Things are looking bright at the moment for the proponents of a do-nothing approach to climate change. But that doesn’t mean doing nothing is a good idea.
The planned push for a bipartisan climate and energy bill by Senators Graham, Lieberman and Kerry has stalled after Sen. Reid decided immigration pandering was more important. Public pressure for climate legislation is muted, as polls show concern about global warming is waning while skepticism that it’s human-caused is waxing.
The conservative base may be even less interested in a climate-bill compromise than it was in a health reform compromise. On healthcare, many conservatives had come to agree there was a serious problem, even if the proposed solution was misguided. On climate change, the main conservative rallying point these days is along the lines of “it’s a hoax,” rather than that proposed mitigation measures are poorly constructed.
Given all that, it will be tempting for Republican politicians to just say no to any bill aimed at addressing climate change. This would be a mistake, on both policy and political grounds. For one thing, views that global warming is not happening or not human-caused remain at odds with mainstream scientific opinion. Recent reports that clear “Climategate” scientists of wrongdoing might be part of a “conspiracy so vast” or some such, but a political party embracing such a claim risks looking foolish and paranoid.
For another thing, the weakened momentum for climate legislation gives an opportunity for Republicans to place a conservative imprint on any bill that might go forward. That would mean the legislation should include such elements as these:
Emphasizing nuclear power. Let Greenpeace howl as Republicans take seriously the imperative to restrain carbon emissions by streamlining the nuclear regulatory process.
Simplifying carbon pricing. The mechanism of placing a price on carbon emissions, whether through taxes or allowance trading, should be as straightforward as possible to avoid the system being gamed by special interests or left to regulators’ discretion.
Restraining the tax burden. Revenues from carbon taxes or allowance auctions should be accompanied by some reductions in existing taxes to promote economic competitiveness. Strict revenue neutrality would be undesirable, however, given the bleak fiscal outlook.
However things look now, it remains possible that climate legislation will pass in the coming months. Healthcare reform, remember, looked dead once too. Republicans taking a die-hard do-nothing stance risk ending up with a climate bill they will abhor.