the national interest

Marco Rubio’s Ideas About Climate and Energy Are Terrifyingly Stupid

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio is not buying all this “science” crap. Photo: Scott R. Galvin/AP/Corbis

Marco Rubio delivered a speech on Friday explaining his energy policy. Actually, “explaining” might be giving Rubio too much credit. It would be more accurate to say that Rubio stated, or uttered, his energy policy. Rubio’s speech served to communicate his complete fealty to the most mindless iteration of drill-baby-drill extractivism. And despite its extreme simplicity, Rubio’s argument for burning every carbon molecule that can be found, as quickly as possible, lacks the benefit of internal coherence. The speech is a persuasive demonstration of the irresponsibility of electing a figure as callow as Rubio to the presidency.

1. Rubio’s speech attempts to weave together two themes. The first is that the Obama administration’s environmental regulations are strangling the energy industry. The second is that the energy industry is developing brilliant new innovations that are creating new jobs and affordable energy for the economy. At no point does Rubio grapple with, or even acknowledge, the tension between these two strands of thought. He simply alternates between hysterical denunciation of job-killing regulation and celebrating the industry’s new triumphs.

Here is Rubio explaining how Big Government has suffocated the energy industry with costly regulation:

On matters of energy, Washington uses a vast regulatory bureaucracy to override consumers and undercut innovators. The results are fewer choices, fewer jobs, and higher prices for our people.

And here is Rubio exulting in the boom of cheap energy that Americans now enjoy:

It was the American innovator who developed horizontal drilling, which has revolutionized global energy in the last decade. This technology, when combined with hydraulic fracturing, allows producers like Jerry to extract oil and natural gas from shale rock. In Ohio alone, it has opened access to an estimated $100 billion of previously unreachable natural gas and $550 billion of previously unreachable oil.

The resulting boom has revitalized American manufacturing and directly or indirectly supported well over a million jobs.

So, according to Rubio, the Obama administration’s energy regulations have simultaneously created “fewer jobs” and “higher prices” but also a “boom” that has produced “over a million jobs.” Rubio somehow believes both these things can be true because his worldview begins and ends with the simple aphorism Government Bad, Markets Good. If good things are happening, it is markets. If bad things are happening, it is government. A hypothetical world in which government might be serving some function while allowing markets to function does not plot onto Rubio’s mental map.

2. Likewise, after praising the emergence of hydraulic fracturing, Rubio asserts that Hillary Clinton opposes this technology:

This is what I mean when I say Democrats like Hillary Clinton are outdated. They label themselves “progressives” yet take pride in opposing economic progress. Even their own constituencies are starting to wonder what’s going on. When ballot measures have come up in Ohio to ban hydraulic fracturing, traditionally democratic groups such as labor unions have led the charge to defeat them.

This is false. Many environmentalists may wish Clinton opposed fracking, but she does not.

3. It is absolutely true that the Obama administration has imposed a wide array of regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions, especially its Clean Power Plan, which is forcing the electricity sector to transition to lower-emission sources. The central policy proposal in Rubio’s speech is to “immediately stop the Clean Power Plan.” Rubio has cast doubt on the validity of climate science. In this speech, Rubio does not actually make a case that reducing carbon emissions is pointless. The closest he comes is an offhand dismissive reference to Obama believing “energy policy is more about trying to change the weather.” (Climate-science deniers like to conflate climate with weather, as if the two are the same.) Other than this one offhand reference, Rubio provides no explanation as to why the regulations he denounces so forcefully exist at all.

4. Rubio does not show a very clear understanding of how renewable energy works. He praises fossil fuels on the grounds that we’re sitting on all this energy, so we might as well use it. In the very next sentence, he dismisses solar and wind energy:

The $100 billion dollars of natural gas and $550 billion of oil beneath our feet are doing the people of Ohio no good pent up in shale rock. Yet Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to argue it’s more important for us to subsidize wind turbines and solar panels than to expand access to our extraordinary reserves. In June, he committed America to generating 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, which would triple our wind- and solar-generated power.

It’s true that America has a lot of fossil fuels. It also has a lot of wind and sun. You could turn Rubio’s logic completely around: All that solar and wind energy does the people no good if we don’t harness it. The disconnect between these thoughts does not seem to occur to him.

5. On energy, and many other issues, Rubio’s policy vision — like that of his fellow Republicans — is to overturn Obama-era reforms and restore Bush-era policy priorities. Given the unpopularity of the Bush administration, this approach has a natural political drawback. Rubio’s solution to the dilemma is to use his youth as a framing device that allows him to present his Bush-era policies as “new” and Clinton’s Obama-era policies as “old.” Rubio uses this method in every speech, including his energy speech. The message here is not exactly subliminal:

An outdated political establishment in Washington is holding us back from achieving that potential 

If we elect Hillary Clinton as president – an outdated leader who believes President Obama’s restrictions haven’t gone far enough …

Democrats like Hillary Clinton are outdated. They label themselves “progressives” yet take pride in opposing economic progress.

It seems bizarre to frame Rubio’s plan to reject the scientific consensus and redouble American reliance on fossil fuels as “new,” and to mock a plan to transition to emerging green energy sources as “old.” But the entire premise of Rubio’s candidacy is that the only thing standing between the Republican Party and a restoration of its long-standing policy agenda is a young face that calls its ideas new.

Rubio’s Ideas About Energy Terrifyingly Stupid