In an interesting illustration of how political tactics shift with circumstances, an article on Grist quotes five American Republican lawmakers expressing their support for a cap-and-trade approach to addressing climate change. At the time, they were concerned about so-called ‘command and control’ regulations, which may have given industry fewer options for reducing emissions. For instance, a government decree that all new vehicles meet a certain efficiency standard cannot be circumvented by cutting emissions somewhere else; by contrast, both carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes leave it up to firms and individuals to choose where to cut emissions.
The Grist list includes senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), and John McCain.
The logic of the changed stances is dispiriting. At one point, Republicans saw command and control regulations as plausible enough to be worried about, and were willing to promote cap-and-trade as a preferable alternative. Now, it seems they think command and control is a complete political non-starter, and they have directed their energies towards fighting the less stringent alternative they once opposed.
There are reasons to worry about whether a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system would produce the emissions reductions we need quickly enough, and it is very plausible that additional measures like fuel taxes and efficiency requirements will be needed in addition. All the more reason, then, to create a carbon price as soon as possible. Only by doing so can we begin to get a sense of how quickly and cheaply that approach can lead to a lower carbon world. If it proves cheaper and easier than expected (as has generally been the case for complying with environmental regulation), then the price of emitting carbon can be raised more quickly, reducing climate risks further. If it does not prove effective, early action will at least provide us with that information in a somewhat timely manner, while there is still an opportunity to try other approaches.