April 8, 2003 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

It's the Science Stupid

It's not gaining a lot of attention-the Senate wants to pass it without so much as holding hearings-but a part of the energy legislation now working its way through Congress would commit energy producers to attacking a problem that almost certainly doesn't exist.

 

The bill now in the Senate calls for the Department of Energy to award "transferable credits" to energy companies that voluntarily reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. In other words, companies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions now will earn "credits" they can "trade in" if Congress-as many suspect-later imposes mandatory caps on CO2 output. Trouble is, carbon dioxide emissions don't hurt the environment. And government regulation-once introduced into the industry through this initiative-figures only to become more onerous as time goes on.

 

At the heart of the debate is whether CO2, a byproduct of the hydrocarbon fuels that supply 84 percent of all U.S. energy, causes "global warming." Many of those who claim the earth is warming and that the activities of man are to blame, say carbon dioxide emissions from energy plants set the chain of events into motion. They claim CO2 "traps" heat from the sun near the surface of the earth, which leads to a warmer planet and other consequences.

 

One problem: Science stubbornly refuses to validate these claims. For instance, decades have passed since use of fossil fuels expanded to the point where they should've been able to affect temperatures in the troposphere-the area one to five miles above the earth's surface where greenhouse gases are allegedly trapped.

 

But those who have studied the troposphere, such as Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist who works with the Washington-based George C. Marshall Institute and other organizations, say the temperature in the 1- to 5-mile area above the earth's surface has not increased. Last year, because of these findings and others that cast doubt on the notion that man's use of fossil fuels causes the earth to warm dangerously, 17,000 scientists from around the nation signed a document expressing their doubts about this notion and the entire approach recommended in the Kyoto Accords.

 

Carbon dioxide is a staple of life. Humans exhale CO2 with every breath. Some scientists even suggest that the increases in carbon dioxide caused by fossil-fuel use have contributed as much as 10 percent to increases in farmland productivity.

 

In 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto Accords or any other energy agreement that forces huge reductions in so-called greenhouse gases on Americans but requires nothing along those lines from developing countries, such as China, India and Brazil. Over the next 15 years, these nations will become the largest generators of such gases. Yet lawmakers now seem bent on saddling our nation with energy regulations that sap economic power but do nothing to help the environment. Safe, affordable, consistent energy supplies are the bedrock for America's economy.

 

We depend on coal for a third of this energy.

 

Because coal is the most carbon-intensive fuel, this bill would decimate it as an energy source, cause price spikes in natural gas and other fuels that would have to replace coal, and throw America's energy situation into crisis, according to Marlo Lewis Jr., a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. All for a "solution" that solves nothing.

 

What's puzzling about this is that the Bush administration, which made such a public display of disassociating itself from Kyoto soon after assuming office, now appears ready to accept equally harmful provisions in domestic legislation.

 

Worse yet, it stands ready, in effect, to endorse the claim that CO2 causes global warming, even though no proof exists that man-made activities, such as increased dissemination of CO2, have caused this. Sign on to this, and the Bush administration can expect not praise for its concern for the environment but criticism for making its requirements "voluntary"-which is true in name only-and hounding to make even more economically devastating anti-energy concessions in the name of further reducing so-called greenhouse gases.

 

Senators do feel a certain amount of pressure to pass some sort of energy bill to provide a blueprint for America's future. But the pressure should be to get it right. Imposing Kyoto on ourselves-after rightfully refusing to do it on the world stage-does not qualify as right.

 

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Charli Coon is an energy and environment analyst at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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