Editor’s Note: The following is the first installment of a three-part series adapted from David L. Bahnsen’s new book, Elizabeth Warren: How Her Presidency Would Destroy the Middle Class and the American Dream.
“On my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that puts a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. And I will ban fracking—everywhere.” — Elizabeth Warren
The modern, post-Obama Democratic party has little that defines it more clearly and unambiguously than its environmental agenda. Gun control may run a close second, but no other issue seems to be more uniformly agreed upon by Democratic leadership and the base than environmentalism. Within health-care policy there are broad differences between leading presidential candidates, with some such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders passionately advocating for the elimination of private insurance and consumer choice, and others arguing for expanding coverage through a so-called public option but maintaining a private market for those who want it. Some high-profile Democrats find the idea of a wealth tax insane, whereas two leading Democrats are championing the idea.
Disagreement within the Democratic leadership is harder to find, though, on the issue of environmental stewardship. A strong consensus exists among Democrats that global warming is real, global warming is man-created, and global warming must be addressed through the immediate reduction of carbon emissions by any means necessary.
The controversial congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines in 2019 with the introduction of what she called the “Green New Deal,” advocating for extreme measures intended to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The plan called for the end of air travel, a federal guarantee to all people of “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security,” zero greenhouse-gas emissions within ten years, meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through zero-emission energy sources, and perhaps most outlandishly, “upgrading all existing buildings in the United States to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.”
The plan was so radical, many earnest environmentalists and advocates of improved environmental stewardship ran away from it, shocked by its delusional ambitions. David Brooks said it would be “the greatest centralization of power in the hands of the Washington elite in our history.” House speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed it as “the green dream, or whatever they call it.” President Obama’s own secretary of energy, Ernest Moniz, said, “I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year time frame; it is just impractical.” The Economist called it “deeply unserious.” The Washington Post, in an op-ed lambasting President Trump for inadequate attention to climate change, called the Green New Deal a “fantasy that hurts the cause of practically addressing the issue,” adding, “the world needs rational U.S. leadership.”
And yet, the response of the Democratic presidential primary field was not to run as far away from this toxic $70 trillion policy proposal as possible, but rather to trip over one another trying to be first in line to support it. One can chalk up the hasty endorsement of this extremist proposal by Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris to the political opportunism we have come to expect from them, but Senator Warren has built her campaign around having “a plan for that!”—and the Green New Deal is no kind of serious plan at all.
Senator Warren boasted, “I am an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, which commits the United States to meet 100 percent of our power demand through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.” She has since done much to fill out her climate-policy portfolio. Her plans on this front, I will argue, represent not only the most dangerous component of her platform, but also the area of her agenda in which she is most politically vulnerable.
Her advocacy of standard fare, such as returning to the Paris Climate Accord, is bad policy to this author, but it is certainly the conventional Democratic-party position. While a few candidates and former candidates (Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet) reinforced their anti-carbon bona fides by endorsing greater use of nuclear power, Warren missed the opportunity to show contrarian wisdom and courage by doing so. As she said in CNN’s Climate Town Hall:
So you rightly point out about nuclear energy, it’s not carbon-based, but the problem is it’s got a lot of risks associated with it, particularly the risks associated with the spent fuel rods that nobody can figure out how we’re going to store these things for the next bazillion years. In my administration, we’re not going to build any new nuclear power plants, and we are going to start weaning ourselves off nuclear energy and replacing it with renewable fuels over — we’re going to get it all done by 2035, but I hope we’re getting it done faster than that. That’s the plan.
Vehement opposition to the use of carbon-based fuels combined with a demand for a rapid reduction in their use would seem to cry out for embracing nuclear energy, not shunning it. Yet Warren has opted to stick to her contradictory policy, seemingly unaware of how problematic it is to hold these two positions simultaneously. As we shall see, though, her rejection of nuclear power hardly represents the most troublesome part of her climate agenda.
Despite her claim to be running a campaign for middle-class America, Warren has advocated taxing carbon emissions, including through a cap-and-trade marketplace, a policy that disproportionately hurts those in the most challenging economic circumstances. Households in the bottom income brackets spend the highest portion of their income on energy, making a carbon tax among the most regressive of taxes. Some proposals call for redistributionist mechanisms to offset this regressive unfairness, but of course Warren’s broad policy platform has already made a claim on every revenue source you can think of for every spending category you can imagine — meaning there is no empty space on the shelf available to simply trade out a carbon tax for a lower payroll tax, and so forth. And in addition to the regressively unfair nature of this tax, it also serves as a huge subsidy to what Senator Warren loves to call “big oil.” The great beneficiaries of complexity and of regulatory cost are the big players, not the smaller companies!
As we delve deeper into Warren’s climate agenda, we get into the real disasters for the American economy, and indeed, for America’s national security. One of the great economic and geopolitical stories of the last generation has been America’s becoming a net exporter of energy to the world, reversing decades of foreign oil dependency.
The economic implications of this reality are immense. But the geopolitical consequences are profound as well, as American policy in the Middle East for over 50 years had been conditioned by intense reliance on OPEC oil imports. We are literally living through the first decade in our lifetimes that America can be said to have leverage over Middle Eastern countries, not vice versa, as the marginal producer of crude oil. This not only allows America not to rely on OPEC imports continuing at past levels to meet our energy needs, but also allows us to have the economic opportunity to serve global markets with our newfound production capacity.
Warren’s having none of it, though, economic benefits and national security be damned: “I support re-imposing limits on crude oil exports and I opposed lifting the 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil,” Warren boasted to the liberal CNN “Climate Town Hall” audience in September. She opposes construction of new liquefied-natural-gas terminals and has consistently opposed exporting oil and gas in any form. That America is a cleaner producer of these needed fossil fuels than the other producers global customers will inevitably buy from otherwise seems not to matter to Warren.
And Warren’s opposition to extracting that oil and gas is no more intense than when the drilling is on public land, which will be discussed in Part II tomorrow.