Another Piece of Environmental Legislation Fails to Pass

July 22, 2008
The Democratic leadership in the Senate admitted that it would be unable to pass the “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act” aimed at curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. On June 6, this so-called “cap and trade” legislation was pulled ...

The Democratic leadership in the Senate admitted that it would be unable to pass the “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act” aimed at curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.

On June 6, this so-called “cap and trade” legislation was pulled from the Senate calendar and is highly unlikely to be considered again during the remainder of the busy legislative year.

The only other piece of energyrelated legislation likely to be considered this year is aimed at lowering gasoline prices, which would seem to have directly contradictory aims to the recentlypulled Lieberman-Warner.

Obviously, the Democrats – indeed Congress as a whole – are of two minds on this subject.

They want to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but at the same time they are sensitive to voters’ concerns and, at the present time, voters are most concerned about the spike in gas prices and the overall increase in energy costs.

There is a very substantial environmental movement in the United States, and it seems to be growing steadily as evidenced by the popularity of Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Many in the Democratic Party thought that they could use the momentum generated by that movie and by all the attention that global warming has been getting recently as leverage to pass legislation aimed at significantly curtailing greenhouse gases.

The timing, however, could not be worse.

The proposal pulled from the Senate aimed at reducing overall carbon emissions by about 66 percent by 2050, and even that robust target was criticized by environmentalists as too modest.

The reduction would be achieved by gradually capping the amount of pollution emitted — principally by power plants — and slowly reducing the allowable amount of pollutants.

In the early years it would not be as painful to the polluters, since such companies would be allowed to trade credits with other industries that exceed their goals.

However, as the legislation was considered, the sponsors of the bill were faced with “an inconvenient truth” that it would still turn out to be a very expensive proposition.

It was realized that within the next decade the legislation would add 50 percent or more to electricity rates, and gas prices would rise 20 percent or more as well.

That made this an unpopular bill at a time of skyrocketing energy costs.

Indeed, it had regional competitiveness implications as well.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) lamented that the legislation would doom his state’s economy.

He argued: “We might as well throw a going away party for the steel industry … the aluminum industry … and the chemical industry.”

The irony of the legislation is that it had the potential to achieve the very opposite effect regarding worldwide pollution.

Large developing countries such as China and India show little inclination to participate in the Kyoto Accords, signed during last decade and, in fact, are exempted from Kyoto emissions limitations.

China, with an economy onequarter our size, already emits more greenhouse gases than we do.

If we do not somehow obligate China and India internationally to abide by the same pollution limitations that we are imposing on ourselves, we are simply encouraging polluting industries to flee the restrictions that we intend to impose. Not only that, the newly re-located industries would be under no obligation to use expensive, state-of-the-art technology to reduce pollution.

Thus, we might very well be instigating a net increase in the global level of pollution. That is how laudable legislation, initiated with the best of intentions, could hasten the global warming that it aims to reverse.

It is good that the legislation was pulled from the calendar this year.

It obviously needs more study.

Hopefully, the next Congress and President will recognize that this is a global problem that needs a global solution.

Otherwise, future political campaigns will be filled with more rhetoric about “Benedict Arnold” corporations leaving the United States and more calls for ever more stringent anti-pollution legislation without addressing the root causes of that movement overseas.