Op/Ed: Where could Trump find an example of a GOP-led clean energy plan? Texas

President-elect Donald Trump has named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his choice for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump is expected to name the nominees for secretaries of the departments of Energy and the Interior soon.

Conventional wisdom says he will squelch any attempts to address climate change and reduce U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions. However, Donald Trump defies convention. He demonstrates the capacity to be bold and counterintuitive while, at the same time, appealing to his base.

Wouldn't it be deliciously ironic if the Trump administration called for a well-designed energy policy that is consistent with conservative values so that he could claim global leadership in the fight against climate change? He could dominate the negotiation with other world leaders to set the terms of international climate targets.

It would be the ultimate insult to the outgoing administration if Trump were able to accomplish what a Democratic Congress and the Obama administration together could not in 2009: construct a workable suite of policies, investments and technologies to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions efficiently while boosting the economy, creating jobs, protecting the disadvantaged and promoting energy security.

Without talking about climate change itself, Trump could effectively address carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation, industrial and power sectors in ways that promote manufacturing job growth, technological innovation, economic and market efficiency, energy security and public health -- especially for Trump's constituents who live near and work in the industrial and manufacturing facilities he hopes to revive. Trump could establish himself as a respected world leader in addressing climate change by supporting the revenue-neutral carbon tax that dozens of thoughtful conservatives support, but few in Washington are willing to discuss openly.

If done correctly such a measure could accomplish the aforementioned objectives while funding Trump's infrastructure overhaul. New infrastructure would reinforce clean energy investment by including new transmission lines to bring rural Midwest renewables to East Coast power markets and upgrading transportation systems to support vehicle electrification.

Even without a carbon tax, Trump could implement a successful, Republican-led clean energy transition. And there's one place he can turn for an example: Texas.

Earlier this year, the Texas Clean Energy Coalition issued a report by The Brattle Group that showed market forces, not environmental regulations, are driving a clean energy economy in Texas. The market is enabling natural gas and renewables to provide all of the new power generation the state will need for the next 20 years, with no anticipated increase in wholesale power prices except for inflation.

Texas's main power grid operator is expected to cut carbon dioxide emissions 28 percent below 2005 emission levels by 2035, or 61 million tons per year, as new, efficient plants and renewables replace older, dirtier coal-fired power plants. This will easily surpass any carbon-dioxide reductions called for in the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Clean energy has created jobs in Texas. In 2014, the governor's office reported that 1,300 Texas companies employ more than 100,000 people in the renewable energy sector. According to Carlton Schwab, chief executive of the Texas Economic Development Council, these new jobs pay average annual salaries of more than $78,000.

The route Texas took to achieve this clean energy outcome is a story of well-timed policies, including market deregulation and renewables requirements, adopted by staunchly conservative legislators and governors, including George W. Bush and Rick Perry; build-it-and-they-will-come energy infrastructure investment; and a deep belief in allowing energy markets to function with limited interference.

Texas shows that federal regulations aren't always necessary to accomplish clean energy goals while growing the economy, but there is a legitimate role for government. Lawmakers should enact policies that allow energy markets to function without economic distortions in the form of industry bailouts and subsidies. Investments should be made in critically necessary renewable energy transmission infrastructure. Government should allow research and development programs that explore new energy technologies, such as carbon capture and utilization. Policies should be adopted that provide states with incentives for increased competition in wholesale markets organized by regional transmission organizations.

It's within the grasp of the Trump administration to accomplish all of these goals and more, recognizing that confronting climate change is not for the faint of heart. Texas can show him the way to win.


Marilu Hastings is vice president of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation and is a member of the National Petroleum Council for 2016-2017. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. Website: www.CGMF.org

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