By Steve Chapman
The Trump administration’s formal notification that it will abandon the Paris climate agreement should be treated as a huge in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party. It’s an emphatic message to anyone who cares about the planet: Do not, under any circumstance, vote Republican in 2020.
The Democrats running for president could not be more starkly opposed to Donald Trump. He mocks climate change as a hoax, wants to dig coal until West Virginia is just a vast cavity in the ground and thinks the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be a safe space for oil rigs. The Democrats recognize scientific reality, favor the Paris accord and are committed to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of the candidates, unfortunately, are enamored of the old command-and-control approach to environmental protection: forbidding this and requiring that. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris support a ban on fracking, a method that has greatly increased U.S. oil and gas production. Almost all the candidates would end new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Raising vehicle fuel economy standards and setting a deadline for all vehicles to achieve zero emissions are common ideas.
These proposals all suffer from the same flaw: dictating purported solutions from on high, with little regard for side effects, instead of devising incentives for creative, inexpensive remedies. This approach guarantees that the cost will be higher than necessary and results worse.
Contrast that with, say, a prompt ban on fracking, which would minimize flexibility and maximize pain. It would devastate an industry, sharply increase the price of oil, provide a windfall to Saudi Arabia and Russia and disrupt the transition away from coal-fired electricity.
“It would be a humongous shock to the global market and affect economies around the world,” Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, told me. “But you wouldn’t do much to reduce emissions.”