James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

On climate change, Romney is pretty consistent

Aug 25, 2011 16:49 UTC

What Mitt Romney is saying today about climate change is pretty much what he’s been saying all along. First, here is what he said yesterday:

Asked about global warming at a town hall meeting in Lebanon, New Hampshire, Romney said he believed the world is getting hotter and humans contribute in some way to the change — but could not judge to what extent. ”Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”

“What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”

In June, a day after launching his second bid for the White House, Romney caused a stir by saying he thought humans had contributed to climate change to some extent. At that time he made a call for a reduction of “emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that might be significant contributors” to climate change — a suggestion that was not made on Wednesday.

A Romney aide said the candidate has not altered his position on climate change.

Still, using additional domestic nuclear, natural gas, and other resources could have a side benefit of cutting carbon emissions, Romney said. “My view is pursue a strategy which gets us into energy independence which has as a byproduct it gets us into less CO2 emitting.”

He criticized a bill backed by President Barack Obama that would have capped carbon emissions and allowed polluters to buy and sell rights to emit carbon. ”I do not believe in cap and trade and I do not believe in putting a carbon cap” on polluting industries, Romney said.

In his book “No Apology,” Romney describes his position this way, far more directly:

I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to man and how much is attributable to factors out of our control. … Internationally, we should work to limit the increase in emissions in global greenhouse gases, but in doing so we shouldn’t put ourselves in a disadvantageous position that penalizes American jobs and economic growth.

Romney is clearly in favor of limiting carbon emissions — at least in theory — but does not want to cripple the U.S. economy or spend trillions of dollars for “extreme and expensive measures” like cap-and-trade to do it. He mentions the work of Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg who believes “addressing the remediation of the effects of global warming [is] far more economic and far more humane than massive spending to reduce emissions.”

Romney also spends considerable time in his book explaining the pros and cons of a carbon tax-payroll tax swap, a plan favored by economist and Romney adviser Greg Mankiw and many other Republican-leaning economists. Among the positives, he says:  1) revenue neutrality; 2) higher energy prices would encourage energy efficiency; 3) industry would have a predictable outlook for energy costs; 4) profit incentives rather than government  subsidies would encourage the development of “oil substitutes and carbon-reducing technologies.” And there is this:

Comparative analyses of the tax-swap plan with a cap-and-trade system have demonstrated that the tax swap is likely to be five times as effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and, presumably, five times as effective in reducing energy consumption.

Romney does add, however, that “a great deal of work needs remains to be done if it is to become a viable option.”

Bottom line: Romney wants to use markets and incentives to reduce carbon emissions and lower U.S. dependence on overseas oil, not net tax hikes or mandates or regulations. This is not the Rick Perry position, of course. So the issue marks an interesting contrast between the two candidates. Grover Norquist puts it this way: ”If Perry was president, one of the things I’d not worry about is a carbon tax. I’d worry about big spiders eating New Jersey first.”

COMMENT

Sounds like Mitt doesn’t know much period.

Posted by seattlesh | Report as abusive

Raise taxes by $751 billion to save $19 billion

Jul 8, 2010 20:01 UTC

Kevin Williamson of National Review doesn’t think much of the CBO report that finds a climate change bill would reduce the deficit by $19 billion:

That piffling $19 billion deficit reduction is achieved by imposing a tax hike of three-quarters of a trillion dollars — the CBO puts the number at $751 billion — on the American people, and then spending all but the last $19 billion of the revenue generated. Here’s a radical idea: If you want to reduce the deficit by a (paltry, embarrassingly tiny, too slightly to really seriously mention it) $19 billion, how about you just pass a $19 billion tax hike and skip the part where you spend more than the cost of the Iraq War creating a new politically driven securities market to chase marginal atmospheric benefits related to the emission of carbon dioxide, which is not even the most important greenhouse gas? For perspective, you could just cancel the Depression-era farm-income stabilization program and save a nice round $20 billion.

