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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Two Takes on Tackling Climate Change

Susan Bence

UW-Milwaukee's Institute of World Affairs invited a conversation between Michael Vickerman and Alex Bozmoski about what U.S. energy policy should look. The two come from different worlds.

Credit Douglas Savage
Michael Vickerman (left) and Alex Bozmoski at WUWM's Lake Effect studio.

Michael Vickerman’s perspective is steeped in his long program policy career with the Madison-based renewable energy advocacy group RENEW Wisconsin.

Alex Bozmoski approaches the issues from his vantage point with a conservative DC climate change think tank called RepublicEn.

Bozmoski wants the U.S. Congress to come up with an aggressive climate policy.

“We failed to pass legislation to act on climate, so the courts order the administration to use old laws from the 1990s to protect Americans from the health and environmental impacts of climate change by regulating greenhouse gas emissions,” Bozmoski.

The Clean Power Plan was drafted during the Obama Administration.

“Which attempted to ratchet down emissions from power plants around the country which account for about 30 percent of our emissions, which was at best, it was a very incomplete climate change policy,” Bozmoski says.

Many conservatives blamed the Clean Power Plan for the loss of coal and other manufacturing jobs in the United States.

“Which turned the EPA into the boogie man,” Bozmoski says.  

Now he says Republicans are in an awkward position.

Credit RepublicEn
More than 150 people attended Change of Climate: Energy Policy and the Environment program at UWM on February 22nd.

“They are supposed to remove the EPA’s authority or otherwise mothball the Clean Power Plan, and they’ve been telling voters that’s going to bring back coal jobs,” Bozmoski says, “It’s won’t because coal jobs went away because natural gas, the low cost of natural gas has simply out-competed coal.”

Bozmoski proposes a carbon tax, which he calls an elegant, pro-growth and small government policy than regulation.

“It’s a free enterprise solution that works better than the regulatory solutions from the left,” Bozmoski says.

He says the tax would accelerate private sector innovation in clean energy.

“And it raises revenue which we can put to use to streamline the tax code, invest in infrastructure or return dividend checks to Americans,” Bozmoski says.

He says up until now conservatives have been hesitant to promote a carbon tax because of controversy around accepting climate change science.

“We’ve got to get over that. The country has gotten over that and it’s time for conservatives to espose a true free enterprise solution; to say to the country, our small-government principals can rise to the challenge of 21st century problems,” Bozmoski says.

RENEW Wisconsin’s Michael Vickerman found Bozmoski’s message encouraging.

“I’m heartened to hear Republicans and right-leaning spokespeople and thinkers having a serious conversation, an adult conservation about climate change and energy policy,” Vickerman says.

Although RENEW Wisconsin has not taken a position on creating a carbon tax, Vickerman thinks a carbon tax is a proposal worth considering.

“One of the reasons we have not is that we are skeptical in the current political climate that such a significant policy change that would fundamentally restructure the energy market place,” Vickerman adds, “Especially considering the power and the money of certain interests arrayed against something like that.”

RepublicEn’s Alex Bozmoski says he chooses to be optimistic.

“One reason to be optimistic is that every meaningful piece of environmental legislation in this republic has occurred during Republican presidential administrations,” Bozmoski says.

And he says many conservatives and the vast majority of young conservative care deeply about dealing with climate change.

“And the biggest impediment to encouraging leadership from Congress is that a small minority on the fringe get really frothed up about anything to do with climate change,” Bozmoski adds, “(that’s because) all they’ve heard for the last generation is a big government solution is the only answer to climate change.”

RENEW Wisonsin’s Michael Vickerman thinks a lot of what Bozmoski espouses could work.

“Because it’s not that different from our particular pathway of advocacy. Basically we work with the tools we have,” Vickerman adds, “We take what’s out there in state policy, we take what’s out there in federal tax policy, we take consumer aspirations and attitudes and we try to put that together to achieve measurable progress,”

Vickerman says incremental growth in renewable energy initiatives is being made.

“I would like policymakers to understand that this isn’t about experts from a far-away think tank telling their constituents what to do and how to think. We actually have the tools to improve their lives, and stimulate the governments and things that the government to support, like schools and libraries,” Vickerman adds, “Our message to lawmakers is to let us do more of that.”

More of conversation with Alex Bozmoski and Michael Vickerman, including details on current trends in Wisconsin and other states.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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