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The Gop's New Energy Plan Looks... Oddly Familiar

House Republicans have finally unveiled their own proposals for energy and climate change. You can download the 150-page American Energy Act off the GOP site. Here's one noteworthy provision in the "bill":

Nothing in the Clean Air Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.

Any guesses where this is going? Here's another bit:

The impact of greenhouse gas on any species of fish or wildlife or plant shall not be considered for any purpose in the implementation of this Act.

Okay, so it's not a climate bill. But it does have plenty of energy provisions. Specifically, a focus on expanded drilling for oil and gas—both offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There's also an all-you-can-eat buffet of tax breaks and subsidies for various industries—notably carbon-heavy tar sands and coal-to liquids production, but also for wind, biomass, and solar. Now, as Keith Johnson quips, this newfound Republican affection for clean energy is awfully curious, since the GOP never had any use for renewables or energy efficiency when they actually had votes to pass legislation. But maybe they've had a change of heart.

The backbone of the proposal, meanwhile, is a goal of building 100 new nuclear plants in the United States by 2030. The bill doesn't mandate construction, mind you—it's more of a hazy aspiration. And how do we actually get there? After all, one of the biggest hurdles nuclear power faces is that new plants are expensive to build. A carbon tax or cap-and-trade system would give utilities incentive to consider nuclear generation. But the GOP doesn't want to regulate carbon. And it's doubtful that the extra subsidies they offer nuclear can close the cost gap with coal and natural gas.

Instead, the bill just promises to cut through all the "red tape" that's supposedly preventing new nuclear plants from being built. Now, a major MIT study on the future of nuclear power recently uggested that cost was a far bigger problem than regulatory hurdles. So it's unclear whather this would accelerate the deployment of nuclear power at all. In fact, seeing as how the GOP would eliminate the prospect of ever addressing carbon and climate change, one likely outcome is that utilities would just keep favoring cheap, dirty coal plants. Why bother with alternatives if they're free to pollute?

In any case, this bill seems intended more as a means of providing the GOP with talking points, rather than as a piece of serious legislation. And, as Joe Romm notes, it looks suspiciously like the Dick Cheney approach to energy policy. Still, it'd be interesting to see a mainstream analysis of both the cost of the Republican bill and of the expected reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions it would actually achieve. I'd guess the answer to the latter would be close to zero, but why not find out?

--Bradford Plumer