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James Woolsey Sure Knows How To Frame An Issue...

One more point on the presidential-advisor energy forum mentioned below: I have to admit, even if I disagree with his foreign policy views, I was pretty impressed by James Woolsey, the former CIA head and now McCain's energy guy. (And not just because he drives a solar-powered car to work.) When the advisors were asked what sort of sacrifices Americans would need to make under the energy proposals being floated by the various candidates, Obama and Clinton's advisors nodded to the fact that any cap-and-trade system would raise the price of electricity. Well, true enough.

But Woolsey rather deftly reframed the question, pointing out that, right now, there are a lot of perverse incentives and regulatory barriers that stand in the way of very easy reductions in carbon emissions. Landlords, for example, tend to just pass their utility bills on to their tenants, and have few incentives to make efficiency improvements to their buildings, or install efficient new appliances. Tweaking the incentives here could do a lot to promote conservation—with little "sacrifice" needed. To add another example, utility decoupling would induce utilities to start promoting conservation—currently, they have little reason to persuade customers to use less energy.

Woolsey also played up this recent McKinsey study, which argued that efficiency improvements could go a long, long way toward curbing U.S. carbon emissions, with many of the measures doable at negative cost. Now, the irony is that McCain tends to shy away from many of the targeted regulations that would spur these changes, and, from a policy perspective, Obama and Clinton are more likely to achieve the things Woolsey's talking about. But as a way of framing the issue, it was smart—similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger's "pain-free enviro pitch," which Josh dissected in his excellent article for TNR this week. Clinton and Obama might do well to take notes.

--Bradford Plumer