Barry Rabe is the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy at the Ford School. He is also the Arthur Thurnau Professor of Environmental Policy, with courtesy appointments in the Program in the Environment, the Department of Political Science, and the School for Environment and Sustainability. A non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Barry directed the Ford School's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) from 2012-2019 and was a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2015. His research examines climate and energy politics, and his most recent book, Can We Price Carbon? (MIT Press) was released in 2018. He has received four awards for his research from the American Political Science Association, including the 2017 Martha Derthick Award for long-standing impact in the fields of federalism and intergovernmental relations. In recent years, Barry has chaired the Assumable Waters Committee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and has served on recent National Academy of Public Administration panels examining the Departments of Commerce and Interior as well as the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. He is currently a member of the U-M Carbon Neutrality Commission.
How would you describe the government's role in the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change?
Climate change is an all-hands-on-deck type of challenge, requiring engagement across private, non-profit, and public sectors. And the role of governments in designing policies that can prove durable over time and deliver on key emission reduction and energy transition goals is just essential. This has been a very difficult issue in the U.S., including federal government challenges where it has now been over thirty years since we have seen any legislative revisions to major statutes on air and water quality and have never developed a sustainable approach to climate change. The politics are extremely contentious in this area and yet there are many possible ways to advance policies that build coalitional support over time, particularly if we consider best practices from many states, localities and other nations.
What, according to you, is(are) the biggest challenge(s) when it comes to the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change? What could be the solution(s)?
It remains difficult for me to envision a serious policy approach to climate change without some semblance of carbon pricing alongside complementary policies. We see other federal or multi-level systems such as Canada and the European Union assuming leadership roles while the United States has continued to struggle. A carbon price, through either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, is a cornerstone in their efforts and yet the politics is very challenging in the US, given the immediate saliency of higher energy prices. I do believe that there are a number of design elements from other successful carbon pricing strategies that could be employed in any American effort
What are some projects or recent developments in this field that you are most excited about?
Despite the extended challenges of adopting and implementing policy at the federal level, we have continued to see some significant innovation at the state level. This creates opportunities to test new policy ideas that can be tailored to local conditions but also allow for possible diffusion to other states and the federal level. One such area is methane emissions from oil and gas production, an enduring challenge that poses major climate and air quality risks. Flaring and venting of methane also represents the sheer waste of a non-renewable natural resource that has considerable market value if captured. Colorado has led the way nationally through a series of administrative and legislative steps taken over the past decade, producing a complementary set of policies and an extremely low methane release rate. It is rapidly becoming a case of global significance, following a few other leaders such as Norway