Former Portland, Ore., Mayor Adams discusses new carbon pricing handbook for policymakers

As U.S. EPA moves forward with emissions regulations, how should lawmakers approach the conversation on carbon pricing? During today's OnPoint, Sam Adams, director of the World Resources Institute's U.S. Climate Initiative and the former mayor of Portland, Ore., discusses WRI's new carbon pricing handbook for U.S. policymakers and talks about the politics of climate change legislation.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Sam Adams, director of the World Resources Institute's U.S. Climate Initiative and the former mayor of Portland, Oregon. Sam it's a pleasure to have you here.

Sam Adams: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Sam, the Climate Initiative recently released a handbook for U.S. policymakers on carbon pricing in the U.S. It comes at a very interesting time when EPA is moving forward with emissions regulations. States are grappling with how and even if to comply with EPA's Clean Power Plan. Why does the conversation on carbon pricing need to happen now?

Sam Adams: Well I think for the reason you mentioned in terms of this administration's work to implement the climate action plan for sure and I think probably three other reasons.

One is we have a presidential election coming up, major elections for U.S. Congress at the state and local level. I think informing those races and the candidates' thinking around how do you have a prosperous low-carbon economy is really important. So this research is intended to have the elections as an audience for the findings.

In addition to that, we've got the United Nations Global Summit in Paris at the end of this year. It's important too, in this case, this report looks at the 38 nations already in the world that have priced carbon. We want to inform that conversation.

Then really though probably the third reason to do a handbook on pricing carbon is there is so much evidence, a preponderance of facts and analytics that show it is an effective way to both, if depending on the policy design's choices, it is an effective way to both stimulate the economy in the creation of jobs while transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Monica Trauzzi: So on the 2016 elections, you would argue that there are votes to be made if lawmakers side with moving forward on carbon regulation.

Sam Adams: I'm a realist and I think the chance of a price on carbon, a national price on carbon, being picked up as a banner for one of the presidential candidates is probably low and probably pretty low for the state races, congressional and state races as well, but we still want to help set the future conversation with some facts and with some analytics and inform as much as possible those contests, those debates.

You can support a price on carbon and demonstrate a number of potential benefits for this country even if you don't believe in climate change. You can use the revenues from pricing carbon to provide rebates for the folks that pay it, for companies that pay it. You can use it for economic development and job growth in terms of incenting innovation and clean technology.

So there are lots of reasons to look at this, but I'm a realist. I understand that this is probably a future discussion that will have more traction.

Monica Trauzzi: What are the biggest market failures that need correcting through some type of pricing mechanism?

Sam Adams: Well, fundamentally as the facts show right now, the carbon polluter does not pay and there's few incentives. In fact, there are many disincentives to even look at the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon under the way things are now outside of those countries and states and provinces and cities that price carbon.

Oftentimes the conversation is set up as we have to choose between helping the environment or helping the economy. I think that when you look at those nearly 40 countries and 20-odd-some states and provinces that have set this up in a smart way, that's not the case and you only need to look as close as California that has had such an economic renaissance and a very aggressive cap-and-trade price on carbon.

You've got British Columbia who has a price on carbon now for nearly five years and very successful economically. You've got here even in New England RGGI success in the power sector at pricing carbon. So it's no longer either or and if done right, you can do both.

Monica Trauzzi: But how do you protect industries that are emitting high levels of carbon and those states that are very economically dependent on these industries like the coal industry?

Sam Adams: For me personally I think that a smart national price on carbon also deals within equity of impacts that will happen. I think that it is absolutely fair that if we're going to price carbon and you have disproportionate impacts, economic impacts on coal country, that that policy would take into account that and to provide the support needed with the change.

There are elements of that in the last time that Congress seriously considered this, this economic equity elements, and I think that most policymakers would want to pursue the same kind of equity elements to a national price on carbon.

Monica Trauzzi: And this is the first in a series of handbooks on carbon pricing that you'll be releasing. So what aspects will be explored in the subsequent papers?

Sam Adams: The following research, the next following research, it's nerdy, but important stuff. I will dig deep on the mechanics. What are the best results from a particular approach to putting a tax on carbon versus a cap and trade. Where has the experience of these 38 countries, what have the lessons that they've learned in terms of getting the most and the fairest mechanism of pricing carbon.

Then also we'll be looking at the issue of innovation. How can you have complementary policies beyond the pure taxing mechanism that will spur clean technology and innovation. Right now China is leading the world in clean technology innovation by a number of measures. The national price on carbon, we will dive deep to look at what are the best practices to make sure that if we pursue this, the United States gets the full economic benefit of job creation and supporting businesses.

Then we also want to look at this issue of equity. What's a best practice approach? What is a fair way to deal with the disproportionate impacts if you go to a price on carbon across the United States? There is a difference between the impacts of the Pacific Northwest where I'm from and coal country here in the Mid-Atlantic.

Monica Trauzzi: So you had a lot of success in Portland in greening that city. How are you going to take the accomplishments you had there and some of the lessons learned and apply it to your new work at WRI?

Sam Adams: I think that the one area that I'm very passionate about is economic prosperity. I grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast, hard struggle background, I know how important it is that a family have economic security, access to good-paying jobs.

So when you're the mayor of a city pursuing a deeply green sustainability agenda, you also, or I did, pursued an economic development strategy that takes full advantage of that. I think cities have really led innovation on this issue. It's not a partisan issue when you get to the city level. Most mayors, most city councils are elected on a nonpartisan basis in this country, and our particular climate action plan also was integrated with an economic development strategy called We Build Green Cities. It really helped propel and support Portland's clean technology industry to grow jobs by exporting not only the products that they made, like modular eco-roofs, but also the green professional services, like engineering and architecture and systems engineering around deeply green building.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate your time.

Sam Adams: My pleasure. Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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