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House Republican Leaders Introduce Pointless, Costly, But Virtue-Signaling Climate Legislation

 House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA.) and several senior Republicans announced on February 11 that they were going to introduce four bills to address climate change. On the bright side, none of the bills includes a tax on carbon dioxide emissions or mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the darker side, the four bills propose to waste a lot of taxpayer dollars, extend subsidies for commercially uncompetitive technologies, and create new domestic tree-planting programs as part of the global Trillion Tree Campaign. Taken together, they concede the point that greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced and therefore that global warming is a serious problem, but then don’t propose anything serious—that is, any policies that would significantly reduce emissions. The bills are merely virtue signaling to what some Republican pollsters have identified as an important segment of voters—suburban Republicans, mostly women, who worry that Republican office holders don’t care enough about climate change or the environment in general.

The Enhanced Carbon Oxide (sic) Sequestration Credit Act “permanently extends and enhances the Section 45Q tax credit for carbon use and sequestration.” It would also increase the value of the tax credit by 25 percent for direct air capture of CO2. Permanently extending handouts to special interests is especially objectionable, although it is true that once even “temporary” subsidies are begun they are always difficult and often impossible to stop.

Two other bills in the package expand current handouts for CO2 capture and storage. The CCUS Innovation Act “sets forth a comprehensive approach to promoting the development and deployment of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies, including direct air capture, through permitting reform, financial incentives, and federal technical support.” And the New Energy Frontiers Through Carbon Innovation Act “requires the Secretary of Energy to establish a carbon utilization research hub and a program for the research, development, and demonstration of commercially viable technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide produced during the production of natural gas-generated power.”

These three bills are fairly conventional Republican fodder, but the fourth is a real doozy. The “Trillion Trees Act,” to be introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), a professional forester, enters the United States into the United Nations’ Trillion Trees Campaign by adding reforestation as a goal of various foreign aid programs and by creating a long list of new domestic programs. It would establish a National Reforestation Task Force charged with developing “National Wood Growth Targets” and implementing a strategy to plant enough trees in the United States to meet the targets, which must be set every ten years (apparently in perpetuity).

Some of these trees would be planted in our National Forests, where annual massive catastrophic fires create tens of millions of acres that need to be replanted. But these catastrophic fires are caused by far too many trees in our National Forests, which are the result of chronic mismanagement by the U. S. Forest Service. Restoring timber production to 1990 levels and ramping up thinning programs to levels adequate to maintain healthy forest would obviate most of the need for large-scale replanting of burned areas.

Trillion Trees directs the Department of Agriculture “to assist private landowners in storing carbon through active forest management through easements, 30-year contracts and 10-year cost-share agreements.” In other words, it creates another farm subsidy program for landowners. The bill would also create transferable tax credits to promote the use of building materials that store carbon (that is, wood).

On top of that, it directs the National Forest Foundation to fund programs that will give fifth-grade students a seedling to plant and inform them of the carbon storage potential of forests. My view of the primary grades is that they should concentrate on schooling and leave the propaganda until later, when students can read and perhaps think for themselves.

I don’t know where all these trees are going to be planted on private land. Semi-arid rangelands and most grasslands aren’t suitable for forests, and have their own ecological, aesthetic, and economic (particularly for pasturing cattle and sheep) value. A lot of forests in the Mid-East and South have been cleared for farm production. Replanting these areas to forests raises the question of where the corn, wheat, and soybeans that provide (either directly or indirectly through feeding livestock) most of the calories in Americans’ diets is going to be grown. Perhaps if Congress eliminated the ethanol mandate, many of the millions of acres planted to corn could be replanted to trees?

For those who think the global mean temperature is too high, Steve Milloy of JunkScience.com has some bad news. He has pointed out that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2019 Special Report on Climate Change and Land concluded that deforestation causes global cooling. Thus reforestation will cause global warming, even though forests are carbon sinks. The reason is that forests darken the Earth’s surface (technically, have a low albedo) and thereby absorb more of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which then causes more infrared radiation to be reradiated into the atmosphere to be captured by greenhouse gases.

The initial reaction to the House Republicans’ climate bills has been mostly negative. Bloomberg ran a story by Ari Natter that includes several critical comments. The Club for Growth announced that it would not endorse any candidates who support the McCarthy package. Milloy has more criticism of the carbon capture and storage bills at American Greatness plus a footnote at JunkScience.com. And CEI released a brief statement by me.