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Agenda for the 116th Congress: Energy and Environment

Wealthier is healthier—and environmentally cleaner as well. Despite the fact that the most prosperous nations are also the cleanest, and that prosperity is best achieved through free markets and limited government, Washington, D.C. insists on an intrusive approach that does more economic harm than environmental good. This is especially so regarding costly federal interference in energy markets, as energy is the lifeblood of the economy and its affordability is critical to growth. Unfortunately, the proposed Green New Deal shows that the ill-advised top-down approach is still popular.

Congress must push back against the many counterproductive energy and environmental programs on the books. Energy efficiency standards add thousands of dollars to the sticker price of new vehicles and also compromise the performance of dishwashers and other appliances. Therefore, these programs should repealed—or at least scaled back. The Renewable Fuel Standard, mandating the use of biofuels like corn ethanol, serves no useful energy policy purpose, has been documented to cause environmental harm, distorts the price consumers see at the pump and at the supermarket, and is overdue to be sunset. The social cost of carbon puts an anti-energy finger on the scale for many regulations that cannot be justified otherwise, and its use should be prohibited across all federal agencies.

Decades of bad federal policy was made considerably worse by the Obama administration’s reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act, in the aftermath of the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision, to engage in a costly war on fossil fuels in the name of addressing climate change. Congress should step in and make clear that it never delegated climate policymaking authority to the Environmental Protection Agency or any other agency. It should also enact a specific measure clarifying that the Clean Power Plan, perhaps the most problematic of a long list of bad climate measures from the Obama EPA, is based on an incorrect interpretation of the Clean Air Act.

Beyond rolling back existing climate policies, Congress should step in and block potential new ones. This includes continued opposition to growth-sapping but environmentally inconsequential carbon taxes, as well as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol which would raise new air-conditioner and refrigerator prices based on overblown claims that existing models contribute to global warming.

Bad federal policies often stem from bad federally-funded research programs, which is why these programs need an infusion of transparency and accountability. Further, the worst of them, like EPA’s Safer Choice program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, should be completely defunded.

Beyond just stopping bad energy and environmental policy, Congress should affirmatively embrace the benefits of free markets, especially in the energy sector, which has proven to be the best means of improving the environment along with living standards. Even if not achievable in this Congress, articulating this agenda may help lay the foundation for future reforms.

For more, read CEI’s “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.” Previous posts in the Agenda for Congress series: