Opinion: Market offers climate change solutions

Elise Stefanik
Alejandro DeLeon carries a solar panel as workers from home solar company Sunrun install a system on a home in Los Angeles.

The environment is the economic lifeblood of my district in New York’s North Country. Our community understands that clean air and clean water are not just political issues — they are a core aspect of our lives. It’s imperative that we step up in Congress and make smart environmental choices for future generations. Sustainable options depend not just on climate outcomes, but also on reinforcing personal liberty and responsibility.

We must tackle this generational challenge with bipartisan, serious policies. Proposals like the Green New Deal are non-starters because they would not only restructure our energy systems, but also the relationship between the people and a vastly expanded federal government. Free markets, strong property rights and consumer choice aren’t protected under this kind of sweeping legislation.

We can combat our climate and environmental issues through market-based solutions. That’s why I am focused on ideas to diminish market barriers, reduce pollution, and increase economic growth and justice through free enterprise. 

Market-based policy approaches encourage behavioral changes through signals to the market — often focused on changes in prices — rather than through explicit governmental directives. Market-based approaches encourage businesses and individuals to undertake pollution control efforts that are in their interests, and that collectively meet policy goals when they are well-designed and properly implemented.

Tax credits for wind and solar have helped jump-start an industry that is now one of the economy’s most dynamic. Solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians have been the first and second top-growing jobs over the past decade. These tax credits are scheduled to phase out over the next few years because the subsidies were originally intended to help a nascent market get off the ground, and that goal will be largely achieved by the end of the phase-out.

Combined with the transition from coal to natural gas, this market-based approach had made it so the U.S. leads the world in emissions reductions. As of 2018, our carbon emissions were 10% below 2005 levels, which is roughly two-fifths of the way to the Paris Agreement target of 26% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Unfortunately, the tax code does not treat all renewable energy types equally. For that reason, I introduced the Renewable Electricity Tax Credit Equalization Act. It would place biomass, hydropower, geothermal and other renewable energy sources on a level playing field with wind energy facilities. 

But even with an all-of-the-above approach, and a level playing field for renewables, more needs to be done. After years of decline, last year U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by a projected 2.5%.

Like most Americans, Republicans and Democrats agree we need to reduce greenhouse gases driving climate change. But policy solutions often have been out of reach.

Lacking many bipartisan federal approaches, America’s private and public sectors have developed new technologies, deployed clean energy and reduced emissions. 

Republicans need to be an active part of climate change legislation, which is why I’m working with GOP colleagues in the new bicameral Roosevelt Conservation Caucus. We’re supported by groups in our states and districts including the American Conservation Coalition, a nonprofit founded by young Republicans.

By being involved, Republicans can ensure market-friendly approaches remain a key part of the discussion. It will take a new generation of leadership to make that happen. 

Elise Stefanik, R- Schuylerville, represents the 21st Congressional District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. This essay originally appeared in “The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.”