What's at Stake

What's at Stake

Colby political anaylysts provide perspective on the 2004 presidential election, ranging from foreign policy to the economy to the environment

Environmental Direction
Thomas Tietenberg
Mitchell Family Professor of Eonomics

"My sense is that in this election [the environment] doesn't achieve the same level of prominence that it has in some other elections. It is one of the major differences between the two candidates.
I think it is fair to say that to the Bush administration environmental regulation has been too onerous, too restrictive. The environmental community sees the administration as being anti-regulation, lacking many of the regulations that were already in place and failing to implement regulation in other areas where it seems appropriate.

That, it seems to me, was an issue that was shared with the Reagan election, the issue of what the proper role of the government is. I think that there is some sense in the Bush administration that regulation has gone too far and it's cut too deeply and the cost of regulation exceeds the benefits. In an area that I think is really of interest,energy and national security,we are depending more and more these days on imports of oil. That makes us vulnerable internationally for national security reasons, and what do we do about that? The administration approach is that we have to gear up the domestic supply to replace imports. The environmental position is that we have to think about reducing demand and increasing energy efficiency and that simply using our dwindling supply of energy would have serious long-term consequences.

Another flash point between the communities is that the Bush administration in its search for alternative domestic sources of oil turns to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a major source of oil. The environmental community points out that (a) the amount of oil that is there won't in the long run make a significant difference, but (b) it is a unique place with unique ecologies. And the track record with other pipelines is not terrific. There is a major difference there.

And of course my own area of research is in climate change, and that is a very huge difference.

President Bush the candidate announced that he was for doing something about climate change, and the environmental community had great expectations about that. What happened after he became president is that he completely changed his mind and so decided that climate change was something he was not going to pursue. And so from my point of view, we've paid a very high price for that since.

It seems that the Bush administration stand on climate change was primarily two-fold. One is that the science is probably wrong, but then their own National Academy of Science came out and basically said climate change is real and we ought to be doing something about it.

The second position is that it cost too much for the U.S. to meet its obligations under the [U.N.] Kyoto Protocol [United Nations climate change agreement], but a close analysis of that indicates that the cost of meeting the Kyoto Protocol basically involves a slight delay in reaching the same level of wealth, so instead of reaching a given level of wealth in 2006 we would reach it in 2007.

I think that most people have this image that the economy is going to nose dive if we were to do that. Absolutely none of the models suggest anything like that. They suggest that the increase in wealth will be slightly slower. And I think a lot of people in the country think, since climate change has strong intergenerational characteristics, that we could have huge impacts on the future. I think that most people think that that is a safe precaution to take.

We have more choices now than we will have in the future. And the more we don't make those choices, then the narrower and narrower those choices become. And the harder and harder it is to make them. The whole notion of sustainability has become absolutely crucial, and a lot of what is going on now is flying in the face of this."
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