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Cap-and-Trade Gives Conservatives Cover for the Clean Energy Americans Want, Professor Alex Geisinger Says in Op-Ed

Professor Alex Geisinger

October 16, 2017

An announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency will repeal the Clean Power Plan closes one door to regulating climate change but leaves another wide open, Professor Alex Geisinger wrote in an op-ed published in The Hill on Oct. 16.

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt scrapped the Clean Power Plan, designed to decrease power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fact that most Americans support regulations to curb change, Geisinger said.

The move responds to conservative critiques of “an administrative agency overreaching the powers delegated to it by Congress,” Geisinger said.

“Now that the plan is being repealed,” he said, “it is time to consider new regulatory fixes.”

Cap-and-trade represents a tool championed by conservatives that followed the 1970 passage of the Clean Air Act, Geisinger explained, adding that the regulation relies on market forces by placing a cost on the production of carbon.  

“This cost then incentivizes industry to find the most cost-effective ways to decrease emissions,” Geisinger wrote. “Very little ‘nanny state,’ much less administrative cost, and relatively cheap compliance are the result.” 

Cap and trade has already played a role in decreasing Sulphur dioxide pollution and greenhouse gases, Geisinger noted.

Expecting the free market to control greenhouse gases is a “non-starter,” he said, since climate change itself represents “the world’s biggest market failure.”

“The planned repeal of the Clean Power Plan has opened the door for a conservative Congress and president to adopt this market-driven regulation,” Geisinger concluded. “Failure to do so will reflect just how beholden they are to special interests rather than the American people.”

Geisinger's scholarship explores the role of legal theory in the development of international law, environmental law and criminal law.