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On Concessions

October 12, 2009

Opening the Week in Review yesterday, I was heartened to see an op-ed by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsay Graham (D-S.C.) saying that a climate bill will be passed. Then I read it.

It starts out with some pap about bipartisanship and “honest give-and-take” then proceeds to enumerate a Republican wish list of components to be included in a climate bill.

  1. A “market-based system that will provide both flexibility and time for big polluters to come into compliance” – while there’s nothing wrong a market-based system, saying that the bill would give big polluters time defeats the whole purpose of the bill. We’re in a hurry, guys. If we had started 20 years ago, we could have leisurely reduced emissions. Today, we don’t have time.
  2. “Nuclear power needs to be a core component of electricity generation if we are to meet our emission reduction targets.” Well, not really. As Joe Romm points out, even aside from the significant concerns about the safety of nuclear plants and their waste, nuclear power isn’t cost-efficient in general and is a relatively expensive way to reduce emissions.
  3. The next two-part point promotes clean coal and expanded domestic fossil fuel drilling as a way to break our dependence on foreign oil. First, “The United States should aim to become the Saudi Arabia of clean coal.” Clean coal, like nuclear, would be an expensive way to reduce emissions, if it existed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Joe Romm helps again in explaining why quote-unquote clean coal isn’t worth the investment.
  4. And second, “In addition, we are committed to seeking compromise on additional onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration — work that was started by a bipartisan group in the Senate last Congress.” As I wrote in this piece for the Hoya last year, simple math makes it clear that, as long as we’re hooked on oil, we’ll be hooked on foreign oil. The United States consumes a quarter of the oil produced globally while possessing only a tenth of the reserves. Additionally, any oil produced in the United States would be sold on the global market.
  5. The final two points – placing a collar on the cost of emission allowances and enacting tariffs on goods from countries don’t have emissions reduction targets – are both reasonable, though less significant in the grand scheme of things. A price collar is definitely a good idea that will shield the nascent green economy as well as companies generally that are in the process of reducing emissions from volatility, allowing them to plan more effectively in their transitions. The carbon tariff is a tough one – I don’t have a solid grasp on its implications as of now.

The op-ed then goes on to raise the boogieman of the EPA, which is planning on regulating emissions if Congress doesn’t come through. That may, ultimately, be the preferred outcome if a bill passed by the Senate is too weak.

It’s great to see an important Republican such as Graham pushing the climate bill but my question is why Kerry even put his name on this. A few Republicans votes will likely be necessary if a bills is to pass and all of these concessions, if limited in scope relative to the other measures of the bill, would be acceptable if they lead to the bill’s passage. But why would Kerry want to emphasize them? Why wouldn’t he emphasize the benefits of the bill as a whole? Let Graham write this op-ed himself.

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