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Biden hires carbon tax expert in race for climate plan

By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter

President Biden tapped a carbon tax champion this month for an influential White House position. Now, his administration just needs to figure out if carbon pricing will be a part of its climate policy.

Noah Kaufman was named March 3 as a senior economist in the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Though Biden’s climate team so far has sent mixed signals on carbon pricing, Kaufman has been blunt that such a measure is one of the most important ways to address climate change.

“For any policymaker with the goals of deep decarbonization and a strong economy, putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions is a no-brainer,” he said during congressional testimony last year before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Kaufman, who served as deputy associate director for energy and climate change in the Obama administration’s Council on Environmental Quality, has entered the administration at an inflection point on climate policy.

Congress and the White House are working on a massive infrastructure plan that would direct hundreds of billions of federal dollars toward climate-related projects and policies. At the same time, climate envoy John Kerry and climate adviser Gina McCarthy are trying to put together a comprehensive climate policy proposal before April 22 — when the United States will host world leaders for a forum designed to set the stage for the next round of international climate talks later this year.

Global engagement is critical. The United States must lead on climate policy if other nations are to take their own goals seriously, Kaufman said during his congressional testimony.

“No other country, particularly in the developing world, will adopt strategies consistent with net-zero emissions targets unless the United States commits to its own comprehensive climate strategy,” he told lawmakers.

Kaufman, 38, comes to the White House from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. At Columbia, he was “a brilliant and generous colleague, teacher and mentor” who understands the importance of pragmatic climate policy, said Jason Bordoff, the center’s founding director.

Still, he said Kaufman’s appointment means the administration will have someone with a pragmatic approach to carbon pricing with a direct line to Biden’s inner circle.

“It shows you the smartest people in the game pay a lot of attention to carbon pricing,” he said.