News Flow: a look at some of the most interesting developments from this current week. Come across a good article? Leave it in a comment below!
(Given the multidisciplinary approach to this site and my interests, trying to put these various articles into categories is perhaps arbitrary. Nevertheless, I’ll try to group them… somehow…)
Old Energy Strategies, New CenturyBy ANDREW C. REVKIN
The Op-Ed page has published “Pain at the Pump? We Need More,” a very retro-feeling proposal for a rising price on carbon-emitting energy sources by Daniel C. Esty, the new commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and Michael E. Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School.
In this piece, they join the stalwart crew of economists, climate campaigners and others who are holding on to the notion that the climate challenge is a 20th-century style pollution problem that essentially goes away if the indirect costs are “internalized,” prompting polluters (all of us) to shift energy habits and choices and move from energy consumption to energy innovation.
I’m all for the latter shift, but I’m among those who see better prospects of accomplishing that through some mix of a modest, even patriotic, “pay as you go” fee, an eventual end to distorting subsidies — something some conservatives seek, as well — and boosted and re-focused federal investments in research and development (and education). (You can catch more of my thoughts on where we go from here in fresh interviews with Treehugger Radio and EarthSky.)
[April 29, 5:45 p.m. | Updated The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has offered a detailed rebuttal of the Esty/Porter thesis. Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations revealed some deep flaws in their thesis (hat tip to Keith Kloor).]
At the global level, the limits of a carbon restriction or price seem pretty well established. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that emissions reductions claimed by industrialized countries adhering to the Kyoto Protocol’s greenhouse-gas limits (the United States stayed on the sidelines) simply occurred elsewhere.
Also, in 2009 the International Energy Agency concluded that theorized trajectories for raising the price of carbon-emitting energy would not nudge innovation efforts substantially until 2025 or later.
At the national level, these days any Washington talk of a rising cost on carbon generally comes up only in debates over why cap-and-trade legislation failed.
And while some conservatives, notably Charles Krauthammer, have long pushed for a substantial increase in the gas tax, they’ve insisted that it be “revenue neutral,” with clear compensatory tax reductions elsewhere.
Esty and Porter make the additional argument that voters would be much more apt to accept their proposal as a source of federal revenue than a rise in the income tax or the like.
The last time someone proposed using a fee or tax on energy to raise revenues to pay down a deficit, in 1993, it was defeated with the help of coal-friendly Democrats. Don’t take my word for that. President Bill Clinton said so in a videotaped sit-down interview in 2008 (5 minutes in).
That year, he asserted that energy attitudes had changed. I’m not sure he’d say that now.