Jeb Bush’s statement on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, finalized Monday, is probably the closest he has come to admitting that climate change is a problem.
Under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan directs states to limit carbon emissions from the electricity sector. It is the administration’s strongest action yet to combat climate change.
Prospective voters might reasonably think that admitting there is a problem would encourage a candidate to support solutions, but that’s not the direction Bush chose to go Sunday.
Pointing out that U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases are down to mid-1990s levels, Bush argued that regulation is not going to help. “A chief reason for this success is the energy revolution which was created by American ingenuity — not federal regulations,” he said.
It’s worth taking some time to unpack that statement.
First, Bush says it is a success to decrease emissions. Scientists agree with that. It’s also true that emissions from the energy sector have fallen. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that.
But decreased emissions have been driven by a few key things: efficiency improvements (largely encouraged by policy decisions), improvements in the transportation sector (largely encouraged by policy decisions), and a dramatic shift in electricity generation from coal to natural gas, wind, and solar. Those, too, have been encouraged by policy decisions. All three of these technologies were supported by the Department of Energy. For wind and solar, those technological investments were followed by tax credits.
This is not pointed out to diminish the role of American ingenuity. In the past decades, the solar and wind industries have appeared virtually out of nowhere, largely on the backs of creative business models allowing the new technology to compete with entrenched fossil fuels.
Getting back to into Bush’s statement, let’s look at benchmarks. A decrease to mid-1990s levels — while impressive-sounding — is not going to be enough to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Scientists at the International Panel on Climate Change estimate that the United States needs to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. In other words, 1990 levels are not going to cut it.
Does Bush know this? He does, at least, believe climate change is a problem to be solved.
“Climate change will not be solved by grabbing power from states or slowly hollowing out our economy,” Bush said in the statement Sunday. “The real challenge is how do we grow and prosper in order to foster more game-changing innovations and give us the resources we need to solve problems like this one.”
In one statement, Bush has recognized that climate change is a problem to be solved, but side-stepped what it will take.
Still, this is different from how he has talked about the problem in the past. This spring, he said people who accept the science of climate change were “really arrogant.” Of course, a month earlier, he told prospective voters in New Hampshire, “The climate is changing, and I’m concerned about that.”
Bush has backed himself into a corner here. “I don’t think it’s the highest priority. I don’t think we should ignore it, either,” he said at the time. “Just generally I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science.”
So, climate change is a problem, but we shouldn’t worry about it. We should do something about it, but we shouldn’t use regulation.
“The real challenge is how do we grow and prosper in order to foster more game-changing innovations and give us the resources we need to solve problems like this one,” Bush said.
Obama has an idea. It’s called the Clean Power Plan, and the administration estimates it will lower Americans’ electricity bills and decrease premature deaths caused by fossil fuel energy pollution by 88 percent.
It’s unclear whether voters will find out what Bush’s idea is.