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Energy Plan & Climate Bill: Tactical Link

Interviewee: Robert N. Stavins, Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program
Interviewer: Toni Johnson, Staff Writer, CFR.org
March 1, 2010

President Obama recently laid out his plans for U.S. energy policy, including supporting more biofuels, offshore drilling of oil and natural gas, billions more dollars (PDF) for clean coal, and loan guarantees for nuclear power. Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University's environmental economics program, says the aim of the energy policy push is to "increase the political viability" of getting a climate bill though the U.S. Congress. He points out the fundamental conflicts that arise between climate change policy and energy security policy, noting that the president's inclusion of more oil drilling may make sense from an energy security standpoint but makes no sense from a climate policy standpoint.

Stavins questions whether energy policy is a viable way to increase jobs in the short term while also fostering greenhouse gas reductions. "The phrase ‘green energy jobs' may be good politics, but it is not good economics," he says. "Climate change is a long-term problem, and economic stimulus is something you want to get out within weeks, months, to a year. They are they not necessarily consistent with one another." He contests the "conventional wisdom" that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats may back away from cap-and-trade in their climate bill, but he notes that a regulatory-only approach would not be enough to help the country achieve its stated goal under the 2009 UN Copenhagen Accord. He adds that the Obama administration's target of 17 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 will only go into effect if Congress acts.

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