May 26, 2009 | Commentary on Energy and Environment
Some things, virtually everyone agrees on. We all want a cleaner environment. And we all want a booming economy.
Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill that's being marketed as a way to give us a "better" environment. Unfortunately the legislation, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, would inflict tremendous economic pain for no discernable environmental gain.
The bill would do two things: 1) force companies to make more energy efficient (and far more expensive) products, and 2) create a cap-and-trade system that serves as a massive tax on fossil fuels.
The energy mandates include a requirement that the nation increase production of electricity from renewable sources fivefold in the decades to come. This may or may not be technically possible. But the bill shows little regard for technical -- or economic -- realities.
The cap-and-trade portion of the law is even more problematic.
Cap-and-trade forces businesses and consumers to either use less fossil-fuel based energy or buy credits from businesses that do. It would give immense power to unelected bureaucrats, who'd be in charge of deciding how much carbon certain industries would be allowed to emit.
Using a well-known and widely respected computer model, economists at The Heritage Foundation ran simulations to see what would happen if Waxman-Markey becomes law. The study shows that energy prices would soar, even as the economy sheds millions of jobs.
For a typical family of four, direct energy costs (gasoline, natural gas and electricity) would increase by some $800 per year each year until 2035. All together during the years 2012-2035, a typical family of four would see its direct energy costs soar by $19,900. And that price tag doesn't even include the indirect costs consumers would have to pay for more efficient, yet more expensive, appliances.
Cap and trade is like a massive tax on productivity. After all, "productivity" -- making things, going places -- requires the use of energy. So it's no surprise that the Heritage study shows our nation's economy would take a big hit.
"On average, employment is lower by 1,105,000 jobs," the study found. "In some years cap and trade reduces employment by nearly 2.5 million jobs."
It's ironic that, just a few months ago, lawmakers raced to pass a so-called stimulus package that would supposedly pull the country out of its first deep recession in two decades. Yet today they're trying to pass a bill that would destroy jobs, year-in and year-out, for decades. Waxman-Markey is like a self-imposed, rolling recession.
The Heritage analysis also found that Waxman-Markey would make the national debt -- already piling up around our children and grandchildren -- even worse. The bill would increase the national debt 26 percent by 2035. That's an additional $29,150 per person, or $116,600 for a family of four, over what the debt would be without the bill.
Some might say this would all be worth it if the bill slows down global warming. According to climatologists, though, the bill would do virtually nothing to cool the planet. Even if they're completely effective, the bill's measures would lower global temperatures by only a few hundredths of one degree by 2050 and no more than two-tenths of a degree by the end of the century. Good luck measuring that difference.
Lawmakers may hope to win praise from future generations by taking what they consider to be a brave stance against global warming. But if they succeed in destroying our economy to fight that specter, they'll deserve only scorn.
The United States can't afford to try to cool the planet by icing our economy.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation.