Hillary's climate-change plan


Hillary Clinton has been promising strong action on climate change if she is elected. Now she has made some detailed commitments. (See Edward Luce's report of her latest speech on the subject here. Details of her proposals are here.) Her goal will be to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. She says she will negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in double-quick time. And that's not all. The plan also proposes:

A new cap-and-trade program that auctions 100% of permits alongside investments to move us on the path towards energy independence;

An aggressive, comprehensive energy efficiency agenda to reduce electricity consumption 20% from projected levels by 2020 by changing the way utilities do business, catalyzing a green building industry, enacting strict appliance efficiency standards, and phasing out incandescent light bulbs;

A $50 billion Strategic Energy Fund, paid for in part by oil companies, to fund investments in alternative energy.  The SEF will finance one-third of the $150 billion ten-year  investment in a new energy future contained in this plan;

Doubling of federal investment in basic energy research, including funding for an ARPA-E, a new research agency modeled on the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency;

Aggressive action to transition our economy toward renewable energy sources, with renewables generating 25% of electricity by 2025 and with 60 billion gallons of home-grown biofuels available for cars and trucks by 2030;

10 “Smart Grid City” partnerships to prove the advanced capabilities of smart grid and other advanced demand-reduction technologies, as well as new investment in plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies;

and more besides.

She cannot be faulted, at any rate, for lack of ambition. The plan is comprehensive (to a fault) and the target for reductions in emissions is demanding. To get there, the proposed cap-and-trade regime would have to bite very hard, notwithstanding the effort and resources she proposes putting into promoting energy efficiency. Full marks for saying that she would want all of the emission permits to be auctioned. But deduct some for failing to acknowledge what this regime would do to the price of energy.  Her policy document even cites high gasoline prices as part of the energy problem she is setting out to solve (so far as climate change is concerned, high gas prices are of course part of the solution). The strategy is win-win all the way, based on an original screenplay by Al Gore: more jobs, higher wages, faster growth, and all without greenhouse gases. She is cool on nuclear too, saying no expansion will be needed, and correspondingly keen--keen is putting it  mildly--on biofuels. Home-grown biofuels, by the way.

As I say, it is bold, with lots of detail for critics to pick apart. This is hardly the vagueness and evasion of which she is being accused by Barack Obama and John Edwards (both of whom have ambitious plans of their own for climate-change mitigation). And the contrast with the leading Republican candidates on this subject could hardly be greater. That makes her stance on the issue quite a risk, though no doubt a carefully calculated one. The polls say that voters are increasingly anxious about climate change. They want promises of action. How much they are willing to pay for those promises is something we will find out.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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