Last Wednesday, the Brookings Institution hosted “America’s Energy Future: New Solutions to Fuel Economic Growth and Prosperity.” The first panel, “New Policies for a Cleaner Economy,” featured heavy-hitters: John Deutch (MIT “Institute” professor, former CIA Director…), Joseph Aldy (former Obama assistant on climate & energy), as well as Brookings Senior Fellows Ted Gayer and Michael Greenstone, who moderated.
Greenstone opened by noting how closely-linked energy consumption is to our well-being, but strongly cautioned about very serious un-priced side effects, especially from fossil fuels. Gayer recommended reforming government cost-benefit analysis to focus more on those un-priced externalities, especially since consumer benefits, he noted, are already efficiently priced into markets. Deutch advocated creation of a national energy technology research corporation to harness private sector investment free of a Department of Energy that “is mostly about bombs.” Aldy proposed a technology-neutral “National Clean Electricity Standard” to tax carbon-intense electricity generation and credit low- and zero-carbon electricity, while providing federal revenue.
Greenstone asked the panel if their proposals wouldn’t be better replaced by a “grand bargain” to provide more of what we like: income, and less of what we dislike: carbon pollution. “[T]he giant prize standing in front of us is the realization that one could raise revenue instead of raising income taxes… through a carbon tax or some kind of carbon charge.” Aldy enthusiastically agreed, claiming “evidence of bipartisan support” and pointing out that he and Brookings economist Adele Morris proposed a carbon tax to the Obama deficit commission.
Deutch chimed in, “I couldn’t agree more with a proposal to do a comprehensive greenhouse gas tax. It depends, of course, on how it’s designed… and how you allocate the revenue. So if you put onto a tax proposal like you say a revenue proposal, then you have at least some chance of selling it.” Deutch urged return of some revenue to taxpayers as “walking around money.” “We’ve got to get the legislation passed,” he concluded.