"There is virtually no prospect that the US will adopt a cap and trade system [to deal with climate change] at any point in the period to 2020."
Greg Hunt on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 in a speech to the Grattan Institute
Greg Hunt says US won't adopt cap and trade by 2020
The Coalition has attacked the introduction of a carbon tax on many fronts — increases to the cost of living, its inability to reduce emissions, and one we have recently dealt with: that the world is moving away from carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes.
The Coalition’s shadow minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, Greg Hunt, recently gave a sweeping overview of global action on emissions in his speech to the Grattan Institute, Choosing the right market mechanisms for addressing environmental problems: Incentives for Action under the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan for the Environment and Climate Change.
Specifically, he said, "there is virtually no prospect that the US will adopt a Cap and Trade system at any point in the period to 2020". We were interested in what he said about the US, though acknowledge and appreciate that predicting the political future involves inherent risk.
In his speech, Hunt backed up the statement by saying senior Republicans, such as Jim Sensenbrenner, had declared that: "Any kind of carbon tax is dead in the US," and that Obama used his 2013 State of the Union address to acknowledge that the most likely course of action would be energy efficiency programs.
These are, of course, more in the Coalition's Direct Action playbook to tackle climate change than the Rudd-Gillard's love of either a carbon tax or an market-based, cap and trade ETS, as proposed from July 1 next year (a year earlier than planned thanks to a recent Rudd flip).
Hunt’s media adviser, Wendy Black, added negotiations toward a new global climate pact by 2015, reaffirmed by the 2012 UN climate conference in Doha, would not come into effect until 2020. "We expect the current range of policies will guide them through to 2020," she said.
In a PolitiFact first, we asked our fellow fact-checkers in the US whether there was "virtually no prospect" of Washington adopting a cap and trade system by 2020. They said a lot could change in a few years, indeed it has already.
In 2008, presidential candidates for both political parties, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, supported federal cap and trade policies. Obama (the Democrat) won.
In 2009, climate change legislation championed by a coalition of business and environmental leaders barely passed a Democrat-led House then fell apart in a Democrat-led Senate. Even McCain, long a reliable supporter for climate policy, abandoned the effort.
Fierce grass roots efforts by conservative protesters took the bill’s supporters by surprise. They had expected some Republican support for a market-based effort at carbon reduction.
Instead, in the end, Republican senators refused to support any type of cap and trade legislation, with backing from grass roots and big-money conservatives. In the 2010 mid term elections, Congress moved even further away from the collaborative body required to pass big climate legislation, as conservative lawmakers became the majority in the House.
"The 112th House that took office in January 2011 was one of the most right-wing in U.S. history, and it included dozens of Tea Party backed Republicans who would not bargain about any major Democratic legislative priority, certainly not carbon controls or green energy legislation," wrote Theda Skocpol, a political scientist at Harvard University who examined the bill’s failure and has written a book about America’s far-right "tea party" conservatives.
Now, we should be clear: There are already some regional and state-based cap and trade efforts in the United States for carbon emissions, such as in California and the north-eastern states.
Meanwhile, Obama outlined his own climate action plan that directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set federal limits on carbon pollution.
Hunt says the plan focuses on emissions standards, direct support for renewable energy technology and energy efficiency measures, drawing links with the Coalition’s Direct Action plan. "He (Obama) made a clear commitment to action on climate change but without a Carbon Tax, without an emissions trading scheme and without a cap and trade scheme. In short, higher energy and electricity taxes are off the national agenda in the United States," Hunt said.
Setting up a federal cap and trade program – one that set a mandatory cap on carbon pollution but gave polluters the ability to trade allowances – will require cooperation from the U.S. Congress.
No one PolitiFact spoke with believes the current Congress would take up such an effort, which would require a bipartisan effort with majorities in the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate agreeing to a bill that Obama would sign.
"Nothing's going to happen with any sort of carbon-capping until Democrats control both houses of Congress. That's for sure," Skocpol said.
And even then, it would require sustained, broad networks of support for congressional action, according to Skocpol’s post-mortem on the 2009 effort.
Lawmakers from states with strong oil or coal production or that rely on coal for electricity would be unlikely to support caps on carbon whatever their party.
The question is: What would it take to resurrect federal cap and trade efforts?
Expert views on whether there’s a "prospect" that the United States would adopt a cap and trade system or carbon tax by 2020 depends on their support or opposition to the effort. Supporters see a chance, perhaps under the next president and after the 2018 midterm elections. Opponents say it’s virtually nil, just as Hunt does.
Power shifts with "House" elections every two years. Senators are up for re-election every six years.
House Republicans are strongly favored to stay in power in 2014. Meanwhile, Republicans would need to gain just six seats to take control of the Senate.
But for a switch later, the story goes something like this: a strong Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 commands a large turnout, which helps gain the House. That hold strengthens in the 2018 mid-term elections.
That might be light-years away in terms of American politics, but so is Hunt’s claim about cap and trade policy prior to 2020.
"What happens in ‘14 or ‘16 or ‘18 is in the American crystal ball," said David Doniger, a policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Greg Hunt said there is virtually no prospect that the U.S. will adopt a cap and trade system at any point in the period to 2020.
We think things change fast in Australian politics - our number of prime ministers in the last five years might spring to mind. Transforming the carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme a year early might come a close second.
But things change fast in American politics too. Our American friends at PolitiFact say a lot could change in the next seven years. A lot has in the last seven. But the odds are stacked up against rapid change given the make-up of the White House and the Congress.
Hunt gets credit for a fairly accurate assessment of the current political environment in the US. His assessment holds more or less true until at least 2018, and yes, the outlook for the global climate change pact delivers more heft to his argument. By using the phrase "virtually no prospect" Hunt has given himself even extra cover.
We rate this statement Mostly True.
Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 10:04 a.m.
Greg Hunt, Speech to Grattan Institute, July 16, 2013
Wendy Black, phone conversation, July 29, 2013
US Environmental Protection Agency, Frequent Questions, April 2009
The Guardian, Global climate change treaty in sight after Durban breakthrough, December 12, 2011
Theda Skocpol, What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming, January 2013
US Environment Protection Agency, Cap & Trade Programs, April 2009
The White House, President Obama's Climate Action Plan, June 25, 2013
Politico, The Incredibly Shrunken 2014 Battlefield, July 22, 2013
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