The Death of Comprehensive Climate Legislation

Before the circular firing squads begin about the demise of comprehensive climate legislation, I think the main thing you need to understand analytically is that CO2 emissions vary widely on a region-by-region basis in the United States. Consequently, any bill that proposes to price emissions is going to have regional implications as well as ideological ones. Depending on how you structure the pricing scheme, you can make these implications come out different ways, but you can’t avoid the fact that these implications will exist. The upshot is that it’s not possible to enact such legislation on a purely partisan basis. Any feasible scheme will give some states represented by Democrats the shaft while being beneficial to some states represented by Republicans.

If you click the image below you’ll go to a CAP interactive letting you play around with the per capita emissions from different states and you’ll see the point:

emissions 1

The upshot of this is that the key actors in preventing the emergence of a comprehensive bill are the mysterious vanishing Republican cap-and-trade supporters. For example, I’m old enough to remember when John McCain was the Republican nominee for President of the United States:

As for the cap-and-trade program itself, McCain’s basic targets and mechanisms are roughly in line with what others have proposed. He would aim for 1990 emission levels by 2020, and 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. That long-term target falls short of the “80 percent by 2050” recommended by the IPCC and beloved of climate activists, but the short-term target is roughly in line with what’s offered in the Lieberman-Warner bill and Barack Obama’s plan.

The fact that McCain and other Republicans supported the goal of reducing carbon emissions and support carbon pricing as the means of reducing carbon emissions is the whole reason anyone ever thought reducing carbon emissions via carbon pricing was feasible. When they decided—for no clear reason—that they no longer held this view, they doomed the idea to defeat. So what we’re left with is some other smaller-bore legislative ideas and regulation under the Clean Air Act. We need to move forward with both, but the reality is that we’re left with a very bad situation.