Why clean-energy funding is politically easier than cap-and-trade
Dave Roberts didn't like my piece on clean energy funding as the next and likeliest strategy for climate policy. His argument rests on my contention that the politics of funding clean energy are better than the politics of taxing dirty energy. But he doesn't really make that case. He just argues that clean energy research doesn't appeal to many Senate Republicans.
True enough. But it doesn't split Senate Democrats as decisively as cap-and-trade does. Consider this paragraph from Ryan Lizza's tick-tock of the cap-and-trade fight:
Lieberman knew that the issue was almost as much regional as ideological. When he went to lobby Evan Bayh, of Indiana, Bayh held up a map of the United States showing, in varying shades of red, the percentage of electricity that each state derived from burning coal, the main source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. The more coal used, the redder the state and the more it would be affected by a cap on carbon. The Northeast, the West Coast, and the upper Northwest of the country were pale. But the broad middle of the country -- Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois -- was crimson. (Indiana, for example, derives ninety-four per cent of its electricity from coal). “Every time Senator Lieberman would open his mouth, Bayh would show him the map,” a Lieberman aide said.
Making coal power more expensive gets you that map, and loses you that vote. Funding research into biofuels does not. And if you want to take a step back, spending money on things is often popular and taxing things never is. That's why the politics are better.
Now, is it hard to scrounge up $25 billion a year? Absolutely. But the National Institutes of Health manage it -- and more. A bad economy and a large deficit have us freaked out about new revenue, but when the economy recovers, some of that will ease. Consider the Bush years, where trillions in tax cuts and Medicare expansions got tossed onto the deficit, or the Clinton years, when S-CHIP was created. We even got money for clean-energy research in the stimulus. You can spend money for popular things. And clean energy -- and dominating new, high-tech industries -- is a popular thing, or at least is more likely to be popular than taxing energy.
That doesn't mean we should abandon cap-and-trade. As I said in the original piece, a price on carbon is still the best possible policy here, and I'll be saying more on that soon. But just as we got a lot of S-CHIP and Medicaid expansions before we got the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I think we can get some serious funding for clean energy over the next few years, even if cap-and-trade takes longer, or never happens.
| October 15, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: Climate Change
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