Over the last year, we watched as energy prices hit record highs in the United States, putting strain on families and communities across the country. As any savvy politician would, Republicans made this a core part of their messaging to voters ahead of the 2022 midterms. After all, it’s the economy, stupid.
A wide range of factors have impacted energy prices, not least the role of President Biden and his administration’s apparent anti-energy policies. From shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office to temporarily halting new oil and gas leases on public lands, the administration’s message to American energy producers has been clear. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent sanctions against Russia have only accelerated and compounded the problem. Energy prices and inflation seemed to be top of mind for voters headed to the polls in November.
Unfortunately for the GOP, it didn’t quite work out that way. While Republicans spent most of the midterms railing against the Biden administration and highlighting rising energy prices, recent polling from my organization shows that only 17 percent of Americans were convinced by this messaging. Prioritizing affordability as the first and foremost feature of energy policy is, apparently, deeply unpopular. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the GOP’s dismal election performance and subsequent chaotic Speaker election process.
In many ways, this reflects the growing trend of climate awareness among voters. Increasingly, Americans are concerned not just with having reliable and affordable energy, but also whether it pollutes or not. Indeed, the same polling showed that 43 percent of voters, a clear plurality, want to balance economic growth along with tackling the climate challenge. Only 30 percent want to prioritize reducing emissions without taking into account the economy. Energy affordability without climate awareness — and climate without energy affordability awareness — are both losing messages.
Americans want leaders who understand the intertwined challenges that they face on a daily basis. For instance, a farmer in the Midwest certainly cares about soaring gas prices, but he’s also experiencing firsthand the effects of a changing climate on agriculture. Hearing a candidate propose solutions to one challenge while ignoring the other comes across as unconvincing and incomplete.
The truth is we can, in fact,do both. Addressing the climate challenge is not an automatic loss for the economy and growing our economy does not mean dismissing environmental concerns. There are policy proposals that our leaders should champion that would accomplish both goals. Unleashing American energy production could bring down both costs and emissions. Implementing ambitious permitting reform to streamline red tape could make it easier to build new clean energy infrastructure, again bringing down both costs and emissions. Investing in technologies such as batteries for wind and solar, as well as next-generation nuclear energy, hydrogen, as well as carbon capture and storage, could establish America as a world leader in clean energy production, while producing jobs at home. Those are policy solutions that are convincing to Americans, showing them that we care about both their livelihood and the planet their children will inherit.
The 2022 midterms made one thing clear: Dismissing climate concerns in the name of energy affordability does not resonate with Americans. Rather than criticizing those who prioritize climate, House Republicans should work to convince American people that they can actually address climate change and energy affordability better than their Democratic counterparts. The midterms were certainly no climate election, but they weren’t a slam dunk on energy prices and inflation either. In fact, the opposite is true. If Republicans want to address energy affordability concerns — as they rightfully should — they need to pair this with a convincing environmental platform as well.
Christopher Barnard is the vice president of external affairs at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisBarnardDL