Friday, December 7, 2007

Who's Got Environmental Policy

This post by Adam Stein is so good, just go here to terrapass's blog and read it.

But if you've got click-fatigue, read on:
Thomas Friedman is one of the most important national writers on green issues – maybe the most important. Which is why this quote from a recent column is so confusing:

[N]one of the leading presidential candidates has offered an energy policy that would include a tax on oil or carbon that could trigger a truly transformational shift in America away from fossil fuels.

The column is framed as a mock assessment of America's security program from the point of view of an Iranian intelligence agency. It's a clever enough conceit, and in the middle of it Friedman drops in the line about carbon taxes to underscore the point that America isn't serious about energy independence.

The problem here is that the statement isn't true. Of the three leading Democratic candidates, 100% have offered strong plans for taxing carbon emissions in the form of cap-and-trade programs. On the Republican side, it's a bit hard to figure out who's leading these days, but two candidates (McCain and Huckabee) have at least endorsed the idea of a cap-and-trade system. This is pretty thin gruel, but it's not nothing. McCain has actually pushed for passage of such legislation in the Senate.

There are surely differences between a straight carbon tax and a cap and trade system, but the distinctions aren't really strong enough to support the column's contention. And it's true that the line is just a small piece of an article that covers a lot of ground, but I think this sort of thing matters.

Here's why. It's good to hold politicians' feet to the fire, particularly during a campaign season. But there's a flip side to this: when politicians actually take bold positions, it would be nice to see them rewarded for their courage. Otherwise, why should they stick their necks out? Several leading candidates have great -- even transformational -- energy plans. They should reap the political benefits.

Which raises a secondary, related problem with the column: the careful evenhandedness. A lot of candidates don't have great, transformational energy plans. And that so-called "green gap" is a perfect place for a columnist with Friedman's megaphone to focus his attention.

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