Second of two articles
When Jay Inslee was a congressman, he authored a blueprint for a new moonshot for clean energy. He called it Apollo’s Fire.
Inslee called to the American spirit embodied in John Kennedy’s 1961 commitment to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
“He wrote a new vision statement for the country,” noted Inslee and co-author Bracken Hendricks. “He created a national consensus that we were going to do whatever it took to reach the national goal.”
The book lined out a vision for investment in new energy technologies such as solar, and for amping up energy efficiency to the max.
“We don’t need an incremental increase,” the authors wrote. “As with the original Apollo Project much of the capital will flow from the private sector, but it will take federal investment and policy to move that capital toward new technologies that solve these problems.”
Inslee pushed for a New Apollo Energy Project in Congress, but made little headway in that recalcitrant body. Now he is governor of a state that, like most, is coping with budget stresses. That makes the regulatory approach of capping carbon emissions appear as the more open avenue for progress on climate chage. But as the guy who wrote the book, Inslee knows that carbon cap and trade alone simply does not cut the mustard.
A carbon cap-and-trade market would limit economic impacts by giving major energy users free permits to emit carbon for some years. Thus wood products, aerospace and utility industries would likely be largely or nearly exempt from paying carbon fees. The measure would include a firm cap that would set an absolute limit on carbon emissions. But the tighter the cap becomes, the more pressure there is on energy prices. After all, a cap is intended to raise fossil fuel prices to tip investment to low-carbon energy. As the cap grows tighter, industry will lose its free pass and must start paying fees to emit carbon. So political pressure to bust the cap will increase. More opportunities for Republicans.
Initiative 937, a clean energy meassure offers a parallel. Voter approval in 2006 only set up a never-ending legislative fight with utilities seeking to dilute the electricity standard requiring that 15 percent of their power eventually will come from renewable resources. Claiming cost impacts, they have met with some success and the pressure is only intensifying as the standard moves toward full implementation in 2020.
As a result, environmental and climate community lobbying resources in Olympia are tied down in a defensive struggle each legislative session. They would have to staff up even more to defend a climate change bill that Inslee might win from the Legislature or through a ballot measure. Powerful interests would do all they can to undermine success. When the next recession hits, remember that mantra: job-killing energy tax.
Policymakers know this, and so will only pass carbon pricing policies they understand will hold the economy harmless. Political support could not be maintained otherwise. So carbon policy that induces modest price increases might have a chance of enactment. But this also means the incentives to shift to clean and efficient alternatives will be similarly modest. If costs accelerate to the point they have negative economic impacts, political support will dissolve.
This contradicts solid climate science indicating that global carbon emissions must begin to rapidly decline this decade to avert catastrophic climate change. In his article, “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change,’ ” climate scientist James Hansen has laid out a scenario to restore climate stability by the end of the century. It would hold total human carbon emissions to 500 billion metric tons and take 100 billion more from the atmosphere into trees, plants and soils. That would bring atmospheric carbon concentrations down to levels at which we could conceive of saving coastal cities from sea level rise, for example. The scenario requires annual emissions cuts of 6 percent starting almost immediately.
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