Sanders’ Climate Change Plan Endorsed by Economists Studying Carbon Tax Initiatives

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TRNN Replay: Mark Paul of the University of Massachusetts Amherst says Sanders’ plan is consistent with the IPCC’s recommendation to reduce emissions by 40 percent, while Clinton’s is more rhetoric

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

As the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination race heats up with the upcoming debate in New York on Thursday and the New York primary to be held next Tuesday, April 19, environmental and climate change issues are at the forefront. There are some heated exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders about the issue. Here’s a clip of Bernie Sanders on the issue.

BERNIE SANDERS: Bottom line is if we are serious about addressing the crisis of climate change, if we are serious about addressing the crisis of clean water, which is going to be a greater and greater crisis in years to come, we need bold action, we need bold leadership.

PERIES: And let’s have a look at Hillary Clinton’s ad on climate change.

HILLARY CLINTON: On day one as president, I will set two ambitious national goals that will test our capacities, but that I know are within our reach. First, I will ensure we hit a target of having more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of my first term. Second, we’ll set a ten-year goal of generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America.

PERIES: So is this all political rhetoric for campaign season, or do the candidates have a real plan of action? Joining us now to discuss all of this from Durham, North Carolina, is Mark Paul. He’s a research associate at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University, and he teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He’s the co-author of a recent article in the Nation magazine titled “Can Markets Solve Climate Change? This Democratic Socialist Thinks So. Here’s How.” Thanks for joining us, Mark.

MARK PAUL: Thanks for having me. Good evening.

PERIES: So, Mark, Bernie Sanders says he can use the market to combat climate change. Some people are rather skeptical of this plan, because it is the market and corporations that got us into this crisis in the first place. How do you respond to that?

PAUL: Absolutely. I think that there’s a lot of critics out there for relying on the market to improve environmental outcomes. And I think by and large they have a lot of very solid points. Sanders is not advocating to solely rely on the market. He is simply advocating that one market solution that would put a significant dent in our gas emissions would be putting a true price on carbon. In turn, Sanders has put forth legislation to put a price on carbon, which would have a significant impact and help the United States reach the goals they set forth in Paris.

PERIES: Speaking of Paris, how does Bernie Sanders’ plan hold up when it comes to meeting the obligations of the Paris climate change agreement?

PAUL: You know, when you listen to those clips that you played earlier, both candidates, the rhetoric is quite similar. However, Sanders has actually put forth a plan to actually curb emissions, whereas in Clinton’s place really right now it’s just continued rhetoric, and there’s no clear plan put forth. So under the Sanders plan that he introduced to Congress, actually, in December of 2015, he puts a price on carbon and uses the numbers put forth by the IPCC to reach the goal of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. And his plan should, indeed, reach that level.

However, a certain amount of uncertainty remains. What Sanders proposes is what we call a [inaud.] dividend scheme. Basically, Sanders is proposing a fee on carbon use. The problem is that we don’t fully understand what the implication of the fee is on carbon use. So there’s not exactly a perfect mechanism to make sure that the carbon reduction goals are met.

PERIES: Tell me a little bit more about the different focus of each candidate. For example, Hillary seems to be, at least according to this piece we just saw, focused more on transitioning the economy, looking at renewable energies and looking at innovation and so on, and from what I can see, Bernie Sanders is, of course, supporting that, but also more concerned about just stopping and following what the environmental movement is saying, which is what is in the ground must stay in the ground, and trying to take some action in that direction.

PAUL: What I would say here is that Sanders’ proposals to me, actually, are promoting a true path forward for an economic transition away from a carbon-based economy, while Clinton’s rhetoric, for instance, her go-to is the half a billion solar panels, and that this would certainly lead to investment in the renewable energy sector, she’s not advocating for a true transition to renewable energy. She is advocating for a substantial transition to fracking, what’s known–sorry, natural gas extraction. However, she’s proposing to build significantly more fossil fuel infrastructure, whereas Sanders is actually proposing to put a halt on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, which is crucial to the environmental movement and would truly help us transition away from a fossil fuel economy.

PERIES: Now, to be fair to Clinton, you do understand that in various places where she’s published her position she is talking about investing in renewable energy, that that is the future in terms of dealing with climate change. What are your responses? Isn’t that a good thing?

PAUL: Yes, absolutely. I think that Clinton’s policies, for instance to build these solar panels, is a positive initiative. I think that it was great that Clinton decided to not back the Keystone pipeline. However, let’s keep in mind, she was very late to come onto that bandwagon. For instance, Sanders stopped fracking in Vermont and has been advocating for years that there should be no more fracking on public land, whereas Clinton was really late coming to the game, and recently she was quoted in saying that’s a quote-unquote done deal. Yet we haven’t seen strong initiatives put forth by Clinton to actually foster this clean transition she’s talking about. So by all means, I certainly welcome stronger policy initiatives by Clinton to foster a true transition, but I don’t think what I’ve seen put forth by her thus far indicates that she’s really ready to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, particularly the natural gas industry.

