Here's an editorial that clearly explains why climate change policy continues to be an afterthought in Washington, D.C.

The piece, which appeared in the Billings Gazette, makes the case that climate policy be pushed aside until after the 2012 elections, and that Americans simply aren’t interested in taking on the issue.

What we really care about

When it comes to energy, the general public’s concerns can be summed up in three words: gas, gas and gas. The Gazette editorial was written after a visit to Montana by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist with the Congressional Budget Office, and Wegger Strommen, the U.S. ambassador to Norway. “Congress has stopped considering legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions, and most Americans are more concerned about $4 gasoline than about melting polar ice,” read the editorial. The article mentions Strommen’s feelings that, “the ice really is melting. Gasoline costs about $12 a gallon in Norway, including a hefty tax instituted in 1991.”

So if the ice is melting and Norwegians are paying three times as much as Americans at the pump, should we be concerned about sea level rise or higher prices? Both could be crippling to our way of life, but it's the price issue that Americans seem concerned about.

Concern but no action

Whether it’s fear of rising tides or fear of rising gas prices, either provides plenty of motivation to craft an energy policy that addresses one of these concerns. But there has been little action.

The reason, according to Strommen and Holtz-Eakin, is a lack of consensus within the Republican party. Normally, I'd take this conclusion with a grain of political salt, but these gentlemen are hardly in the back pocket of left-leaning environmental organizations. Strommen’s job as ambassador to Norway means he has an understanding of the oil and gas sector. Norway is the world’s second largest gas producer and the sixth largest oil-producing nation. As for Holtz-Eakin, he served as an economic advisor to Sen. John McCain during McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and has held similar positions for other members of the Republican party.

So when these two say the GOP will keep climate policy out of the mainstream debate, it carries some weight. The Gazette wrote, “Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman all have a track record supportive of climate policies such as cap and trade, as recently noted by Don’t look for these GOP presidential hopefuls to promote cap and trade legislation in the 2012 campaign.” Holtz-Eakin was characterized as being “well-aware” of American’s lack of urgency when dealing with climate change when compared to Norwegians.

Revenue-neutral is the only way forward

Holtz-Eakin told the Gazette editorial board “A case can be made for sensible action as opposed to inaction.” The former Republican advisor said that if America decides to implement a carbon tax, taxpayers shouldn’t bear the financial burden. By offsetting a carbon tax with tax cuts in other areas, he says emissions could be cut without costing citizens a penny. That, at least, sounds like a possible way forward.

Why climate policy is stuck in neutral
An economist and an ambassador to a petroleum-rich country talk about the current state of climate policy in the United States.