January 25, 2010 | Commentary on Economy, Energy and Environment

The Emissions Cutters Carry on Despite the Rising Costs

Despite some recent setbacks, the push to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions is alive and well. Members of the Senate are forging ahead with cap-and-trade legislation, President Barack Obama offered emissions cuts at the Copenhagen climate-change conference, and the Environmental Protection Agency is busy drafting reams of regulations.

Never mind that in our view the Earth has been cooling for the last decade. Who cares if unemployment is over 10 percent for the first time in 26 years? Or that global warming is at the bottom of the public's priority list? The cap-and-trade crowd keeps trudging forward.

They even think they can prevail over "climategate." They keep trying to explain the emergence of leaked e-mails and other documents from some of the world's leading climate scientists -- e-mails detailing how they refused to share data, plotted to keep dissenting scientists from getting published in leading journals and discarded original data, all to protect the facade of scientific consensus.

In spite of all this, enforcing carbon-dioxide emissions cuts remains a top priority for many in Congress and the administration. Indeed, they have developed a three-headed plan to ensure victory.

The primary option is to pass a cap-and-trade bill in Congress. The House of Representatives has already passed its version; now the Senate is working on its companion. A draft bill written by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has already been introduced. Now Mr. Kerry, along with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., are working on a new bill for early 2010. They released a framework of their proposal in time to be presented at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

Which brings us to option No. 2: signing a treaty to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Mr. Obama's role was to tell the Copenhagen conferees that he will commit the United States to drastic emissions cuts. Though such an agreement would require Senate consent before being legally binding, it demonstrates the ongoing commitment by the administration to their agenda.

The third option: a back-door, nontransparent effort that involves calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce carbon-dioxide emissions cuts through massive regulations. No legislation required. The EPA could bypass elected officials with regulations that would force businesses to shed jobs, move overseas or disappear entirely. EPA bureaucrats could micromanage nearly every aspect of the U.S. economy.

This is not some empty threat. The EPA is aggressively moving forward. A 570-page draft of burdensome regulations has already come out.

This belt-and-suspenders approach is necessary because the public is becoming increasingly aware that the global-warming crisis is no crisis at all, and that the most commonly discussed approaches to reduce carbon emissions won't work and would be prohibitively costly.

The green stimulus being advertised is fallacious and multiple analyses debunk the claim that capping carbon can save the economy and the environment at once.

All the major studies of cap and trade -- from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Brookings Institution and the Energy Information Administration, to the Congressional Budget Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and The Heritage Foundation project job and income losses from cap and trade. The studies differ only on the magnitude of these losses.

A recent report by CBO states that cap and trade would hurt the economy by "reducing households' income ... by reducing real (inflation-adjusted) wages and, thereby, the supply of labor; and by discouraging investment." In English: It would shrink our wallets and kill our jobs.

What about the environmental benefit? According to climatologist Paul C. Knappenberger, cap and trade would reduce temperatures between 0.1 and 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100 -- a difference almost too small to measure.

Despite all these setbacks, the carbon-dioxide emissions cutters haven't packed up and gone home. Some went to Copenhagen. Meanwhile, EPA regulators are hard at work and the Senate will again attempt to market cap and trade as a clean-jobs and pollution-reduction bill next year.

Changing the calendar year, though, won't change the adverse economic effects of this environmental clunker.

Jack Spencer is a research fellow in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, where Nicolas Loris is a researcher (www.heritage.org).

About the Author

Nicolas Loris Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

First Appeared in Pittsburg Post-Gazette