May 13, 2018

E&E News: Cassidy Charts Own Course on Climate Change

Cassidy charts own course on climate change

By Geof Koss

May 8, 2018

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When French President Emmanuel Macron urged a joint session of Congress last month to heed the risks of climate change, his comments caught the ear of one Republican senator in the audience.

Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, whose home state is a major oil and gas producer, was struck by Macron’s call for a “smooth transition” to a low-carbon economy. The message resonated with the senator in part because of a conversation on that very subject he had had the previous day with a member of the French Parliament who was traveling with Macron.

That French politician pointed to the high percentage of carbon-free nuclear energy that powers his country, but conceded that Cassidy was correct when he noted that France’s “nuclear base is about to expire … and it’s too expensive to replace,” the senator recalled to E&E News after the speech.

Also capturing Cassidy’s attention were the words that immediately preceded the climate portion of Macron’s speech, in which the president called for the protection of the middle class, which he called “the backbone of our democracies.”

Macron “made it sound like these are isolated issues which have to be addressed separately,” said Cassidy, who sees the fate of the middle class in a global economy and the push to decarbonize as inextricably linked. 

Both points made in the speech provide a window into the mind of Cassidy, who since joining the Senate in 2015 has spent a surprising amount of time and energy thinking about climate change.

In press releases, in op-eds and during hearings on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which he sits, Cassidy regularly brings up climate change unprompted — usually while touting the benefits of natural gas, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal or oil and a resource that his state happens to produce, consume and export in large quantities.

[I]n a recent interview, Cassidy spoke of finding “common ground” with Democrats on energy policies that recognize the positive economic and environmental benefits of natural gas, which he sees as complementing greater use of intermittent renewables favored by the opposite party.

“You get the health benefits of lower particulate matter, lower mercury and everything else, but you also get the ability to power a modern economy and you also enable, if you wish, the deployment of renewables,” he said. “So it all works together.”

Unapologetically pro-fossil-fuel and dismissive of what he calls the “environmental left,” Cassidy doesn’t dispute the science of climate change, which he calls “valid.”

What Cassidy takes issue with are the solutions proffered to address warming.

“What I’m just saying is, what are the practical means to address it?” he said last month. “And the practical means to address it by the left are absurd.”

Cap-and-trade emissions schemes and carbon taxes are a nonstarter for Cassidy, who sees the European Union as a cautionary tale.

“The reality is, you can look at manufacturing jobs in the E.U. after they began to do their cap and trade, and there was a migration of that industry to China,” he said, noting lax Chinese environmental standards and that nation’s continued financial support of building new coal-fired power plants in other nations.

“They’re not serious about this,” he says of China. “So what have we done about global greenhouse gas emissions? We’ve done nothing.”

Cassidy set out to identify policies that “create jobs for the American people and meet the concerns of the left about greenhouse gas emissions” and came to the conclusion that such “common ground” exists. “It’s called natural gas,” he said.

He’s looked to expand natural gas use in transportation, including in vehicles and shipping, and earlier this year penned a letter to the U.N. Green Climate Fund arguing that the use of natural gas in infrastructure projects in developing countries “will ensure the highest decrease in emissions for the money invested.”

Tangible progress may be incremental, but Cassidy is in it for the long haul.

“I think we have so much to do to socialize the idea that you will decrease global greenhouse gas emissions with more widespread deployment of natural gas,” he conceded.

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