Conservative California politicos should take a pro-active position on climate.  Doing so would pitch a curve ball into the field of play, and ultimately be an important contributor to rebalancing state politics.

The legislature just passed SB 100, which mandates 100% carbon free power by 2045.  And although this measure was pushed by progressives, it undoubtedly enjoys support from many other voters as an aspirational goal.  

The Yale Climate Communications Opinion Map shows that 68% of Californians worry about global warming.  In every Congressional district more than 50% the general population believes that global warming is mostly caused by human activity.  California being California, the map differs considerably from the rest of the U.S.

There are many issues in our state to disagree on.  But a well-thought-out, conservative climate alternative will turn a lot of heads. The general reaction of independents and moderate progressives, many of whom, once reliably conservative, is likely to be “Who would’ve thought . . ?”

So, what would a conservative State climate policy look like?

It’s posited here that the policy’s foundation should be a predictable, gradually increasing price on carbon.  This may draw vigorous discussion from fellow conservatives.  But, almost all economists who’ve studied climate policy options agree that carbon pricing is the most efficient, effective, and ultimately fair way to address the problem.

While it may be tempting to just groove a political pitch, a conservative delivery always plays the percentages.  Major oil companies favor a carbon tax.  And according to Yale, some 72% of Californians favor fossil fuel companies paying such a tax.  This Stat is hugely important when facing switch hitters.

And yet tax is not a policy nor a political strategy.  There are other conservative attributes that should be factored into melding a final climate policy:  market-based, comprehensive, revenue-neutral, technology agnostic, transparent, easy to understand, federated, and durable.  Most attributes are self-evident, but a few warrant additional explanation.

A comprehensive policy would apply to all fuels based on their carbon content.  Technology agnostic would continue to allow fossil fuels to be burned, even wastefully, so long as the carbon price is paid.  Agnostic also permits carbon capture and next generation nuclear.  Federated means that the policy would be keyed with other states and a future national climate policy to assure California leads, but its economy is protected where comparable policies are not implemented.  Durable means that the policy is designed to stoutly resist political meddling over the years.

The big issue on carbon pricing is what to do with the all the money.  No surprise.

One strong candidate, at least in the early years, is a tax swap where the state’s current individual and corporate state tax premiums, relative to other states, are gradually reduced.  This resembles the carbon tax swap in British Columbia, enacted by its conservative government in 2008.  Another option is to rebate a portion of the funds to corporations and individuals. This is akin to the Alaska Permanent Fund.  Professor Larry Goulder’s recent work at Stanford and the University’s on-going Energy Modeling Forum are valuable resources for weighing these policy options.

A successful climate policy must exist and be part of a triad:  Policy Framework, Public Support, and Technology Innovation.  The state’s current policy framework, nominally Cap and Trade, is really a mish mash of overlapping mandates, regulations and incentives that few people understand.  It’s opaque and public support is tenuous.  Much of the credit for what’s been achieved so far goes to private sector innovation and entrepreneurship, for which California’s policy deserves minimal credit.

The easy plays in California for addressing climate have already been made, and the going will get much tougher if SB 100 aspirations are to be realized.  There’s a strong possibility public support for the state’s current climate program will fade in the middle and later innings.  Meanwhile a Null Policy leaves a huge amount of opportunity unredeemed in the political field of play.

Conservatives: why not throw the climate curve ball?