PERIES: Now, the New York primaries are coming up on next Tuesday, and of course extraction in northern New York is a big issue, as is fracking. And each candidate has taken a position on fracking. Bernie has said no to fracking. And Hillary Clinton, as you may have already indicated here, is a bit divided. It seems to be that whatever state position is she is willing to support. That is a wishy-washy situation. What does it mean for these states when she takes this position of whatever the state prefers?

PAUL: What I think it means for the states is continued uncertainty. Something that we really can support Sanders on is the consistency. From day one Sanders has set forth platforms and has continued to back them. Clinton constantly changes her answers based, as you said, on what the state is supporting at the time. So I think this creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And one thing that’s important to keep in mind here is not only do we need a government accountable to the voters, but we also need a government that to some degree is accountable to business. When businesses are trying to understand where and when and how to invest in this clean energy transition, having some form of consistency is very important to business, so they understand where to direct their research and development, for instance. And I think that what we’ve seen from Clinton is continued uncertainty and continued pandering to whatever state she’s in at the time.

I think this New York primary is going to be very telling. Upstate New York has significant amounts of fracking. And one thing that we haven’t touched on is the environmental justice that circles around fracking. Fracking can be tremendously hazardous to health. And this is something that I don’t believe Clinton has sufficiently addressed, whereas Sanders has fleshed out a very impressive environmental justice platform to try to help ensure that as we pollute the environment and as we work on transitioning to a green energy economy we don’t only care, we don’t only make sure that we don’t leave those workers behind that were in the fossil fuel sector, but we also make sure that those individuals that were being polluted on, for instance individuals near fracking wells, are taken care of adequately.

PERIES: Now, let’s talk about Bernie Sanders’ market-based solutions to climate change and how it might work out for us.

PAUL: Yeah, so these market-based solutions that he’s putting forth, I want to be clear, are only one part of his platform. So by no means is Senator Sanders saying that we should rely on the market to fix all the problems. What he’s saying is that he believes we need to put a price on carbon. Over 90 percent of economists in a recent poll done by the Chicago Bluth School agreed that we need to put a price on carbon. So this is one instance where Senator Sanders has economists left, right, and center really backing his initiatives. The price would increase on carbon as the years go on. So he’d first start by putting a $15 price on carbon in 2017, and that would ratchet up progressively as the years go on.

What’s really important to note about this policy, though, is it’s what is called a fee and dividend policy. So when you and I go to the pump, we’re going to pay a higher price because we now have a carbon tax. What’s important to note, though, is that we’re actually going to have more monies, most Americans will actually have more money in their pocket at the end of the day. But how can that be? Through the policy, Sanders will take the money that is raised through this tax on carbon and will actually distribute it back to the people. This is not a novel idea. It’s something that we’ve seen, and it works, actually, for instance right now in Alaska they have payouts to their citizens from oil revenue.

PERIES: Now, Sanders introduced some legislation in December that would impose a $15 fee per metric tonne of carbon emissions in 2017 and gradually raise the fee to $50 in 2030 with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent in 2030. What do you make of all of this? It seems very cumbersome.

PAUL: I think that Sanders has put forth a very detailed policy that could have a substantial impact, positive impact, on reducing our net greenhouse gas emissions. What this policy is doing, though, is only tackling one aspect of greenhouse gas emissions: carbon. This policy is not dealing with methane, for instance, which is a substantial problem through fracking. The policy, I think, is a significant step forward. Now, that said, what it doesn’t do is set exact productions in the carbon itself. So it sets a fee, but it doesn’t exactly tell us, well, we will give it a reduced carbon by this set amount. That would be actually a cap and dividend as opposed to a fee and dividend. So there are different proposals out there at this time in the legislature.

PERIES: Now, Mark, Bernie Sanders has come under a great deal of criticism in the sense of his plan may be good and good on paper, but getting this kind of policy passed in the current Congress or in Senate is going to be rather difficult. And so what do you say to that, and what can he do without Congressional approval?

PAUL: Yeah, that’s a really important point. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth Warren had a great piece in the New York Times earlier this month talking about how this election is truly about the vision of the different candidates. And one of the big differences here is that Sanders has put forth a true vision to actually move us to a clean energy economy, away from a fossil fuel-based economy, whereas Clinton, I think, largely is a continuation of the Obama era, which, by all means, is a substantial step in the right direction, but by no means are those types of policies getting us to where we really need to go, according to climate experts.

Now, Sanders can do a number of things under the executive power to improve the current outlook of this energy transition. While he might not be able to pass a tax on carbon he could do things like strengthening the EPA. So for instance, the EPA has stopped investigating the water quality impacts of fracking. He could order the EPA to pick that back up. He could enforce current rules on the books. So for instance, he could change the Clean Power Plan to incentivize renewables rather than actually incentivizing a transition to fracking natural gas. He could also regulate fracking through other legislation that’s already active and has already been passed, such as the Clean Water Act. Right now fracking fluids are exempt from the Clean Water Act, which has led to disastrous environmental outcomes. And I believe that Sanders could do a substantial amount under these existing legislatures, pieces of legislation that are on the books, through simply improving enforcement.

PERIES: Mark Paul, I thank you so much for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you. Have a great day.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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