An ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to energy policy

Jul 27, 2019

By David E. Ballantyne

I have, in the recent past, heard many people express the phrase; “I believe in an all of the above approach to energy policy.” It is mostly those persons who self-identify as Conservatives who use this phrase. I fall into that group. I support the phase. It is catchy and somehow “all-American.” How could anyone NOT support such a democratic and capitalist view?

However, I think it important to “unpack” this phrase and define terms as it applies to energy and energy public policy. “All-of-the-Above” implies all of the various commercial, exchangeable forms of energy; coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar and wind. These compete in the marketplace. Your light bulb shines just as bright regardless of which of these “sent the electrons your way.” Consumers evaluate energy primarily on price and reliability; but, they rarely know where the energy truly comes from.

On the other hand, when added all together (transportation, residential heating/cooling, industrial, and all other), energy is a substantial cost to the consumer. However, with the advent of global climate change, there are big differences in the environmental impact among these sources of energy. This difference in climate impact is only recently being understood — related to climate change emissions. Nuclear, hydroelectric, solar and wind have no climate impact, while coal, oil and natural gas have substantial climate impact. Do we care?

Large and growing segments of the population do care where their energy comes from, including Conservatives. So, how does public policy offer the principles of free enterprise, free & fair trade, let the market decide, don’t pick winners and losers, each paying their fair share, no barriers to trade plus no inappropriate incentives and subsidies, avoiding plus paying for the damage they are doing to the environment? This is a difficult challenge. What is the role of government in public policy to assure the preceding benefits of orderly markets — globally?

A growing majority of Americans plus countries globally are encouraging adoption of “carbon pricing.” The principal cause of global climate change is CO2 in the atmosphere. Economists plus climate scientists agree that carbon pricing allows us all to “vote our pocketbook.” CO2 is impartial. Once it reaches the atmosphere it doesn’t care where it comes from. Do you care? If you care, don’t buy it. If you don’t care or can’t avoid it, go ahead. History and experience indicates that carbon pricing, together with rebate/dividend of the revenue to all citizens is the most effective way to encourage innovation, substitution, avoidance and overall reduction in CO2 emissions — globally.

Economists forecast that two-thirds of the US population will receive more in dividend of their share in the carbon fees paid than they will pay in higher carbon prices. There are bills pending in the US congress for various forms of a climate change solution. Most of these include carbon pricing and dividend. We strongly need a climate solution. It�s time for bipartisan bargaining.

David E. Ballantyne is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action and co-leader of the Marietta Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.