Environment and Energy

A Conservative Agenda for Environment and Energy

“Today’s environmental challenges present both the need and the opportunity for a new generation of policy that will harness markets, technological progress, local knowledge, and voluntarism; that will emphasize innovation and leverage instead of punitive regulatory constraint and torturously long rulemakings that are often ill-fitted to local conditions.”

— Steven F. Hayward

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Conservatives shouldn’t have to apologize for responding with squeamishness to the apocalypticism that frequently accompanies the environmental movement. Conservatives, however, have compelling reasons to pay attention to environmental issues. The environment is too important of a policy area to cede to progressives, who have used their monopoly of the topic as a prerogative to enact regulations that constrain economic activity and freedom.

Conservative leaders have much in common with many millennials who prioritize environmental concerns: recognition that the state-centric, command-and-control approach cannot meet the environmental challenges of today. This is the case with climate change. Conservatives are right to be upset that some members of the scientific and policy communities have imposed orthodoxy and sought to be the sole voice on the issue. Conservatives should also be upset that the left’s proposed solution to regulate energy use would do little to solve the climate problem they claim to want to address. As Steven Hayward writes: “the more serious climate change may turn out to be, the less plausible or effective is the policy prescription of environmentalists, which is near term carbon suppression through regulation or new taxes.”

Instead, a solution to the most serious climate change threat could only come about through innovations in energy production, and stimulating innovation is right up conservatives’ alley. Right now, policies designed to encourage alternative energy use actually discourage innovation, because subsidies for subpar technologies like wind and solar serve as a disincentive for private actors to invest in power sources capable of displacing fossil fuels. Conservatives should ensure the federal government avoids picking energy winners and losers and distributes research-funding grants in the same diffused way it does for medical research. Additionally, conservatives need to trumpet the market forces encouraging innovation, investment, and entrepreneurship in alternative energy technologies.