That $19 billion in savings is great — if you only look at the balance sheet at Treasury and ignore cap-and-trade’s effects on the economy, the actual economy that exists out there in the real world. The Obama administration estimates the cost of cap-and-trade at 1 percent of GDP per year ($146 billion dollars), scholars at the Heritage Foundation put it at $393 billion per year, and others have estimated even higher costs. You know what the Obama administration’s numbers and the Heritage Foundation’s numbers have in common? They’re all a heck of a lot more than $19 billion — orders of magnitude bigger.

COMMENT

Has anybody in DC checked their electric bill lately or does somebody else pay for that as well?

Posted by Scarybarry | Report as abusive

Volcanoes, healthcare reform and global warming

Apr 27, 2010 17:49 UTC

Over at Edge, a variety of scientists give their take on the Iceland volcano eruption and its impact on air travel. Two really stood out to me. The first also highlights the problem of defensive medicine; the second shows the downside to action dealing with global warming:

DANIEL KAHNEMAN

Psychologist, Princeton; Recipient, 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

Imagine a public official who considers an action that involves a small and ambiguous risk of disaster. Imagine further that the best expert judgment available is that the expected social benefit of the action is large and that the risks are real but tolerably small. Such situations inevitably create a conflict between the interests of society and those of the officials who are charged to decide on its behalf.

Hindsight and personal accountability are the problem. Decision makers can be certain that if the worst happens their decision to act — however justified it was ex ante — will be perceived ex post as a horrendous mistake. They face the possibility of devastating blame and guilt, as well as career-destroying consequences. The risks are asymmetric because the costs of playing it safe are likely to be negligible.

Even if future analyses of the ash cloud incident conclude that flights could have resumed safely much sooner, it is unlikely that any of the officials involved in delaying the flights will lose their jobs. In this situation and in many others — defensive medicine is an example — the valid anticipation of hindsight combines with social norms of personal accountability to produce overly cautious behavior.

The solution?

Where the social good requires taking risks, we need procedures that will reduce personal accountability and diffuse responsibility, perhaps by assigning some categories of decisions to designated groups of experts rather than to individual functionaries.

MATT RIDLEY
Science Writer; Founding chairman of the International Centre for Life; Author, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

The ash cloud reminds us of the risks of risk aversion. Shutting down Europe’s airspace removed the risk of an ash-caused crash, but it also increased all sorts of other risks: the risk of death to a patient because an urgent medical operation might have to be postponed for lack of supplies, the risk of poverty to a Kenyan farm worker because roses could not be flown to European markets, the risk of a collision between ferries on extra night-time sailings in the English Channel. And so on. Risk decisions cannot be taken in isolation. The precautionary principle makes too little allowance for the risks that are run by avoiding risks — the innovations not made, the existing suffering not alleviated. The ash cloud, by reminding us of the risks of not being able to fly planes, is a timely reminder that the risks of global warming must be weighed against the risks of high energy costs — the risks of poverty (cheap energy creates jobs), of hunger (fertiliser costs depend on energy costs), of rainforest destruction and indoor air pollution (expensive electricity makes firewood seem cheaper), of orangutan extinction in subsidised biofuel palm oil plantations.

Oh, and remember the lessons of public choice theory: if you set up a body called the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, don’t be surprised if it over-reacts the first time it gets a chance the demonstrate that it considers itself — as all public bodies always do — underfunded.

COMMENT

Excellent points all.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

Drill, baby, drill — at least in some places

Mar 31, 2010 19:17 UTC

The new POTUS offshore drilling plan may be more aggravating for what it does not include (drilling in the Pacific, for instance) than pleasing for what it does. And as the Houston Chronicle points out:

But it is unlikely to win strong support from the fiercest drilling advocates in Congress and the energy industry, who have accused the administration of slow-walking conventional oil and gas production. They are expected to oppose many of the administration’s decisions — including the cancellation of planned lease sales in Alaska and potentially years-long waits before new drilling along the East Coast.

