Having served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Climate & Energy Economics in the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2021-2022, Catherine Wolfram has some particularly relevant insights to offer on the development and implementation of climate change policy in the most recent episode of my monthly podcast. Wolfram is the Cora Jane Flood Professor of Business Administration at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, currently on leave at the Harvard Kennedy School. In the podcast, we discuss her time in government service and her thoughts and hopes for a carbon pricing scheme. You’ll find this and much more in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. I hope you will listen to our complete conversation here.
In this new podcast episode, Catherine Wolfram, who earned her PhD in Economics from MIT, begins by reflecting on her service in the Biden Administration, and she does so in very positive terms, saying that it was an “honor and thrill of a lifetime.”
“I would say the high point was definitely the work on the price cap on Russian oil. That was the main thing that I spent time on in the last 10 months of my time at Treasury, and was absolutely fascinating from so many different perspectives,” she says. “I learned a lot about foreign diplomacy, or I should say that I observed foreign diplomacy in action.”
During her time at the Treasury Department, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, important legislation that authorizes $391 billion in spending on energy and climate change initiatives, making it the most important climate legislation ever enacted in the United States.
“A lot of the Inflation Reduction Act is being implemented through tax credits, and that’s Treasury’s purview, so [although] it was not my office within Treasury (it was another office, the Office of Tax Policy), I … [attended] many meetings about what started out as the Build Back Better Act and became the Inflation Reduction Act. So, that was really fun to see, and is certainly a momentous piece of legislation,” she remarks.
Despite the reliance on subsidies (tax credits) in the Inflation Reduction Act, Catherine says that she remains optimistic about the potential role of carbon pricing in climate change policy.
“I would not call carbon pricing dead,” she argues. “I could see it coming back in some form, maybe not the economy-wide carbon price that textbooks favor, but maybe something that starts, for instance, with the industrial sector … on a more limited scale.”
More broadly, Wolfram expresses optimism that the international community will figure out creative ways to adopt climate policies that will make a positive difference.
“I think if the G7 countries can get together and figure out how to put a price cap on Russian oil, [then] hopefully the G7 countries can get together and figure out good ways to use their presence in the international trade community to address climate change.”
However, Catherine also expresses concern about the possibility that an overreliance on tax credits and government subsidies in the design of climate policy could set back efforts to impose effective carbon pricing.
“I worry that there’s a future that evolves where the European Union gets pressure from its industry, and loses enthusiasm for its carbon price, and so the competitive pressures from industry that are seeing these subsidies over in the U.S., and thinking of moving to the U.S., that causes the EU to backtrack on climate policy, just because we have these different approaches to reducing emissions.”
For this and much, much more, I encourage you to listen to this 44th episode of the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Previous episodes have featured conversations with:
- Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change
- Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition
- Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Jos Delbeke, professor at the European University Institute in Florence and at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and formerly Director-General of the European Commission’s DG Climate Action
- David Keith, professor at Harvard and a leading authority on geoengineering
- Joe Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, with considerable experience working on climate change policy issues in the U.S. government
- Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, and an authority on infectious disease policy
- Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, and founding co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School.
- Sue Biniaz, who was the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator for the United States from 1989 until early 2017.
- Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kelley Kizier, Associate Vice President for International Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
- David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell International.
- Vicky Bailey, 30 years of experience in corporate and government positions in the energy sector.
- David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.
- Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk at the The New York Times.
- Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times from Washington.
- Spencer Dale, BP Group Chief Economist.
- Richard Revesz, professor at the NYU School of Law.
- Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environment and Law at Yale University.
- William Hogan, Raymond Plank Research Professor of Global Energy Policy at Harvard.
- Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
- John Graham, Dean Emeritus, Paul O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.
- Gernot Wagner, Clinical Associate Professor at New York University.
- John Holdren, Research Professor, Harvard Kennedy School.
- Larry Goulder, Shuzo Nishihara Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Stanford University.
- Suzi Kerr, Chief Economist, Environmental Defense Fund.
- Sheila Olmstead, Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin.
- Robert Pindyck, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Professor of Economics and Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management.
- Gilbert Metcalf, Professor of Economics, Tufts University.
- Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
- Paul Joskow, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics emeritus, MIT.
- Maureen Cropper, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland.
- Orley Ashenfelter, the Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics, Princeton University.
- Jonathan Wiener, the William and Thomas Perkins Professor of Law, Duke Law School.
- Lori Bennear, the Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Energy Economics and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.
- Daniel Yergin, founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and now Vice Chair of S&P Global.
- Jeffrey Holmstead, who leads the Environmental Strategies Group at Bracewell in Washington, DC.
- Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry & Environmental Engineering at Harvard.
- Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor of Economics, University of Chicago.
- Billy Pizer, Vice President for Research & Policy Engagement, Resources for the Future.
- Daniel Bodansky, Regents’ Professor, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.