Obama surrogate opens, closes door to carbon tax

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“We know we have to tackle spending. We know we have to tackle revenues. And so the president will be pragmatic, and if he actually sees a goodwill gesture from the other side, whether it's on a carbon tax, whether it's on other elements of fiscal and tax reform that are consistent with his principles, and it's being fair to the middle class, and if you can do so in a way that also tackles the challenge of climate change, I think he would consider that,” said Aldy, who is now a professor with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

He added: “But I'm just speculating on that, but I think it's important to say, hey, is he going to come out and actually propose this? He needs to see a goodwill gesture from the other side, because he hasn't seen it for the last four years.”

Cass, for his part, said Obama’s climate policy has become uncertain.

“Now it's a very interesting argument to say, who knows what President Obama thinks, but he's not willing to put anything forward, particularly as someone running for president. One would hope that someone running for president would be very proud to say what they think, look forward to putting it forward, and attempt to bring people along with them,” he said.

A carbon tax would face massive opposition on Capitol Hill and has not been the focus of Democratic proposals to battle climate change.

But the idea has nonetheless generated interest of late, thanks to discussions in Washington policy circles and the backing of some former GOP House members (more on that here and here).

Cass during the debate said Romney’s focus is on green energy “innovation” as opposed to efforts to put a price on carbon emissions, which occurs under cap-and-trade and carbon tax plans.

He emphasized Romney’s view that federal support for alternative energy should be targeted to basic research, as opposed to tax credits and other policies to boost commercial deployment.

With climate legislation politically dead, the Obama administration has begun moving ahead with greenhouse gas regulations under its existing Clean Air Act powers.

Romney and most other Republicans oppose the rules, calling them economically burdensome, and the former Massachusetts governor wants to strip EPA’s power to regulate the emissions.

Asked by one of the questioners how Romney would show “leadership” and “rally” conservatives behind the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Cass said it would not be a priority but reiterated Romney’s backing for basic research.

“Well, I think, frankly, that that's not where Gov. Romney would put his emphasis. You know, I earlier in the discussion, when initially asked about whether that should be a focus for government policy, just said no. You know, advanced technologies with respect to coal and other fossil fuels are absolutely important, as are advanced technologies in the renewable space, and Gov. Romney believes that investment should focus across all of them,” he said.

“So in that respect, these are all things that would receive his attention. But with respect to a legislative agenda, moving forward, climate change would not be at the top of it,” Cass said.

Video of the debate is here.