Stefanik outlines market-based climate change solution

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik speaks with the Enterprise editorial board Oct. 5, 2018, at the newspaper’s Saranac Lake office. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has written an essay on market-oriented solutions to climate change for The Catalyst, a publication of the George W. Bush Institute.

Stefanik has been vocal both about the challenge of climate change and her opposition to government-led solutions — calling the Green New Deal, for example, a “non-starter” because of the associated tax hikes.

“Market-based policy approaches encourage behavioral changes through signals to the market — often focused on changes in prices — rather than through explicit governmental directives,” she wrote. “Market-based approaches encourage businesses and individuals to undertake pollution control efforts that are in their own interests, and that collectively meet policy goals when they are well-designed and properly implemented.”

Stefanik’s solutions include expanding tax breaks for wind and solar to biomass, hydropower and geothermal, as well as increasing the investment in new energy technology research. She also highlights voluntary energy certifications, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Certification Program. She points to the success of other market-based environmental reforms, such as removing lead from gasoline or reducing acid rain.

The Times emailed several specific questions to Stefanik’s office last week, including questions about whether she thought such proposals were sufficient to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, which is the limit outlined by the Paris climate accords, if there were other solutions she also advocated, what research she was drawing on, how she felt about cap-and-trade programs and how much support her proposal had among fellow Republicans.

“She said she wants to let the essay speak for itself,” wrote Stefanik spokeswoman Madison Anderson in response. “It’s a comprehensive essay with numerous proposed solutions. Congresswoman Stefanik is a leader on this issue and brings a balanced approach.”

There is at least one market-based proposal that Stefanik appears to oppose — last year she voted for a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy.

Stefanik has highlighted the possible economic impact of climate change on her district, specifically — an issue where she agrees with environmental advocates.

“I think the Adirondack economy depends on the physical integrity of the wilderness, and so I think fighting climate change at a national and global level is job one (and maybe two and three),” wrote national environmental activist William McKibben, who lives near Lake Champlain in Vermont, in an email to the Times.

McKibben and others, however, questioned whether Stefanik’s proposals were sufficient to protect the district. Jon Rosales, an associate professor at St. Lawrence University, Canton, and chair of environmental studies, said that market-based proposals are useful to a point.

“I think they could probably get us there in the short term,” he said. “It’s been tried elsewhere; it does bring down emissions to a certain extent.”

Rosales said that market-based proposals can probably reduce carbon emissions by 40 to 60 percent by the middle of this century, but reductions of 70 to 90 percent — which he said may be necessary — are unlikely without more government intervention.

McKibben was more skeptical.

“At this point, we need to move very quickly,” McKibben wrote. “When I wrote the first book on climate change 30 years ago, small changes would have made a big difference. But having emitted more carbon in those three decades than in all of history previously, we’re now seriously up against the wall. That’s why things like the Green New Deal, or the proposals recently put forward by (presidential candidate) Jay Inslee, are probably the gold standard now.”

Rosales said that the market-based approach was initially an American alternative to European proposals on climate change during some of the early international agreements on the issue.

“The first idea that, especially the Europeans put forward, was a command approach,” he said, with greater government legislation.

Americans balked, however, and put forward a market-based approach.

“Obama at the end did engage and was fully committed to a market approach,” he said.

McKibben declined to speculate on whether market-based approaches would be more politically palatable — and therefore more likely to pass the current Congress.

“I’m a bad judge of things in Washington, but I think it’s sad that having to do modest, watered-down policy is the price of getting politicians on board,” he wrote. “In this case, it’s really physics that sets the bar, which we then have to meet.”

Rosales was skeptical about Stefanik’s specific proposal of using incentives for research into energy, as he said private companies are already investing in that area.

“The big innovation, the big area of research needs to be getting greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere,” he said.

In the end, Rosales said market-based approaches are a return to what was, at one point, fairly standard American policy.

“It’s not new,” Rosales said of these market-based approaches. “On the other hand, the Green New Deal is recasting the New Deal, which is even older.”

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