Home > carbon pricing, Enviro Derangement Syndrome, Jerry Taylor, Joe Romm, yandle > In the fight over climate policy, Jerry Taylor of Cato tries to stiffen the spines of the purist enviros (in order to limit the "Bootleggers")

In the fight over climate policy, Jerry Taylor of Cato tries to stiffen the spines of the purist enviros (in order to limit the "Bootleggers")

Jerry Taylor of Cato is one careful observer of the carbon follies who sees the handwriting on the wall for some type of carbon pricing system coming from the Congress during the Obama Administration.  Strikingly, in an interesting post up at MasterResource (a new self-styled “free market” energy blog spearheaded by former Enron speechwriter Robert Bradley), Jerry is cheering on environmental hard-liners!

It’s worth a gander to understand why.

Jerry’s post borrows the “Bootleggers and Baptists” lingo of Bruce Yandle to comment on the dynamics by which both  Baptists/moralists (in this case, the enviros) and the bootleggers/rent-seekers (in this case, the firms trying to reap benefits from government prohibitions) are seeking to come to terms on new carbon-related government policies.  Jerry  first explains and warns that the core of the mandatory cap-and-trade program proposed by the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP a coalition of big business and environmental groups) includes “a replay of the old-source/new-source standards incorporated in the Clean Air Act (CAA), which likewise established tough emissions standards for future power plants but much lighter rules for plants currently in operation”.

Because his concern over this replay of a costly aspect of the CAA, Jerry cheers on the criticism of this plan coming from other parts of the environmental community, in particular from Joe Romm, a former Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy who comments frequently on climate change policy issues at the ClimateProgress.org blog of the Center for American Progress.  Says Jerry:

Why should a libertarian skeptic about the dangers of climate change applaud environmental absolutism in this case? Several reasons.

First, the bifurcated old-source/new-source regulation makes no economic sense whatsoever. It distorts the power market by artificially advantaging older plants relative to newer plants. It spawns a huge legislative/legal-industry to fight over old-source/new-source distinctions until the end of time, creating substantial deadweight losses. It creates huge, unearned windfalls for politically clever corporations and thus encourages future market-rigging mischief. It would be far, far better to settle on one standard and apply it across the board to old sources and new sources alike.

Second, without corporate support, … that bill would likely be rendered economically toothless, with loopholes and timetables delaying serious emissions reductions until some time relatively far into the future. I am unaware of any significant environmental initiative that was successfully signed into law that didn’t manage to scare-up significant, widespread corporate support.

Third, there is a virtue in political honesty. If politicians want to argue for laws that will seriously reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, then let’s have an honest discussion about the costs and benefits of those proposed laws. Symbolically potent gestures that are more empty than real feeds the public belief in free lunches. While one could argue that it’s better to get an empty gesture than a real one, when the latter has far more costs than the former, I can’t believe that any good will come from a culture of political dishonesty and voter illusion.

(emphasis added)

Well, I agree that casting a light on potential political deals may be a valuable way to influence the outcome in ways that improve policy, but it may very well be that voter “dis-illusion” with political dishonesty is just what the doctor ordered, in getting voters to demand both greater honesty and less government in general.

I appreciate that guys like Jerry Taylor are trying to point out how members of USCAP are trying to lock in advantages for themselves over competitors and new entrants, but why isn’t there now (and why wasn’t there during the Bush administration) any concerted focus by libertarians on less-costly and market-friendly alternatives that still address enviros concerns, like public utility deregulation and allowing immediate depreciation of investments in energy inffrastructure, prizes for carbon-capture and fusion technologies, and making sure that information about climate change (and corporate performance on various yardsticks) is widely disseminated? 

As I have previously noted,  Iain Murray of CEI, Bruce Yandle of Clemson and PERC, Gene Callahan and Jonathan Adler at Case Western have all made suggestions in this regard – to deafening silence from libertarians in general.  At Mises, scorn of enviros and of their preferences with respect to open-access commons seems to be the order of the day.  Let’s wave the white flag, shall we?

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