Me: And is it, along the WH nuke power plan, to make some version of cap-and-trade palatable? I don’t think it will be enough to get a comprehensive energy bill passed, Here is a bit from my RBV column today:

Even so, America will continue to be depend on imports to meet its vast energy needs. In the case of oil, nearly 60 percent of consumption is supplied internationally, including half from OPEC and a fifth from Canada. Similarly, Obama’s recent announcement of new loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction is unlikely substantially change that sector’s share of the U.S. energy portfolio. But the White House hopes both efforts will help supply needed momentum to its energy and climate change agenda. Many Republicans and centrist Democrats favor an “all of the above” energy policy. Although a bill containing a nationwide cap-and–trade scheme for limiting carbon emissions passed the House, a parallel effort is dead in the Senate. Such caps are anathema to coal-state members of both parties.

COMMENT

More spin by Hussein. Puts this out there after the Public had been screaming for drilling all year, and he tried to sell Picken’s windmills and Gore’s Global Warming and knows all that stuff is decades away. Like his stimulus which he will claim is adding more jobs, he’ll take credit for the meager few Wells he will allow to be drilled. And speaking of seriously examining the sites for a year is another lie. The entire drilling map has been well documented for decades. Now with California bankrupt and sitting on top of capped oil wells, already dug , does he advocate taking off the caps and spreading the wealth ? When is America going to wise up to this fake ? The biggest scam to be hidden from the electorate , and one that would have made Barnham proud. There’s a Sucker born every minute “.. He never thought that America was a Nation of Suckers . But when he said it, America was full of Americans. Get ready, because Hussein is about to release an Amnesty bill that will unleash 30 million more illegals unto the ” Help Me ” rolls.

Posted by puckster101 | Report as abusive

While Obama talks in Copenhagen, support in US crumbles

Dec 18, 2009 14:29 UTC

Here is what the POTUS told COP15:

I believe we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of a common threat. That’s why I come here today — not to talk, but to act.

But back in America, it’s the Senate that’s acting — and not in a way that Obama likes. First, Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins have come up with a cap-and-dividend alternative that could steal support away from the cap-and-trade efforts of the White House and Kerry-Boxer-Lieberman-Graham. And now there is also an effort in the Senate to negate the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger health and the environment. It’s the EPA ruling that is supposed to be the catalyst for action on climate since most everyone agrees that EPA regulation would be even more ham-handed and onerous that congressional action.

Obama’s unilateral move on climate change

Oct 1, 2009 11:54 UTC

OK, so the White House has greenlit the EPA to go forward with new rules, as the NYTimes puts it,  “to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from hundreds of power plants and large industrial facilities.”  I think this lobbyist quotes in the article gets the politics right:

Scott Segal, a utility lobbyist with the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, said the rule should not be used to rush Congress into passing a poorly drafted bill.

But he also said that the proposal “strengthens the president’s negotiating hand in Copenhagen.”

“Even if the Senate does not act,” Mr. Segal said, “he can legitimately say to other nations, ‘We are taking action on a unilateral basis. What are you doing?’ ”

COMMENT

With reference to the above article, the short article below explains the scenario in the Asian Climate Change context.

“Green Energy : A Paradigm Shift in Sustainability”

Green energy is not something new since the discovery of the depletion of the ozone layer and global climate change as a direct impact of green house effect on a worldwide scale.

Various international conventions/agreements on the reduction of green house effect will remain forever on glossy papers if countries around the world are not serious in committing themselves towards real implementation within national boundary.

Political will power, or even real politics for that matter alone, is insufficient in promoting green energy as attested by the economics of reality in both developed and developing countries.

A paradigm shift is needed in forging a new instrument of international co-operation within the wider framework of Free Trade Agreements and joint conviction shared by stakeholders such as the OECD, major banking bodies(i.e. IMF, World bank, ADB) and leading industrial/corporate entities.

……………………………….
Jeong Chun-phuoc
lecturer-in-law
[an an advocate of Competitive & Strategic Environmenting]
Jeongphu@yahoo.com

Posted by JEONG CHUN PHUOC | Report as abusive

Climate change: 3.6 degrees or $46 trillion

Sep 28, 2009 17:02 UTC

They may not know all the stats and numbers, but people instinctively don’t seem to want to pay a lot of dough to limit carbon emissions. Not even close.  In fact, you can find plenty of climate experts who doubt they ever will, particularly in India and China. Betting on mitigation and technology seems the more realistic route. A bit from Bjorn Lomborg:

Urged on by environmental activists, many politicians are vowing to
make carbon cuts designed to keep expected temperature rises under 3.6
degrees (2.0 Celsius). Yet it is nearly impossible for these promises
to be fulfilled.

