conservative climate-change agenda that shrinks the size of government and uses a small portion of those savings to help do a few things better.

While many on the environmental left tend to overstate their case, there’s little doubt that the climate is changing and that human activity plays a major role in this shift. In fact, not even those conservatives whom the left unfairly tars as “deniers” dispute that the Earth has gotten warmer or that a buildup of greenhouse gases traps heat energy.

It’s not inconceivable that climate change could have some positive impacts, like fewer deaths from cold. But negative consequences likely will outweigh positive ones by a large margin.

However, many current government programs are downright counterproductive in dealing with climate change. The National Flood Insurance Program encourages development in areas likely to be impacted by sea-level rise, while many Army Corps of Engineers projects exacerbate the problem by starving river deltas of the silt they need to remain in place.

Other government programs subsidize the use of coal and the opening of new oil wells. Ending all subsidies should be a high priority for conservatives. Broad efforts could include creation of “subsidy-free zones” in areas likely to be impacted by climate change. One version of this idea was signed into law by Ronald Reagan with 1984’s Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which bars federal subsidies to new development over thousands of miles of coastal barrier islands. Such policies promote adaptation to a changing climate, and they save taxpayer money.

Conservatives also should press the federal government, the largest employer in the United States, to do a better job preparing its own facilities for the potential consequences of severe weather. Representative Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.) has proposed doing exactly that. His pending legislation, the ponderously named Preparedness and Risk Management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience (PREPARE) Act, makes sense and should draw conservative co-sponsors.

What’s more, conservatives need to more consistently condemn corporate-welfare programs for energy industries, whether it’s solar, wind, oil, gas, or any other. Any subsidies such industries receive should be limited to research efforts the private sector can’t carry out on its own. A stronger, better research establishment could help us better understand climate change and develop breakthrough technologies. This would cost taxpayers far less than the current stew of corporate welfare programs that produced Solyndra and other costly failures.

There are other, broader changes — including outright repeal of the EPA’s burdensome, ill-advised greenhouse-gas-control regulations — that conservatives ought to consider as well.

For decades, progressives have used the battle over climate change as a proxy for a broader war about culture and ideology. Whether they’re demanding cap-and-trade schemes, plotting ways to plan the entire energy economy, or trying to order entire classes of power plants out of existence by government fiat, progressives consistently forward schemes designed to enlarge the size of government and squelch the freedoms of private enterprise. It’s time to respond.

Conservatives should address climate change. And they can do it without giving up a single conservative principle.

– Eli Lehrer is the president and co-founder of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank.

Eli Lehrer is president and co-founder of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank. He lives in Herndon, Va., with his wife, Kari, and son, Andrew.

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