Perhaps nothing has united Republicans more this Congress than the progressive Democrats’ climate plan known as the Green New Deal. Republicans have missed no opportunity to hammer the costs associated with the outlandish plan and force their Democratic colleagues to take a position on the proposal. Many have gone so far as to refer to the Green New Deal as the GOP’s “greatest gift” and the “gift that keeps on giving.”
Yet although Republicans have been relentless in ridiculing the Green New Deal, the plan has also changed the dialogue in the caucus. In response to its overtone of government control and central planning, Republicans are calling for innovation and market-based solutions to climate change. A new resolution introduced last week by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz provides a comprehensive alternative vision for climate action that is compatible with Republican ideals of increasing competition and limiting government control.
Gaetz’s alternative to the Green New Deal — what he calls the “Green Real Deal” — is more concrete than its Democratic alternative. It aims to address climate change by spurring innovation and cutting regulations to speed up clean energy development. The Green Real Deal identifies 14 policy ideas for accomplishing its stated goals, including investing in carbon-capture storage, modernizing hydropower regulations and expanding tax incentives for energy efficiency upgrades.
Perhaps the most promising of the Green Real Deal’s goals is its call to empower individuals to choose clean energy as a source of supply. Far from being an aspirational exercise, empowering consumers to choose clean energy is a simple, concrete legislative fix to climate change.
As things stand, it can be difficult for energy customers to purchase clean energy. Electricity is largely regulated by states, and currently, only 13 states allow consumers to choose their electricity provider. Moreover, in many states, there’s only one game in town: the local monopoly utility. It may not offer a clean energy product to customers at all or, if it does, the product may be overpriced, not representing the savings that result when developers are forced to compete with one another.
The Green New Deal would not fix this situation. Indeed, by doling out funds for green projects via government fiat, it would only make things worse. Winning government grants is a game that local monopolies excel at playing, and there’s little doubt they’d capture any Green New Deal-style undertaking in a hurry.
There’s no denying that consumer demand for clean energy exists, and in many places, renewables have become cheaper than coal. A study by Energy Innovation shows that renewable energy could replace a substantial amount of uneconomic coal plants in a cost-effective manner. Unfortunately, many of these facilities are in states that do not offer customers a choice in energy supply. In these circumstances, simply enabling consumers to choose clean energy, as Rep. Gaetz’s plan calls for, may be the most efficient and cost-effective path for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
If Congress intends to act on climate change, the United States could also greatly benefit from a Customer Empowerment Act, which would include clean energy options for consumers. As my R Street colleague Travis Kavulla has argued, a Customer Empowerment Act would open up additional space for clean-energy providers to compete against one another for the business of the nation’s customers, which would drive down energy costs. It would also offer a clear directive to states that, before government moves to subsidize certain forms of energy production, they should be giving customers the option to buy green energy voluntarily.
The Green New Deal has been a huge political gift to Republicans. They can further capitalize on it by offering energy customers a clear alternative to the kind of government central planning the Green New Deal stands for.
Caroline Kitchens is the director of federal government affairs at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank dedicated to pragmatic solutions.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.