Publication Date

April 2016

Advisor(s)

Marc Eisner

Major

Government

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

This thesis in Government explores the coalitional and institutional politics of carbon pricing initiatives in the United States. It draws upon the political history of U.S. environmental policy, polarization studies, institutional theory, climate change denialism, and a series of interviews with various political actors to explain the current political situation surrounding carbon pricing. It is written with emphasis on the contemporary moment for climate change policy based on the assertion that the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending authority over greenhouse gas emissions has made national climate action as close to inevitable as it has ever been. In recent years, the consensus within the climate policy community has shifted away from cap-and-trade in favor of a carbon tax for its simplicity and efficiency. Yet despite its transparency, concerns about a carbon tax perpetuate, including: that the tax would be regressive and harm the poor, that it would be costly and harm the economy, that “big oil” would fight any climate policy, and that the American right is committed to inaction on climate change. Some of these concerns are overstated, others simply lack empirical support. This thesis aims to clarify what a carbon tax would actually look like, provide an account of how carbon pricing is actually understood among those who would ultimately design such a policy, and in so doing present an image of a modern climate change politics which has caught up with scientific and economic consensus – or close enough.

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