May 19, 2008
By Robert B. Bluey
Exactly one year after angering conservatives with an amnesty
bill for illegal aliens, Sen. John McCain managed to fire up the
right again last week-only this time he's proposing a massive plan
to combat global warming that would have severe consequences for
the U.S. economy.
During a West Coast trip to Oregon and Washington state, McCain
outlined his global warming strategy, which in many ways resembles
legislation offered by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John
Warner (R-Va.). Their plan will be debated on Capitol Hill next
Although he's spent the past several months trying to mend his
rocky relationship with conservatives by putting forward a
market-based health care plan and vowing to appoint conservative
judges to the Supreme Court, critics wasted little time going after
McCain's global warming proposal.
It's not that conservatives don't care about the
environment-they do. But in the case of McCain's proposal, the
benefits-lowering Earth's temperature by no more than the Kyoto
projection of 0.07 degrees Celsius-would come at a great cost to
What's in McCain's Plan?
McCain, who previously teamed with Lieberman to draft global
warming legislation, supports a cap-and-trade proposal designed to
reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050. He
argued that such a system "harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit
of alternatives to carbon-based fuels."
McCain's two Democratic rivals, Senators Hillary Clinton and
Barack Obama, support an 80% reduction by mid-century, a
recommendation in line with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change. The Lieberman-Warner bill supposedly would cut
emissions by 70% by 2050.
A closer examination of cap and trade reveals the pitfalls of
such a system. Even if it works perfectly, which is unlikely, it
essentially amounts to a new tax on energy. In its analysis of the
Lieberman-Warner bill, the Congressional Budget Office said the
legislation would increase federal revenue by $1.21 trillion from
2009 to 2018-money that can best be described as a tax
Several studies of the cap-and-trade proposal reveal its high
The Heritage Foundation last week released its analysis of
Lieberman-Warner, showing skyrocketing energy costs, millions of
jobs lost and falling middle-class income.
"The burden would be shouldered by the average American," the
study's authors conclude. "The bill would have the same effect as a
major new energy tax-only worse. Increases are set by forces beyond
The resulting higher prices for electricity, natural gas and
home heating oil would send a typical consumer's total annual
energy bill through the roof-$938.63 more in 2030 than 2012 after
adjusting for inflation, according to the Heritage study. Based on
Department of Labor data, that equals about six weeks' worth of
groceries for a family of four.
The impact on the overall the economy is even more alarming. The
current U.S. economic output of $14 trillion would sharply decline
by 2018 because of higher energy prices. Even under the most
generous assumptions, the Heritage study estimates cumulative
losses to gross domestic product (GDP) would be $1.7 trillion by
2030 after adjusting for inflation. The total could be as high as
Europe's experience with cap and trade offers the clearest
example that it can have a harmful impact on the economy while
offering little benefit to the environment. Emissions are growing
at a faster rate on the continent since the European Union
implemented its program in 2005 to comply with the Kyoto
Technology Doesn't Exist
McCain cites the success of the 1990 sulfur dioxide
cap-and-trade system as evidence that his plan would work. "The key
feature of this mechanism is that it allows the market to decide
and encourage the lowest-cost compliance options," McCain said.
However, there are important distinctions between combating acid
rain though cap and trade vs. carbon dioxide.
When the acid rain cap-and-trade system was added to the Clean
Air Act, the technology to reduce sulfur dioxide was already in
There's nothing comparable for carbon dioxide. The method, known
as carbon capture and sequestration, is still in development.
Carbon storage, as it's also called, "requires capturing carbon
dioxide from power plants and other industrial facilities,
transporting it to suitable locations, injecting it into deep
underground geological formations, and monitoring its behavior,"
according to the World Resources Institute.
There's no clear evidence that carbon capture and sequestration
will be ready for full-scale commercial use 10 years from now.
Without this technology, the goals outlined by McCain and those
included in the Lieberman-Warner bill cannot be accomplished.
The so-called "green jobs" that would be created from the
legislation are also largely a myth manufactured by activists.
While it's true that a proposal such as Lieberman-Warner would have
a short-term benefit over the next five years, annual job losses
after 2013 would exceed 500,000-even approaching 1 million in 2016
Manufacturing would be among the hardest hit with 2.3 million
lost jobs in 2029 as a result of government-imposed changes to the
economy. Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Illinois and Maryland are
forecast for the biggest losses in the short term, according to the
Criticism on the Right
McCain's embrace of government solutions for the environment
represents a major shift from the Bush administration's approach.
It also means the country's next president-Republican or
Democrat-will craft a far different global warming strategy at a
time when Americans are already feeling the added costs of
"For the market to do more, government must do more by opening
new paths of invention and ingenuity," McCain said in Portland,
Ore., drawing a sharp distinction from the conservative philosophy
of former President Ronald Reagan, who famously said, "Government
is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Bob Williams, president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in
Washington state, said he was disappointed with McCain's reliance
on government. Voters in the Pacific Northwest, Williams said,
would be leery of government's attempts to "do more."
"In order to implement McCain's proposal," Williams said,
"government would do more by telling the taxpayer what size car
they are going to drive; when they are going to drive it; what size
house you will live in; and how much electricity you will use."
He cited government policies that destroyed thousands of jobs
for the Spotted Owl, ruined the Pacific Northwest's fishing
industry, shut down America's nuclear industry and increased the
price of food through ethanol mandates in fuel.
Similar criticism is reverberating with many conservatives, who
remain skeptical of global warming. These conservatives care about
the environment, but want to ensure that the tradeoffs made with
legislation do not pose economic problems in the future.
"I have not faced a situation where a major Republican
presidential candidate sounds just like a liberal Democrat," radio
talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said. "This is embarrassing, and it is
frightening." During his Fox News show, Sean Hannity quipped, "He
sounds like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Conservatives are
Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public
Policy at The Heritage Foundation
First Appeared in TownHall.com
Exactly one year after angering conservatives with an amnesty bill for illegal aliens, Sen. John McCain managed to fire up the right again last week—only this time he's proposing a massive plan to combat global warming that would have severe consequences for the U.S. economy.
Robert B. Bluey
Director, Digital Media and Editor in Chief of The Daily Signal
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2015, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973