Am I the only one who had no idea the Treasury Department started an Office of Environment and Energy? Apparently it happened late summer of last year. The office was created by Hank Paulson to …

… develop, coordinate, and execute the Treasury Department’s role in the domestic and international environment and energy agenda of the United States. Among other things, the office will oversee international financial mechanisms to support U.S. and global environmental goals, such as the multi-billion dollar Clean Technology Fund established in July, the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, and the Global Environmental Facility, as well as contribute to the development of domestic and international policy options to address climate change.

There’s weirdly little info out there about what exactly the office is and what it will do under Geithner’s leadership. The Treasury website says nothing about it.

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Apparently it’s headed by William A. (Billy) Pizer, who was most recently with Resources for the Future and was a participant in the IPCC. Googling around turns up a few other names. Judson Jaffe is involved; he used to be on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, then worked for the Analysis Group. He’s a frequent co-author with noted environmental economist Robert Stavins. RFF’s Daniel Hall will also be joining the office (his post is what tipped me off to its existence). A couple more folks — Andrew Velthaus and Beth Urbanas — turn up, though the internets yield little info on them beyond Facebook.

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I’m certainly not qualified to pass judgment on any of these folks individually, and without more info it’s hard to say much about what the office itself will do. So I speak here as a blogger — that is, popping off with insufficient information. But I’ll be honest about my gut reaction: as anyone who read this post knows, I view the president’s economic team generally, and his Treasury team specifically, as a net negative influence on climate/energy policy. Unlike some of the people elsewhere in the administration, these folks come straight out of mainstream economics, and bring all that discipline’s biases to bear. Mainstream economists tend to understate the cost of inaction, overstate the cost of action, rely too heavily on models that account poorly for efficiency and innovation, and possess an aversion to command-and-control regulation and public investment that discounts the success such approaches have had in the past. Obviously you don’t want to make climate/energy policy divorced from the counsel of economists, but I’d prefer they not be in charge — I’d rather it be run by people who are smart about technology, business, efficiency, politics, or some combination thereof.

I worry that if Treasury is closely involved in domestic climate/energy policy, those biases will heavily shape the outcome and yield far less ambition than is needed. Perhaps Pizer and his office will push Geithner and Summers in a positive direction. Or perhaps they’ll simply be a bureaucratic arm through which Geithner and Summers push their preferences.

Perhaps — and here I’m getting really crazy — I should learn something about this office before making any further pronouncements!

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