Japan’s commitment in June to cut greenhouse gas levels 8 percent
from its 1990 levels by 2020 was scoffed at for being far too little.
Yet for Japan — which has led the world in improving energy efficiency
– to have any hope of reaching its target, it needs to build nine new
nuclear power plants and increase their use by one-third, construct
more than 1 million new wind-turbines, install solar panels on nearly 3
million homes, double the percentage of new homes that meet rigorous
insulation standards, and increase sales of “green” vehicles from 4
percent to 50 percent of its auto purchases.

Imagine for a moment that the fantasists win the day and that at the
climate conference in Copenhagen in December every nation commits to
reductions even larger than Japan’s, designed to keep temperature
increases under 2 degrees Celsius. The result will be a global price
tag of $46 trillion in 2100, to avoid expected climate damage costing
just $1.1 trillion, according to climate economist Richard Tol, a
contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose cost
findings were commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center and are
to be published by Cambridge University Press next year.

Update: A good post from John Tierney on why government isn’t doing more to look for technological fixes like atmosphere scrubbing.

COMMENT

your updated link 404′s me.

The way forward on climate change …

Sep 7, 2009 15:50 UTC

This, from Tom Barnett amplifying on a Bjorn Lomborg op-ed, seems like a policy that could actually work in the real world. Reducing economic growth is a sure loser:

Instead of CO2 cuts, why not focus on adaptation? Why cut GDP growth over the century by 12-13% when the costs of adaptation will be much lower (“the majority of economic models show that unconstrained global warming would cost rich nations around 2% of GDP and poor countries around 5% by 2100.”). And Lomborg argues that putting serious technology efforts online as part of this adaptation effort can actually make it a winning proposition.

Meanwhile, “a high carbon tax will simply hurt growth if alternative technology is not ready, making us all worse off.”

In short, spend (on technology) to save, not cut (emissions).

COMMENT

With reference to the above article, the short article below explains the scenario in the Asian Climate Change context.

“Green Energy : A Paradigm Shift in Sustainability”

Green energy is not something new since the discovery of the depletion of the ozone layer and global climate change as a direct impact of green house effect on a worldwide scale.

Various international conventions/agreements on the reduction of green house effect will remain forever on glossy papers if countries around the world are not serious in committing themselves towards real implementation within national boundary.

Political will power, or even real politics for that matter alone, is insufficient in promoting green energy as attested by the economics of reality in both developed and developing countries.

A paradigm shift is needed in forging a new instrument of international co-operation within the wider framework of Free Trade Agreements and joint conviction shared by stakeholders such as the OECD, major banking bodies(i.e. IMF, World bank, ADB) and leading industrial/corporate entities.

……………………………….
Jeong Chun-phuoc
lecturer-in-law
[an an advocate of Competitive & Strategic Environmenting]
Jeongphu@yahoo.com

Posted by JEONG CHUN PHUOC | Report as abusive

What is the cap-and-trade bill?

Jun 26, 2009 14:41 UTC

This is a smart summary: “Waxman-Markey is the climate policy equivalent of Sarbanes-Oxley financial regulation, guaranteeing extensive new bureaucracy and substantial economic cost to the productive economy while achieving few of its stated objectives. And the “cap and trade” system at the heart of the bill is riddled with so many loopholes that it should be considered more of a “hairnet and giveaway.”

COMMENT

Amazing that the Gore family is baking cap-and-trade trading software and a non-existant carbon offset investment firm, isn’t it?

Posted by Hank Reardon | Report as abusive

White House: Climate change could turn Minneapolis into Miami

Jun 16, 2009 18:25 UTC

This long awaited U.S. government report sees U.S. temps rising as much as  10 degrees this century. Here is the exec summary. Unless this stuff comes with an economic cost-benefit anlysis of mitigation strategies, you are really only getting half the story

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