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The Insider

Carbon Tax, State Technology Advances And Biden Lead Environment Next

An ongoing debate over carbon taxes, states’ use of cutting-edge technology to reduce pollution and analysis of 2020 contender Joe Biden’s climate platform are leading the latest coverage in Inside EPA’s exclusive new Environment Next service, which is tracking sweeping changes in environmental regulation.

Environment Next is free to Inside EPA subscribers, featuring wide-ranging looks at the future of environmental protection and policy, including exclusive interviews, in-depth reporting and profiles of key figures who are reshaping regulation and private governance on air, water, waste and climate.

In this week’s top updates, we highlighted the ongoing debate over carbon taxes as an alternative to direct regulation of greenhouse gases, the Environmental Council of the States’ (ECOS) conference on the use of cutting-edge technology at state and federal environmental agencies, and efforts by Midwestern states to expand their water quality trading program -- the world’s largest such system that does not rely on binding rules -- by allowing international credit sales.

In addition, we profiled Biden’s climate platform in his 2020 White House bid, a document that is receiving significant attention since the former vice president is so far the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

The ECOS State Environmental Protection meeting focused on how state regulators are incorporating new technologies into their day-to-day work, from the use of remote-operated drones to monitor pollution releases to database software that makes compliance data easy to access for both industry and members of the public:

States, Industry Tout Technologies ‘Transforming’ Environmental Policy
State regulators and industry officials at the Environmental Council of the States’ (ECOS) July 10 State Environmental Protection (STEP) meeting highlighted many ways they are adapting new technologies to support the future of environmental protection, in hopes of spreading those innovations across state lines.

A running theme throughout the day was state regulators’ need for new technologies that can serve multiple purposes, rather than needing separate software upgrades for each office within an agency. Officials spoke about their success in finding or crafting such tools, while industry keynote speakers touted their own products that could fill those needs:

States Seek To Develop ‘Reusable’ Software To Better Protect Environment
State environmental regulators are seeking to develop “reusable” software tools that could serve multiple goals for better protecting the environment, according to speakers at a recent interstate conference, who said there is a growing library of new electronic tools to better analyze and use environmental data.

Our coverage of the prospects for a climate tax includes an interview with the Climate Leadership Conference’s (CLC) senior policy adviser Pam Giblin, who says the group is using hearings and meetings as the first steps in a longer strategy to gather support for its tax plan:

Climate Leadership Council Lays ‘Building Blocks’ For Carbon Tax Support
The Climate Leadership Council is laying the “building blocks” for congressional support of its carbon tax-and-dividend plan, according to the group’s senior policy adviser Pam Giblin, meeting with lawmakers’ staff and giving testimony at hearings to make the case for approving the tax plan in the coming years as an alternative to federal climate rules.

While the CLC sees itself in the early stages of a years-long campaign to eventually enact a carbon tax, opponents of the proposal are hoping to quickly scrap the idea, arguing that the plan to exempt sectors that pay the tax from direct GHG limits would do more harm than good:

CO2 Tax Plan To Curb EPA Powers, Lawsuits, Meets Strong Opposition
A growing industry-backed push for a carbon tax that would also curb EPA Clean Air Act powers and end climate suits against emitters reflects momentum for “next generation,” market-based approaches to environmental problems, but the proposal is facing strong pushback from a former EPA administrator, a senior economist at a top think tank, and more.

Even if groups like CLC manage to gather momentum on the Hill, the prospects for a carbon tax could depend as much on the occupant of the White House as those in Congress. This week, we continued our profiles of the 2020 presidential contenders with a look at Biden’s wide-ranging environmental plans:

Presidential Profiles: Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s sweeping environmental platform seeks to link climate change with environmental justice concerns and increased EPA funding across the board, offering an ambitious agenda for the agency should he win the 2020 presidential election, in contrast to President Donald Trump’s deregulatory push.

Despite his reputation as a policy moderate, Biden is pushing one of the more wide-ranging environmental platforms among the 2020 contenders, including a focus on environmental justice. That could help him cement his front-runner status among voters who see environmental issues as a top priority, although it hasn’t stopped his lead from shrinking since the first primary debate last month.

Finally, states in the Ohio River Basin are looking to expand their novel water quality trading program, which relies on cost-sharing rather than regulatory mandates, beyond the United States. The non-profit Electric Power Research Institute, which runs the trading program, is preparing to take its first step toward selling compliance credits on a global market:

Novel U.S. Nutrient Trading Market On Verge Of International Expansion
The novel Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading Project, the world’s largest non-regulatory effort to cut nutrient runoff pollution through credit trading, is on the verge of a major expansion with a collaboration that aims to sell its credits internationally for the first time.