THE ENDS AND MEANS OF DECARBONIZATION: THE GREEN NEW DEAL IN CONTEXT.

Author:Monast, Jonas J.
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION II. DEFINING THE GREEN NEW DEAL III. THE GREEN NEW DEAL IN THE CONTEXT OF U.S. CLIMATE POLICY A. Pricing Carbon B. Clean Air Act Regulations and Clean Energy Targets C. The Green New Deal IV. WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CLIMATE POLICY A. Decarbonization as Technology Policy B. Decarbonization as Social Justice Policy C. Decarbonization as Fiscal Policy V. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    In 2018, a new coalition of environmental and social justice advocates launched the Green New Deal (GND)--a sweeping framework to mitigate climate change, reduce unemployment, and address other longstanding social justice and environmental challenges. The GND quickly became a focal point in the climate policy debate as a new wave of congressional candidates gave voice to the ideas. (1)

    The GND refocused national attention on climate change, but it also reinforced the lack of consensus about the proper approach to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the same time that the GND was emerging as a new force in the climate policy debate, bipartisan bills were introduced in the House and Senate as companion bills to create a national cap-and-dividend program that would tax carbon and redistribute the funds back to taxpayers--the first bipartisan climate bill introduced in the U.S. Congress since 2010. (2)

    A coalition of companies, environmental organizations, and former elected officials and high-ranking cabinet officials released a proposal supporting a similar approach. (3) In January 2019, over 3,500 economists endorsed an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal promoting a similar idea. (4)

    A revenue-neutral carbon tax and a GND reflect opposite ends of the climate policy spectrum. On one end, the GND framework approaches climate policy as an opportunity to steer the trajectory of the U.S. economy while also correcting social and environmental injustices. At the other end of the spectrum, revenue-neutral carbon tax proposals adopt a more traditional approach to environmental policy. These proposals focus on controlling a class of pollutants rather than the economic and social impacts of the policy.

    The contrast between the GND and carbon tax proposals highlight a challenge that has long frustrated efforts to decarbonize the economy: some of the most consequential disagreements about climate policy are not simply about the best way to reduce the atmospheric concentration of GHGs. Instead, the conflicts are rooted in fundamentally different views of the role of government. Achieving the broad-based political coalition to move climate change legislation through Congress requires addressing these core conflicts.

    Decarbonizing the economy means changing how we power the economy, transport people and products, produce food, and consume other natural resources. There is general agreement that climate policy should be cost effective, should address distributional impacts, and should incentivize investments in low carbon technologies. Yet disagreements abound regarding the scope of the problem and the appropriate responses. Should climate policy allow compliance flexibility or mandate emission reductions at each facility subject to the policy? Should climate policy directly address job losses that will occur as the energy system moves toward a lower carbon future? Should decarbonization policy ensure that new infrastructure does not create long-term public health and environmental burdens for local communities? Perhaps most fundamentally, is decarbonization about pollution mitigation alone, or should it also address the social impacts resulting from the transition to a low carbon economy?

    Policy debates often treat these as questions of strategy (in other words, the means of decarbonizing). This Essay argues that the disagreements reflect different views about the core goals of decarbonization rather than merely the strategies for reducing emissions. Different stakeholders expect fundamentally different outcomes and define success in sometimes vastly different terms. Some expect climate policy to correct past economic and environmental injustices. Some seek to rigidly define the scope of acceptable energy technologies while others are agnostic regarding technology choices as long as the policy results in lower overall GHG emissions over time. Some prioritize reducing economic burdens on the new policy but give less attention to other social goals. (5)

    Proponents of the most expansive iterations of a GND argue that it is not possible to separate justice and economic considerations from environmental policy, and that politics and equity require addressing the economic impacts of climate policy as part of a comprehensive decarbonization effort. (6) Decarbonizing the economy necessarily means that some jobs will disappear and some communities will suffer economic blows. This is already taking place, as coal-fired power plants, and the mines supplying their coal, shutter due to low costs of natural gas and renewable energy. (7) The GND takes this challenge on directly by combining climate policy, economic development, and job guarantees. (8)

