The greed of fossil fuel: An opposition to clean energy that can grow the economy and save our future
Florida governor Ron DeSantis became the latest Republican governor to sign a bill making it harder for citizens to shift away from the fossil fuels that are changing the climate. The move came after Miami, which is in danger as sea levels rise, proposed cutting carbon emissions by banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings.
The bill was written by lawyers for utility companies, based on a pattern written by the American Gas Association. Lobbyists for the Florida Petroleum Association, the Florida Natural Gas Association and the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Home Builders Association, and the National Utility Contractors Association of Florida supported the bill. Nine other Republican states have already passed similar legislation.
Republican-led states are defending the use of fossil fuels in other ways. News that President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was urging major U.S. banks to invest responsibly with an eye to the climate crisis, led the state treasurers of West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota to write to him expressing their “deep concern” that he, along with other members of the Biden administration, was pressuring banks “to refuse to lend to or invest in coal, oil, and natural gas companies, as a part of a misguided strategy to eliminate the fossil fuel industry in our country.”
They accused the Biden administration of “picking economic winners and losers” according to “Biden’s own radical political preferences,” and thus depriving “the people” of agency. Coal, oil, and natural gas are crucial to their states’ economies, they said, providing “jobs, health insurance, critical tax revenue, and quality of life.” They warned that they would withhold public funds from any banks that refused to lend to fossil fuel industries.
And yet, historically, the government has picked fossil fuels as a winner that outranks any other energy source. While Republicans tend to claim any spending for alternative energies is wasteful, a recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute, a nonprofit think tank, says that U.S. subsidies to new oil and gas projects inflate their value by up to $20 billion per year. This would seem to fly in the face of Republican complaints about “socialism” in which the government picks winners and losers.
A recent poll showed that 50% of voters said climate change is a critical threat to America. Another 26% believed that it was important, but not critical. Among Democrats, 75% felt that climate change was crucial, while another 17% said it was important. Among Republicans, 21% said that climate change was crucial, while another 37% said it was important, but not crucial.
With this support for addressing climate change, why do Republicans appear to be dead set against dealing with it in a meaningful way and instead are propping up the fossil fuels that feed that change?
At the nomination hearing for now–Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who has promised to protect our lands, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Haaland that his state collects more than a billion dollars a year in royalties and taxes from the oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands in the state, and warned that the Biden administration is “taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.”
Oil produces the most revenue for Texas, which earned $16.3 billion from oil in 2019, an amount that made up 7% of the state’s revenue. Oil revenues accounted for 70% of state revenues ($1.1 billion) in Alaska in 2019, 52% of state revenues ($2.2 billion) in Wyoming in 2017, and 45% of the revenues ($1.6 billion) in North Dakota in 2017.
But production declines in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic have hurt these fossil fuel states. Wyoming expects to have 29% less money than it expected in 2021–2022. Alaska expects an estimated 18% budget deficit in fiscal 2021. Without money coming in from fossil fuels, people will have to make up the difference by paying taxes, an unpopular outcome, especially in Republican-dominated states, or by losing even more services.
Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will also cost current jobs, and one of the hallmarks of an economy developed around an extractive industry is that it tends to have little flexibility. The rural American West was developed around extractive economies, with a few wealthy men employing lots of workers, and its limited economy means that workers cannot transition easily into other fields.
Fossil fuel advocates also contribute mightily to Republican campaigns, adding financial interest to party members’ general dislike of regulation. In Florida, utility companies employ an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators. “It’s no secret we play an active role in public policy,” a spokesman for a Florida utility told Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson in 2016.
In the Pacific Northwest, temperatures in Portland, Oregon, have reached 115°F; Seattle hit 108°. Canada hit its highest temperature on record: 116°F in British Columbia. Roads are buckling and power cables melting.
Climate scientist Michael Mann and climate communicator Susan Joy Hassol recently warned that the conditions of our earth will only get worse unless we do something. But they added, “A rapid transition to clean energy can stabilize the climate, improve our health, provide good-paying jobs, grow the economy and ensure our children’s future.”
Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics