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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Topic: EPA

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June 26, 2013 at 8:44 AM

Obama, the climate, the economy

President Obama unveils his plan on climate change in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images).

President Obama unveils his plan on climate change in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images).

I’ll have more to say about President Obama’s climate-change initiatives, announced Tuesday, in a column soon. In the meantime, some initial impressions:

It was a good speech, courageous, tough in many ways (“we don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society”) and long overdue. Only so much can be done by executive order. Only Congress could do the thing that would most address the greenhouse gases that are a heavy cause of climate change: Levy a carbon tax. That would be a game-changer because it would, for the first time, assign a cost to this pollution and make it more (and appropriately) costly. Alternatives would be competitive from a price standpoint. Fossil-fuel industries would have an incentive to do one essential thing necessary to prevent the worst: Keep most hydrocarbons in the ground. Without a carbon tax, any other efforts will be working the periphery.

On the other hand, he gives a good speech. How will the inspiring rhetoric about future generations and tough talk about using the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate CO2 mesh with the Army Corps of Engineers deliberately excluding a broad environmental study of coal exports from the West, including coal ports from Washington and Oregon? Mr. Obama has a history of drawing lines in the sand and retreating in the interests of compromise that never happens. It was also disheartening that he never mentioned Amtrak — facing devastating cuts in the U.S. House on top of funding cuts for short-distance trains — and under-funded transit as important tools to reduce carbon and give people choices, too.

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