U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, said investments in nuclear energy infrastructure and climate science are prudent steps in the fight against global warming, while some current proposals go too far.
Flores, a five-term congressman whose district includes Waco, said he recognizes climate change as an issue but opposes the Green New Deal championed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.
A member of the House Environment and Climate Change subcommittee, Flores is part of a growing number of Republicans who acknowledge the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions and oppose the Green New Deal, which Flores calls a “new green nightmare.”
“I was pleased that all the panel and almost everybody up here on the dais has agreed that climate change is real,” Flores, a former oil and gas executive, said at a recent hearing. “The question is: how do we deal with it?”
In an interview with the Tribune-Herald, he said nuclear energy enjoys bipartisan support and cuts the carbon footprint of energy production.
“When we look three decades down the road, next-gen nuclear is competitive,” Flores said. “What we need to be looking at, in terms of a moonshot approach to abundant, clean, affordable energy, is to have the regulatory infrastructure in place, have the licensing infrastructure in place, have completed the basic research and helped facilitate the commercialization of next-gen nuclear and have it set up where that capacity can be coming online over the next three decades to capture the loss of generation as the coal plants drop offline. It’s a multi-decade moonshot.”
Flores’ views stand in contrast with President Donald Trump, who rejects mainstream climate science despite conclusive reports from the United Nations and his own administration outlining the urgency of the matter. Research shows famines, extreme weather events and wildlife disruption become more likely as average global temperatures rise.
“In terms of the macro atmospherics, sometimes some of the things he says aren’t helpful to the conversation,” Flores said. “But we in Congress can still move on a bipartisan basis in several areas.”
Flores said Congress should incentivize and encourage conservation by helping markets drive down the cost of efficient products, including LED lighting.
He opposes a carbon tax, noting more than 80 percent of energy comes from fossil fuels.
“It would have a terribly disruptive impact. … Why put a family through the pain and the economic disruption of jacking up all their costs of living with some kind of a vague promise that they’ll get some of it back somewhere in the future?” Flores said. “That dog just doesn’t hunt.”
He said public-private partnerships should play a role in the future of nuclear energy. He said renewable energy sources including solar and wind power are also a piece of the puzzle, along with improvements to natural gas pipeline infrastructure. Natural gas production and distribution systems have been blamed for leaking significant amounts of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than the much more abundantly emitted carbon dioxide.
Patrick Flavin, an associate professor of political science at Baylor University, said climate change has become “a proxy for partisan identity.”
“For example, me knowing your opinion on tax cuts or on abortion policies would give me not a perfect, but a pretty good prediction about where you stand on how big or small a problem you think climate change is or how much you really think government should do,” Flavin said. “Like most other issues, climate change has become polarized the same as just about every other political issue.”
Polling shows a stark partisan divide on the issue. According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll this month, 61 percent of Democrats said the federal government should be doing “a great deal” about climate change. Only 7 percent of Republicans said the same.
Thirty-six percent of Republicans said the federal government should do “nothing” about climate change, compared to 4 percent of Democrats.
Flores said Trump was correct to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which required a 2.6 percent cut in carbon emissions each year for the next seven years.
“We were already going the right direction on emissions,” Flores said. “Our track record on emissions is the best in the world, in terms of leading industrial economies. So to somehow hamstring ourselves in with a bunch of other countries who aren’t where we are was unfair to American families. So he got it right.”
And on transportation, Flores said he supports a new fuels policy that would allow car makers to build more efficient engines and use a standard fuel in all 50 states that is cost-efficient on fuel and vehicles. He also supports the use of compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas for trucks, trains and maritime vessels.