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Keith Harrington Headshot

Post-Partisan Bunk: Climate Solutions From Climate Deniers?

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When the US Climate Action Partnership formed a few years back, I thought it was too good to be true -- oil companies and big corporate polluters coming to the table with environmentalists to craft a cap-and-trade bill. Turned out I was right. The result of this unlikely partnership was an unholy "blueprint" for an unholy congressional climate bill that recently died an unpleasant death in the US Senate thanks at least in part to big-oil lobbying. It was an altogether a brilliant coup for the oil industry: help forge a terrible bill that environmental groups will expend all their energy and political-capital defending, and then underwrite lobby efforts to kill it. Score one for the bad guys.

Of course, after all that, you would think outwardly progressive organizations would have learned their lesson and foresworn the whole lions-and-lambs, utopianism-as-pragmatism approach to climate policy, right? Well, think again.

This past week, the Brookings Institution took USCAP's "pigs-can-fly" policy model to new heights by climbing into bed with the infamous climate deniers of the American Enterprise Institute to spawn something even more unfortunate than the intellectual offspring of oil companies and environmental organizations. Entitled "Post-Partisan Power", the 36-page study suggests an approach to climate policy that is purportedly so "post-partisan" that it has the power to break through Washington's bitter partisan gridlock and get Republicans and Democrats working harmoniously on clean-energy solutions. The secret? Simple: just invest 25 billion a year in clean-energy innovation. That's right; it's just the opportunity every big-oil Republican shill and coal-state Democrat has been waiting for. Kumbaya!

Now it's not 100 percent clear what the authors of the report were thinking when they decided to craft this fairy-tale policy approach -- perhaps they imagined that the whole Senate climate debacle had reduced proponents of climate action into such a state of battered incoherence or desperate childlike credulity that they would accept whatever pabulum they were offered. Now, I'm sure that Breakthrough Institute and Brookings meant well in drafting this report. But given its history of climate obstructionism it's hard not to wonder if AEI was truly motivated here by a genuine desire to promote real climate solutions.

Indeed, as Joe Romm expertly details over at ClimateProgress, the clear political unworkability of the report's ideas give them an air of disingenuousness. But I'd say what makes the "post-partisan" recipe for saving the world stink more than anything else is the distinctly conservative ingredients that it's concocted of. Of course there's nothing conservative and everything wonderfully progressive about investing $25 billion per year in clean-energy innovation. But to make that investment possible the report suggests promoting some of the very conservative policies which have actually stood in the way of real climate action: cutting government tax breaks for clean energy, promoting economic growth, advocating for innovation without complementary regulation, and wasting more tax dollars on the military and nuclear power.

Sounds like the ingredients of a typical conservative stump speech, right? And therein lies the real trouble of the report: it suggests a climate-policy approach that sounds conservative enough to appear politically feasible but which is ultimately doomed to failure, and which even if it did pass would barely make a dent in the status quo and send even more pork towards AEI's buddies in the military and the nuclear industry.

Well, we can only hope that's not how things turn out. Hopefully, this time around, lawmakers won't waste any more precious time promoting their dead-end climate prescriptions. Instead, maybe they'll wake up to the real post-partisan solutions -- solutions like Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins' (R-Maine) cap-and-dividend bill the CLEAR Act, which even in the current political climate has a much better chance at passing, and certainly has a much better chance to put the brakes on climate change than the AEI-Brookings blueprint.

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