Inslee Should Follow the Data to Reduce Greenhouse Emissions
Applying free-market cost-benefit standards to environmentalism is the key.
Todd Myers, who heads up the conservative Washington Policy Center's environmental research, submitted this response to governor-elect Jay Inslee's recent PubliCola op/ed on his environmental agenda.—Eds.
Recently, governor-elect Jay Inslee outlined his strategy for reducing energy-related carbon emissions, saying that in order to address the risk of climate change, we need to “think big” and “act boldly.” He promised to “demand a clear cost-benefit analysis” to make the best use of our environmental dollars.
If the governor-elect is serious about receiving the maximum amount of environmental benefit from our strategies to reduce carbon emissions, he will aggressively live up to that cost-benefit pledge. Prioritizing how we spend our environmental budget would ensure that our state focuses its limited budget and resources on efforts that yield the greatest amount of near-term carbon emissions reductions.
A commitment to prioritizing projects that yield the most environmental benefit, however, involves following the data even when the heart entices us in a different direction.
This approach has a strong bipartisan pedigree. In 2007, the National Resources Defense Council sponsored an effort by McKinsey to rank carbon-reduction strategies from most effective to least effective. Prioritizing not only ensures we receive the greatest amount of environmental benefit for each dollar we spend, a goal I share with the incoming Governor, but also helps ensure we don’t waste time – time that Inslee admits we don’t have – on policies that don’t work.
A commitment to prioritizing projects that yield the most environmental benefit involves following the data even when the heart entices us in a different direction.
For example, the governor-elect argues that state taxpayers should increase “financing options” to install solar panels. Our research, backed up by McKinsey’s findings, indicates this would be a tremendous waste of opportunity and resources, and would actually harm efforts to help the planet.
Already, the state gives those who are wealthy enough to afford Washington-made solar panels a subsidy of 54 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) generated. Since each kWh of solar energy only reduces the amount of CO2 from Washington energy sources by 0.298 lbs., we already spend more than $3,900 per ton of CO2 avoided. Compare that price to the $10.09 it costs to avoid a ton of carbon under California’s burdensome cap-and-trade system.
California companies are reducing more than 390 metric tons of carbon emissions for every one we reduce with expensive solar subsidies in our state. Put another way, for every $100 we spend on solar subsidies, we waste $99.75.
The Washington Policy Center’s “Environmental Priorities Act” is a way to make sure we aren’t spending huge sums of money on trendy, but ineffective, environmental policies that starve needed funding for projects with significant potential to help the environment.
With one simple step—prioritizing carbon emission policies by their effectiveness—our state can avoid environmental waste. For a cleaner world, governor-elect Inslee simply needs to keep his promise of demanding a clear cost benefit analysis and end wasteful programs like costly solar subsidies—that alone would make a world of difference.
The beginning of a new administration, with new directors who aren’t chained to the old approach, is a great time to take this positive step for Washington and the environment.
Todd Myers is the Environmental Director at the Washington Policy Center, a market-oriented think tank in Seattle. His book, “Eco-Fads: How the rise of trendy environmentalism is harming the environment,” has received national praise. His work has been featured in many Washington newspapers, the BBC, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. He previously served on the executive team at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources in Olympia. Todd also runs a public relations firm whose clients have included the Seattle Mariners and charities including the Treehouse and the Prescription Drug Assistance Foundation.