    Carbon tax and cap-and-dividend proposals generally include provisions to help low-income citizens cope with higher energy prices resulting from the carbon price, but most do not focus on social, economic, or environmental justice issues. (9) For some, the narrow focus on mitigating climate change may reflect a political calculation. Climate change is such a critical threat that a targeted response that has a better chance of collecting the necessary votes in Congress is a preferable option. For others, the focus on emissions reflects the view that the critical issue at hand is reducing emissions, not using climate policy as a legislative vehicle to tackle a host of other societal challenges. In other words, there is not consensus about whether some of the social justice issues included in the GND resolution are issues that government should address and, if they are, whether they should be directly linked to climate change mitigation.

    The Essay begins with a comparison of recent proposals to mitigate climate change, including pricing carbon via a carbon market or carbon tax, regulatory measures such as the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, state-based policies, and the GND. (10) It then discusses three important conflicts, the resolution of which will shape future climate policy developments: the role of decarbonization as technology policy, social justice policy, and fiscal policy. Deploying low carbon technologies is a critical piece of the climate mitigation puzzle, but stakeholders disagree whether decarbonization strategies should prioritize renewable energy or include technologies such as nuclear or carbon capture. Each policy discussed in this Essay considers some range of social impacts (at minimum, cost increases), but they differ significantly about which social impacts to address and the how to address them. The policies adopt different approaches to the link between fiscal policy and climate policy, with some explicitly using revenue to fund new government programs, some explicitly rejecting creation of new government programs, and some not addressing the issue. The Essay concludes with comments about the early impacts of the GND on the domestic policy debate. Whether one agrees with the GND framework or not, the proposal helped launch the most serious national debate about climate policy since the U.S. House of Representatives passed climate legislation in 2009. (11) The long-term impact of the GND will depend on whether its proponents treat the framework as a single, comprehensive legislative package or as a set of goals that could apply to different types of policy proposals.

  2. DEFINING THE GREEN NEW DEAL

    The dominant paradigm for climate policy design assumes that there is agreement on the end goals (decarbonization), and the disagreements involve differing viewpoints regarding policy instruments (e.g., carbon taxes, cap-and-trade programs, mandates, etc.), scope (e.g., sector-specific or economy-wide), stringency, and timelines. Climate policy options are often evaluated based on their impacts on environmental performance, cost effectiveness, distributional impacts, and political viability. Many stakeholders often rely on economic modeling to assess the costs and impacts of different GHG-reduction pathways and use the results to support a particular emission reduction strategy.

    The GND starts from a different place. Rather than focusing primarily (or exclusively) on pollution abatement, the GND approaches the challenge of climate change as part of a much broader socio-economic challenge. (12) GND advocates argue that the energy system and the economy are at a turning point, and seek to steer both arenas toward a more just, lower carbon future. The strategy combines the need to address climate change, the economic opportunities created by developing and deploying a new generation of energy technologies, the historic exclusion of many communities in environmental policy design, and the need for stable employment with meaningful wages and benefits.

    As of the drafting of this Essay, the GND is a conceptual framework rather than a fully formed legislative proposal. GND proponents in Congress have yet to specify how they would address the challenging fiscal and social tradeoffs inherent in such a broad policy change such as the role of nuclear power, the policy mechanisms to achieve the emission reductions, and how to fund the proposals.

    As a result, the GND acts like a climate version of a Rorschach test, with proponents and opponents seizing on certain details (or lack thereof) to extrapolate what the entire concept stands for, from a call for 100% renewable energy to hyperbolic claims that the GND is a "Trojan Horse for socialism," or that it will require everyone to become vegetarians and cease all air travel. (13) It is also unclear at this stage...

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