Americans Favor EPA Regulation Over Carbon Tax Or Cap And Trade

Americans want the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, preferring EPA regulation far more than a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program, according to a Harvard political scientist who has conducted a comprehensive survey of attitudes toward energy and climate for the last 12 years.
Experts view EPA regulation as the least efficient way to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but Americans readily accept EPA's role, Harvard Government Professor Stephen Ansolabehere said during a December appearance at the University of Chicago.
"People accept the EPA power to cap carbon emissions. They support giving EPA the power to do that," Ansolabehere told climate scientists, physicists, economists and public-policy experts gathered by The Energy Policy Institute of Chicago (EPIC).
"People view this as EPA's power to regulate the environment, and carbon is one of those things. People accept that, but they're not willing to do the things they would have to do need to do at a personal consumption level, such as pay a higher gas price, pay a higher electricity price, and I think they just do not see the connection between cap and trade and energy."
Ansobelere conducted a meta-analysis of 25 surveys of Americans and found that:
75 to 80 percent of Americans favor EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions
45 to 55 percent favor cap and trade
25 to 45 percent favor a carbon tax
The consensus for EPA regulation crosses party lines, Ansolabehere noted, while carbon-tax discussions tend to deteriorate from problem-solving efforts at environmental policy into partisan disagreements over tax policy.
"People started talking about carbon tax as tax policy rather than environmental policy, and suddenly it was partisan," he said. "It got very complicated."
Strong support for EPA regulation may stem from EPA's mission to protect public health.
"Concern about global warming doesn't explain why 80 percent of people want a regulatory cap," Ansolabehere said, but concern about local pollution and health does. The public is more likely to support mercury and soot regulations that protect local health, while helping the U.S. meet its climate goals, than a carbon tax just designed to achieve climate goals.
The surveys also asked people about their concern for the health of people elsewhere in the world and the welfare of future generations. "There's pretty low concern about those things," he said.
Because of public focus on local effects, Ansolabehere suggests policy makers pursue a localized strategy to promote cleaner energy:
Express the health costs associated with coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
Stop thinking of climate policy as just climate policy. Start expressing it as energy policy and environmental policy.
Give higher priority to policies that simultaneously achieve local energy and environmental goals and long-term climate goals.
Ansolabehere and Georgetown public policy professor David M. Konisky detail these findings and more in a recent book, "Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think About Energy in the Age of GLobal Warming" published by MIT Press. Among their other findings:

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