Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in “Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency” (EPA) that the Clean Air Act gives EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gas emissions. It was a close decision, 5-4. Of the five in the majority, three have since retired. Chief Justice John Roberts was in the minority.
Today, carbon pollution regulations are still not in effect—a lesson in why regulations are far from the ideal method of reducing carbon pollution and why a single-political party solution to climate change will not work.
First, any solution that is not based on a statute specifically intended to address climate change will be cumbersome, unnecessarily expensive, and vulnerable to years-long court delays. Second, any climate change solution imposed by a single political party will be undermined when that party inevitably loses power.
If we are going to successfully address climate change, we must implement durable policies with a strong political consensus. Those policies should be based on sound, responsible economics that achieve our carbon pollution reduction goals as efficiently as possible, reducing unnecessary costs to our economy and Americans.
Where might that consensus occur? After more than a decade, the Mass. v. EPA regulatory approach seems to be more divisive than ever. Cap-and-trade legislation remains unpopular since the Waxman-Markey bill. The proposal that appears to have new dynamism is a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
An economy-wide revenue-neutral carbon tax’s greatest strength is its economic efficiency; it will drive reductions in carbon pollution at the lowest possible cost. As a result, it will become the benchmark against which other proposals can be assessed. And those will cost more.
Maybe the adage that Americans do the right thing after trying everything else will prove to be true once again.