Kevin McCarthy’s first legislative farce: The “Lower Energy Costs Act” is a fossil-fuel scam.

Carl Pope
5 min readMar 31, 2023


“This article earlier published in Salon

The first new legislation of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s Republican Congress — HR1, the Lower Energy Costs Act — is an exorbitantly mislabeled bill. It allows utilities and pipeline companies to build thoroughly unnecessary energy infrastructure, which will be paid for by electricity and gas consumers decades into the future. Despite its name, it will raise energy prices by fast-tracking efforts by oil, gas, and coal producers to export an ever-expanding share of U.S. production, a strategy that has already tripled gas prices for American consumers. What this legislation reveals is that McCarthy go to nearly any lengths to allow his extreme-right members sacrifice the public interest to the interests of fossil-fuel producers.

The substance of this bill, to be fair, is entirely consistent with the stance Republicans are taking in every other arena of energy regulation: increase reliance on coal and oil, the most expensive fuels; slow down the production of cheaper energy sources, particularly wind and solar electricity; increase the freedom of fossil fuel producers to set exorbitant prices; allow wasteful and unnecessary investment in pipelines and other forms of oil and gas infrastructure which will soon become useless relics.

This disconnect is rooted in an economic reality that is especially awkward for Republicans. Renewable energy, no matter how much it was belittled by Donald Trump and how much big GOP donors despise it, is already less expensive than coal, oil, and gas. Not just a little bit less expensive — a lot. At this point, there’s only one coal-fired power plant in the entire nation that remains is economically competitive with renewables. Solar and wind power now offer the cheapest electricity in history. The cost of owning and operating an electric car is now significantly less than a gasoline or diesel competitor. New electrified homes, built to emit zero pollution, are cheaper than inefficient, polluting gas-dependent models.

Trump, along with Fox News and the Koch donor network, has successfully convinced Republicans that they must ignore these realities. In response, a new generation of GOP leaders has assembled an astonishing and bizarre array of arguments for why more expensive energy and power are somehow good for America — or at least for conservatives.

Perhaps their most bizarre argument is that renewable energy, however cheap it may be, is some kind of communist plot. Since China has so far outdone the U.S. at making solar panels and batteries, the Heartland Institute — and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — have apparently concluded that increasing American production of solar panels and electric vehicles is a Communist Party plot. By this logic, the U.S. response to Sputnik should have been, “Leave the Moon to the Russians.”

Other Republicans argue we should cling to the fossil fuel economy because our parents had no other choice. North Dakota produces both expensive coal power and cheap wind power. Officials in Minnesota decided they would no longer import North Dakota coal power — it wanted the cheap wind. Instead of responding to their state’s major electricity customer, North Dakota Republicans passed county ordinances prohibiting new wind development, and sued Minnesota to make it take dirtier, pricier power from old coal plants.

Republicans in Ohio even think that corrupt bargains which raise utility bills should be honored — if they help the failing coal industry. A couple of older coal plants in the Buckeye State have been uncompetitive for years, so their owners conspired to bribe the speaker of the Ohio state House to force customers to buy their overpriced power so the plants could be kept running. He took the bribe, got caught and was recently convicted. But Ohio Republicans still insist that the state’s energy consumers should still have to take this bribery-protected power — and pay full price for it. The logic appears to be that conservatives must honor their contracts, even if they result from a criminal conspiracy.

Then we move south to the Sunshine State. Florida’s monopoly utilities, relying on nuclear and gas, cannot compete with cheap rooftop solar power generated by customers. So, they went to the legislature and got a law requiring utility customers to pay them for electricity customers didn’t use — with the net effect being that the less competitive the utilities were, the more they could charge consumers. So much for the spirit of capitalism! This sailed through the Republican-dominated legislature but was too much for Gov. Ron DeSantis and his presidential ambitions. who vetoed it. (Since only 3% of Floridians favored this bill, a veto was not one of DeSantis’ more difficult political choices.)

Finally, and most revealingly, consider Texas, which decided almost 20 years ago that since West Texas had enormous wind power potential, it would build a new grid to carry that electricity to its urban areas. That worked well: Building that transmission made Texas wind compellingly cheap. At the same time, however, Texas was also building gas plants to replace its older coal-burning facilities. The state ended up with heavy reliance on wind power (and more recently solar power) in drier, sunnier West Texas, and a gas reliant power system in humid East Texas.

When the export market for liquefied natural gas exploded, Texas gas became expensive, rising in price from $3 per thousand cubic feet to $8 in just six months. Moreover, power from gas turned out to be not just expensive, but unreliable. In both summer heat waves and winter polar vortexes, Texas gas plants broke down when the state needed them most — costing consumers billions of dollars they are still paying off.

The state decided it needed more generation, which was logical enough. But politicians (that is, Republicans) decided that power had to come from burning gas, however expensive and unreliable that is. Instead of building more cheap wind and solar facilities (since the supply of wind and sun is effectively limitless), which are proven to handle heat and cold, Texas Republicans deliberately excluded renewable energy from their expansion plans. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick specifically promised to keep wind and solar out of this round, and other fossil-fuel Republicans were even more emphatic. State Sen. Bryan Hughes proclaimed. “If there is a proposal for a new economic development program … if it has wind and solar, I’m not just gonna vote no. I’m gonna do everything I can to kill it. I can tell you that will not pass the Texas Senate with wind and solar in it.”

The result of this nonsense is that counties in east Texas already being bled dry by gas prices will see their rates go even higher, while counties in west Texas will be on the hook for the bill from the next power collapse during a winter snowstorm. Republicans from Texas to Washington will sing the praises of “cheap power” while ramping up the rates consumers actually pay as fast as he can.

This approach — drive up energy prices by clinging to dirtier and less reliable fuels — is the heart not just of Kevin McCarthy’s ludicrous HR1, but of national GOP energy strategy. They want to choke off the technologies that are winning the energy-affordability race — because they use fuel that is literally free. Then they plan to weaken reliability and health standards to soften the economic blow and do everything possible to displace outrage towards liberals when this combination of dangerous, uncompetitive fuels and weak safety standards have devastating effects on communities like East Palestine, Ohio.

Kevin McCarthy shouldn’t get away with it, any more than Greg Abbott should. Cleaner, cheaper energy is right in front of us — the numbers don’t lie.



Carl Pope

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, former executive director & chairman Sierra Club and Senior Climate Advisor to Michael Bloomberg