In an attempt to pick up on John’s suggestion to write about something that could be in the current news cycle, I wanted to pose the question of what it is that Republicans are hoping to accomplish by defeating Obama’s cap and trade proposals for green house gases. (Hat tip to WNYC’s The Takeaway for their discussion on this topic this morning).
From my vantage point as a political scientist, I would see this policy debate as having essentially four conceivable endpoints: the Status Quo (SQ) (no regulation or taxation on greenhouse gasses); cap and trade (CPTD); a carbon tax (CATA); or some form of EPA regulation (EPA). Now, my assumption would be that your typical opponent of regulating/taxing green house gasses might have the following set of preferences:
SQ > CPTD > CATA > EPA
With that in mind, let’s assume that we are either living in one of two possible worlds: in world 1, SQ remains a legitimate option (e.g., it is possible that greenhouse gases will remain unregulated or taxed for the foreseeable future); in world 2, SQ is no longer an option (e.g., the issue of greenhouse gases will be addressed by new legislation in one form or another).
What, then, can we infer from a Republican party that seems determined to defeat cap and trade? The simplest answer seems to be that the party leadership must believe that the status quo remains a realistic option for now. If this assumption turns out to be incorrect, however, and we are actually living in world 2, then it seems like the Republicans could be embarking on a very dangerous strategy. For if we are living in a world where the status quo is no longer an option, then defeating cap and trade could eventually lead to either a carbon tax or direct regulation by the EPA. And indeed, this latter point is exactly what Lisa Jackson of the EPA implied during her interview with the _The Takeaway_ this morning.
The other option is that I’ve got the preference ordering wrong, and Republican believe we are living in a world where the status quo is no longer tenable, but would prefer greater regulation from the EPA (possibly because it could be tied up in the courts for years?) or a straight carbon tax. Still, this seems fairly unlikely to me.
I suppose a different explanation is that the Republican party believes that there is another policy option that I’m not capturing in my simple equation. If so, I’d be curious to know what it is.