Climate & Energy

Carbon tax shifts?

The only obstacle to more state carbon taxes is politics

One of Washington State's conservative think tanks has just proposed a carbon tax shift. Interesting. (Read it here.) The Washington Policy Center has garbed its tax shift proposal in anti-government clothing. Some of the rhetoric makes my skin crawl. But the proposal itself is sensible if modest. It includes a starter carbon tax that pays for a small sales tax reduction. As a bonus, it throws in a business and occupations tax reduction on all capital investment. It's not goofy. It's the kind of thing I was hoping we might get about a decade ago, when energy and climate issues weren't front-page news. Today, I hope we can do better: a comprehensive, auctioned, regional cap-and-trade system with built-in buffers for working families. I'm guessing that the political chances of WPC's proposal are somewhat slimmer than the odds for my preferred climate pricing policy. So rather than engage in a fight over the rhetoric, I'll use it as a springboard to answering four questions that I've had from readers and from people at my speeches on climate policy.

The cost of the status quo

We keep being told how much it will cost us to leave fossil fuels behind. Here’s a little story about how much it will cost us to remain hooked: “According to normal economic theory, and the history of oil, rising prices have two major effects,” said Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, which advises industrialized countries. “They reduce demand and they induce oil supplies. Not this time.” … “What is disturbing here is that things seem to get worse, not better,” an analyst at Goldman Sachs, David Greely, said. “These high prices are not attracting meaningful …

Celebrating Earth Day with Tom Friedman

An interview with The ‘Stache pre-pie-in-the-face

Yes, Tom Friedman came to Brown University on Earth Day to unveil his new book and got hit by a pie. But he cleaned himself up, came back with a joke about surviving Beirut and Jerusalem but running into trouble in Providence, and went on to deliver a stem-winder of an address for an op-ed columnist essentially outlining his latest book. I found The World Is Flat to be a good window into business models in the 21st century. His new offering, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America, promises to be a cogent lassoing and explication of many of the biggest things that matter in the 21st century. Friedman chooses as the crucial drivers: energy supply and demand, climate, the spread of democracy versus petro-authoritarianism, biodiversity, and energy poverty. A few bits from Friedman's speech to look forward to in Hot, Flat, and Crowded and when he returns to columns this month: The McCain gas tax holiday: A "dumb as we want to be" approach to energy policy. On high oil prices and petro-dictatorship: With oil at $25 per barrel, Bush looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. At $100 per barrel, look into Putin's eyes and you'll see "all the instruments of democracy he's swallowed." Did Reagan bring down the USSR -- or was it the decline in oil prices from $80 per barrel to $14.50? And finally, China as the Speed bus, except that it must switch from a diesel to a hybrid engine without going below 50 miles an hour. (That's the first thing since The Matrix that makes you aspire to be Keanu Reeves, isn't it?) Before his speech, I had the chance to catch up with Friedman and ask him a few questions. The short interview is below:

The slow car movement

Easing off the gas eases gas use

A few weeks ago, Clark wrote about truck drivers slowing down to economize on fuel. It's a great story, but was it a real trend or just anecdotal? Photo: Pietro Izzo Well, I'm here to report that there's some truth to it. Or at least some truthiness. A recent Congressional Budget Office paper examining the effects of gas prices found this: "Freeway motorists have adjusted to higher prices by making fewer trips and driving more slowly." That's surprising to me. I mean, I don't slow down when gas prices are high; it would never occur to me. Do other folks?

There is no food shortage

A gap between rich and poor makes free markets fail

It's really an absurd travesty when starvation gets blamed on "global warming do-gooders," and we haven't seen the last of that. The problem is miscast, though. There isn't a food shortage, at least not yet. There is a food price crisis, which is a very different beast. Are its roots in the huge resource gap between the relatively rich and the very poor? If that's true, it has broad implications. Here's one way of looking at it, from the Omaha World-Herald:

There's a hole in my energy bill

Biofuels loophole in 2007 energy bill grandfathers in pollution

A recent report ($ub. req'd) by Greenwire's Ben Geman revealed a massive loophole in the 2007 energy bill that renders meaningless most of the climate safeguards for corn ethanol that Democrats have touted. The loophole exempts any ethanol refineries that have already been built or were under construction at the time the bill passed from meeting the global warming requirements. Those facilities have a combined production capacity of 13.7 billion gallons, just shy of the 15 billion gallons of production mandated in the bill -- meaning that the Democrat-vaunted greenhouse-gas safeguards will apply to only 11 percent of corn ethanol production. With recent studies in the journal Science and elsewhere revealing that corn ethanol takes 167 years to produce enough greenhouse-gas savings to make it as green as regular old oil, and with billions of people struggling with skyrocketing food prices, and millions more acres of forest and savanna being destroyed, that means disaster for the climate and the world's poor.

Live Earth is back, so get ready to rock

Mark your calendars for Oct. 5: Live Earth is back and ready to rock. Kevin Wall, founder of last summer’s international concert extravaganza, says that the October shows will be held on U.S. college campuses, and the focus will be on pushing the presidential candidates to address environmental issues. Locations, bands, and all other specifics are yet to be determined, but will Dreamy Al be involved again? Says Wall: “Absolutely.”

Carbon policy dilemma, 1

You can’t achieve the three goals of climate policy at once

I’ve been thinking about carbon policy lately (shocker, I know), prompted by recent interactions with Monica Prasad, Peter Barnes, and our own Sean Casten. The more I think about it, the more one of the central tensions becomes clear to me. Here are three goals for good climate legislation: Simplicity: The bill should not be hundreds of pages long, packed with addenda, loopholes, provisos, and over-specifications. Complexity boxes out ordinary citizens and insures gaming, rent-seeking, and inefficiency. Political buy-in: Reducing emissions the amount science indicates will likely occupy us for the next century. It is critically important that whatever system …

Obama plays it straight

Energy prices that tell the truth: the real presidential litmus test

Calling all greens: Barack Obama, battling to remain the front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, this weekend took on the most sacred cow in American politics: cheap gas. Campaigning in Indiana, Obama distanced himself from the gas tax "holiday" proposed by Sen. John McCain, saying it may not bring down prices and would require raising other taxes to pay for highway maintenance. "The only way we're going to lower gas prices over the long term is if we start using less oil," Obama said in Anderson. McCain pounced, saying through a campaign spokesman that "Americans need strong leadership that can deliver lower gas prices and a healthier economy, not Barack Obama's inexperience and indecision." Obama's Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, did likewise, unveiling a new ad calling for suspension of the gasoline tax -- a proposal first advanced by McCain on April 15. As U.S. political campaigns go, the contrast between McCain-Clinton's playing the gas-tax card and Obama's brave clarity couldn't be clearer.

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