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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cap-and-Whatever

Via TPM, I learned that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went on CNBC today and said the administration would no longer be using the term “cap-and-trade” for its climate change proposals.
This decision does not appear to mean any change in the actual proposal, which would still presumably involve placing a “cap” on carbon emissions and then creating a system whereby credits for exceeding carbon goals could be “traded,” thus creating market incentives for pollution control efforts and technology. It’s the label that seems to be the problem, probably because conservatives have taken to calling it “cap-and-tax.”
I can sympathize with the rebranding effort (though it’s not clear what the new monniker will be). I spent years at the Progressive Policy Institute, an early proponent of “cap-and-trade,” trying, without a lot of success, to find simple ways to explain this approach to carbon emissions. It wasn’t as hard as, say, trying to write descriptions of the “revolution in military affairs,” another perennial head-scratcher, but it was never possible to capture it on a bumper sticker.
It probably doesn’t matter, so long as the administration and congressional proponents continue to make it clear that cap-and-whatever is a way to limit potentially catastrophic carbon emissions while employing market mechanisms to create incentives for private-sector innovations in clean energy technology. It is, indeed, the kind of market-friendly alternative to command-and-control environmental regulations that conservatives ought to find attractive, and often have in the past. But it’s the substance, not the politics, of this approach, that really matters, and that will remain regardless of the marketing.

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