Climate change policy should be a conceptual challenge for the Tea Party movement. Realistically, doing nothing is not a option; even if Tea Partiers are climate change skeptics, it is undeniable that the majority of the public are not, and will not be persuaded otherwise. Nor can you tax cut or deregulate your way out of the problem. So what policy should the Tea Partiers support? If they were pragmatic, they would support this:

Two senators, Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, have proposed an alternative that they call cap and dividend, under which licenses to pollute would be auctioned to producers and wholesalers of fossil fuels, with three-quarters of the revenue returned to consumers in monthly checks to cover their higher energy costs.

Ms. Cantwell…said her bill would require every pollution permit to be auctioned rather than given away and was 39 pages long, compared with Waxman-Markey, which weighs in at some 1,400 pages.

Among all politically possible outcomes for climate policy, a transparant and simple auction that returns the proceeds to consumers is the best outcome that small government Tea Partiers could hope for. If they were pragmatic they would jump on this and do what they can to prevent alternatives like the 1,400 page Waxman-Markey bill:

But in trying to assemble a majority to pass it, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey dished out a cornucopia of concessions and exemptions to coal companies, utilities, refiners, heavy industry and agribusinesses. The original simplicity was lost, replaced by a bazaar in which those with the most muscle got the best deals.

Of course, it is difficult to sloganeer and protest in favor of second best options, and I’m not sure this emergent movement is capable of expressing itself any other way.

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