In Hugh Lofting’s children’s stories about “Doctor Doolittle” there appears an imaginary creature resembling a llama, but with a head at either end of the body, so that it always faces in two directions at once. Called the pushmi-pullyu, it’s become a metaphor for contradiction.
U.S. energy-environmental policy, I submit, is characterized by this kind of contradiction. And make no mistake, energy policy is profoundly affected by environmental policy. Mostly, it’s the bit left over after the environmental constituencies have been satisfied.
The country’s energy-environmental policies are subject to a plethora of contradicting stimuli and restrictions that, while sometimes achieving their goal, cost the economy 1 percent a year, according to an analysis by EY, the global accounting firm. This on top of bad decisions — based on what can be gotten through the regulatory thicket not on what is needed, or what will benefit the environment — and endless delay.
Now a group of Republican stalwarts, who believe that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, wants to do something about this pushmi-pullyu situation in energy-environmental policy. Their remedy: Substitute all the contradictions, preferments, subsidies, tax anomalies and self-defeating rules with a simple, revenue-neutral carbon tax.
These climate change-minded conservatives have created a Washington-based organization, the Alliance for Market Solutions. Its executive director is Alex Flint, a former staff director of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and a former senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The backers of the alliance — rock-ribbed Republican business executives, academics and think-tank fellows — are committed to turning the GOP toward taking a positive stance on climate change. They believe that science has spoken, and the environment is the great existential threat facing humanity.
Among those who are throwing their experiential weight and financial resources behind the alliance are Jeffrey Williams, founder and chairman of the eponymous investment banking company; William Strong, chairman and managing director of the private equity firm Longford Capital Management; Marvin Odum, former chairman of Shell Oil; John Rowe, former chairman of Exelon Corp., and Stephen Wolf, former chairman and CEO of United and three other airlines.
These titans are joined by academics and public intellectuals including John Graham, dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration, and Christopher DeMuth, a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former president of the American Enterprise Institute.
The alliance and its backers are neither seeking to argue with the Trump administration, which has denied climate change, nor to take up arms with the forces that categorically reject any new tax. They say they’ll only support a carbon tax if it’s a genuine tax reform as well as a regulatory reform. They want to work quietly, and in small groups, inside the GOP body politic.
The difficulties of getting Republican lawmakers to consider a carbon tax were illustrated when Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida introduced a such a bill on July 23. It got immediate pushback from Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, and the House passed an anti-carbon tax resolution on July 25.
But Flint and members of the alliance are undaunted: “As long as we have to address carbon pollution and doing so with a carbon tax is much less burdensome than doing so with regulations, and we have to make our tax code more efficient, a carbon tax is going to be part of the conversation,” Flint said at his offices near the Capitol.
The battle to contain carbon emissions is joined — from the right.
On Twitter: @llewellynking2
Llewellyn King (email@example.com) is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.