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Americans prefer third-rate ideas on energy

A new poll commissioned by the National Resources Defense Council appears to show that Americans want the Environmental Protection Agency to limit greenhouse emissions from power plants, refineries and other businesses. And this has some liberal bloggers dismayed. These results are similar to those from past surveys that also found that Americans dislike better ideas, such as a market-friendly carbon price. Americans seem to like reducing carbon emissions in ways that make the price less visible to them. But, ironically, those policies will ultimately cost them more -- inefficient executive branch regulation, the costs of which businesses would pass on to consumers, instead of an innovation-inducing carbon tax, the proceeds of which the government could rebate right back to Americans.

The New Republic’s Jon Chait points out that climate policy should benefit from the structure of America’s representative democracy -- the people’s chosen representatives, a political elite, make policy, not the people themselves. Those representatives should make the more rational policy choice to achieve an end -- carbon abatement -- that seems to have public support.

Kevin Drum counters: “In the case of carbon regulation, the only elites who really matter are big corporations, and I think they've made the tactical calculation that EPA regs are less bad than either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.”

That’s wrong on many levels.

Businesses are actually terrified of EPA regulation. It would be less accountable to the congressmen over whom corporations have influence, demand expensive alterations in firm operations without any compensation, and change, perhaps drastically, from administration to administration. By contrast, legislation that would have priced carbon with a cap-and-trade mechanism actually attracted surprisingly wide support from business this year, evidencing that, in fact, they were not “the only elites who really matter” in climate policy. At the very least, it’s far too simple to claim that the big corporate boogeyman is responsible for the failure of the climate bill in the Senate. Many corporations saw cap-and-trade as the lesser of two evils.

Actually, the incentives against voting for good climate policy in the Senate have to do much more with the various effects carbon pricing would have on different regions. Senators from the Southeast and Midwest see carbon pricing as a visible way to tax their voters for the benefit of the coasts, which have more and better-developed renewable energy resources and less energy-intensive manufacturing. Many of those same senators are Republicans with primary voters who don’t even believe in man-induced global warming.

These senators don't appreciate that ignoring the problem is even more dangerous for their regions in the long-term than addressing it well is for their political fortunes in the short term. American carbon emissions will have to go down eventually, and doing so will always be more expensive for some rather than others. Those costs only increase the longer Congress does nothing. Better to start soon under a policy Congress designs to redress regional differences. Or maybe senators know all this and only care about short-term political considerations. Either way, if good climate policy is to pass, it will require Americans’ elected representatives to make use of their brains and their spines.

By Stephen Stromberg  | August 31, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

Mr Stromberg the average citizen would love to go to a new energy source but we are broke and not afford higher bills right now. Add in the fact that the new technology still is a buggy mess and how can you wonder why we are skeptical?

As an aside we the citizen no longer trust's the government when it says it is going to wind up in a rebate for us. They said the same thing about SS and stole all the money we paid in and now say it is broke and we are screwed.

Posted by: PennyWisetheClown | August 31, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse


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Posted by: ssdfknwefo | August 31, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse


Obama could have saved his breath, and three hundred million Americans could have watched regularly scheduled TV without a boring and useless address by a boring and useless president.

Unless Obama resigns, as he should, I suppose we are to suffer his smarmy and moronic thoughts for another couple of years. May all the gods help us avoid that!

Posted by: surfer-joe | August 31, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

PennyWisetheClown @ August 31, 2010 8:32 PM: Penny wise, Dollar foolish I suppose.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | September 1, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

PennyWise,

Not acting on climate and clean energy will NOT stop rising utility bills: The typical American household expenditure on electricity rose $170 between 2001 -2007. The next decade will be no different then the last one unless we pass a clean energy and climate bill that includes efficiency incentives.

Such a bill will reduce global warming pollution and significantly lower oil imports at a modest cost of less than a postage stamp a day. Find out more:
http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ljohnson/the_nonpartisan_congressional.html
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/04/bushs_broken_energy_system.html

Posted by: MeghanNRDC | September 1, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

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