Climate Feedback

James Jones’s poor energy policy

Cross-posted from Heliophage

I’ve just been reading some advice for Obama (pdf) from the Institute for 21st century energy, an organism of the US Chamber of Commerce. It’s pretty standard (and depressing) stuff of the “must be win-win, mustn’t hurt business, do nothing until there’s an international agreement” sort, sometimes spot on in its prescriptions but overall tainted by a failure to really engage with the climate issues. So far so standard, but it takes new salience from the fact that the person whose signature is at the top is General James L. Jones. Jones, it was announced yesterday and widely leaked before that, will be the new National Security Adviser. The shocker here – and it really is quite shocking – is that the executive summary of this document makes no mention of climate as a factor in energy policy and planning at all.

In the body there is climate stuff, but it’s mostly not good; Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room gets into the details

The institute deserves credit for having its first strategic priority be energy efficiency, but its other priorities and specific policy suggestions are wrongheaded and reflect the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s typical anti-regulatory, pro-pollution industry agenda. Jones’ Transition Plan calls for billions of dollars in subsidies for the nuclear and coal industry, a dramatic expansion in domestic oil and natural gas drilling into protected areas, and massive new energy industry tax breaks and loopholes.

Meanwhile, the plan argues that Congress should prevent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under any existing state or federal law, and that “any new national climate change policy should be conditional on an international agreement that requires full international participation.” In short, the Institute’s climate change policy looks stunningly like that of the Bush administration: “Don’t just sit there, do nothing.

Not only are these recommendations foolhardy to the extreme, they come in direct opposition to Obama’s stated policy objectives, which include a mandatory cap-and-trade program, development of renewable energy through quality jobs, and the enforcement of existing environmental laws. If America’s future is to be secure, the next national security adviser must understand that the policies he has spent the last eighteen months promoting are reckless. Hopefully, he will renounce the efforts of his current employer to push this nation deeper into the fossil-energy hole.

The document’s likely influence is probably pretty much nil – but I must say I would rather have an NSA who didn’t think this narrowly and poorly about one of the great issues of the time.

Taking the subject forward elsewhere in CAPland, MattYglesias makes an interesting broader point

It’s worth noting how odd it is that the United States has the kind of highly ideological and deeply shortsighted business community. There’s no way a serious climate policy could be anything other than bad for oil companies and catastrophic for coal companies. But for most companies? Well, there shouldn’t really be a general problem. Firms whose operations are more carbon intensive than the average firm would be put at a competitive disadvantage, but by the same token firms whose operations are less carbon intensive than the average firm would be given a leg up. And there should be half of each. You can see why the business community might have good reason to quibble around the margins with the green community about the desirability of using carbon pricing revenue for green investments versus doing a straight rebate or something. But there’s no particular reason, other than sheer solidarity with the adversely effected minority of businesses, to want to take a blinkered attitude to climate/energy policy in general. After all, Florida being under water isn’t going to be good for business.

But the business community rarely acts in a farsighted and roughly rational manner about this kind of thing. You saw during the 1994 health care fight that business leaders across the board preferred to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anti-reform interest groups even though most businesses would benefit from a better health care policy. The ideological battle against progressive governance is seen as more important than the practical stake big business has in seeking reasonable policy outcomes. That’s not a universal attitude, but it’s definitely the predominant one.

This seems sensible as far as it goes, but I’d be interested in knowing whether anyone has any real data to support Matt’s view on winners and losers — “there should be half of each”. There seems to be an implication here that we can expect industrial winners and losers to be normally distributed, but I can’t see why that would be warranted. After all we know that some big companies will be big losers, but I can’t say that I can see any company which as currently constituted is likely to be that big a winner. How do we know there isn’t a skewed distribution with a very long tail of companies that would get hurt very badly, while most companies are winners in a relatively small way that doesn’t really factor into their thinking very much?


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    Kevin Matthews said:

    Nice piece, thanks!

    For what it’s worth, our company is an independent green publisher. By publishing our professional magazines, newsletters, and references online-only, we save hundreds of tons of paper monthly – more than 100 large trees every week – or thousands of trees (perhaps a hundred acres of mature conifer forest) each year, compared to reaching a similar readership on paper.

    We provide ongoing pro-bono services to local non-profit sustainability organizations – in part, to help keep those mature trees stay standing in our carbon-sequestering northwest forests. And our company offices are powered by 100% green energy (98% wind, 2% solar) through our local utility.

    As the costs of producing and distributing publications on paper are de-externalized, our reach and revenue stream, near-zero-carbon-based, will continue to expand steadily.

    We represent only one small example. But that in itself is strictly (if minimally) responsive to your “any company” comment. And hidden in the shadows of the great corporate dinosaurs, there is a long green tail of nimble, progressive companies much like ours.

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    solar panels said:

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