Obama's Climate Policies Contrast with Inslee/ALEC Approach

June 25, 2013

Today, President Obama outlined his new strategy on climate change, calling for more support for a range of politically chosen strategies. Prior to the speech, Governor Inslee released a statement saying the approach is "a smart, practical and cost effective set of policies."

The approach proposed by the President, however, stands in contrast to Inslee's own climate legislation and model legislation passed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Inslee's bill calls for strategies to be prioritized based on their environmental effectiveness, specifically proposing prioritization based on "the cost per ton of emission reduction." This approach is the center of ALEC's "Environmental Priorities Act," which they adopted in 2010. It calls for ranking environmental policies based on where the most benefit can be provided for every taxpayer dollar.

In January, we recommended the incoming Governor adopt such a standard, specifically mentioning the "Environmental Priorities Act" and noting that focusing on environmental effectiveness "is a way to make sure we aren’t spending huge sums of money on trendy, but ineffective, environmental policies that starve needed funding for projects with significant potential to help the environment." Inslee's adoption of environmental effectiveness standards in his signature legislation was the key reason we endorsed it this year.

Despite Inslee's statement today, the approach by the President doesn't meet the standard set by the Governor or the Environmental Priorities Act.

For example, Obama's strategy calls for "doubling wind and solar energy generation by 2020." According to research funded by the NRDC and Environmental Defense, solar energy is one of the most expensive and least effective ways to reduce carbon emissions. They also note that as we use the best sites for wind energy, the cost of wind will increase significantly over time. Focusing on this approach means spending huge amounts of money for little benefit.

The proposal to have the EPA set regulatory standards is another costly approach. The EPA itself warned that regulation would be extremely expensive in 2009 in an effort to coax Congress to pass cap-and-trade. A piece in the Seattle PI today even quotes environmental activists saying they were "using President Obama’s plan to cut CO2 emissions from power plants as an argument to Republicans to accept a free-market alternative to regulations to address climate change." They know this is a high-cost, low-reward approach to climate policy.

Rather than finding ways to receive the most environmental benefit for each taxpayer dollar, the President is emphasizing policies that are widely acknowledged to have high costs and little environmental return.

These policies don't align with the President's rhetoric on the seriousness of climate change or the need to take effective action. If the President and Governor believe that climate change is truly a serious environmental threat, then they will focus on policies that yield the greatest, near-term emissions reductions.

Focusing on politically chosen and trendy, but failed, approaches not only violates the standards the Governor himself set but undermines efforts to make real progress on carbon emissions reductions.


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