Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Senate Panel Passes Bill to Limit Greenhouse Gas

[From Cato Institute, a free-market thinktank in D.C., in a press release today]

A Senate committee approved a broad bill on Wednesday night to address climate change, a major step toward passage of a measure that would for the first time slow and then reverse emissions of the gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet," reports The New York Times. "The Environment and Public Works Committee split largely along party lines on the bill, which calls for a roughly 70 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2050 in the production of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering pollutants. The legislation would limit emissions for virtually all sectors of the economy, but would allow swapping of pollution permits among carbon emitters."

Jerry Taylor, Cato senior fellow, comments on this bill:

"The promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2050 is no more serious than a promise to reduce my weight and get into fighting shape within the next year, decade, or half-century. There is a long history of ambitious environmental promises that have been made in air and water law that, nonetheless, have had zero impact on actual behavior.

"A good rule of thumb is to ignore legislative promises. They are not self enforcing and courts have proven incapable of holding government to the same. Instead, we should primarily pay attention to actual policy being adopted in the here-and-now.

"If we do that in this case, we can conclude three things. First, this bill would have very little impact on total global greenhouse gas emissions. Second, this bill would result in a drop in global temperatures that would be far too small to measure even if promises were kept. And third, it would impose not insubstantial costs. How great those costs might be, however, depends upon whether the promised reductions occur, how they are carried out, and technological innovations that are impossible to foresee. Regardless, any serious attempt to quantify benefits (that is, the benefits associated with no significant change in global temperature) would conclude that the benefits are essentially zero. Any serious attempt to quantify costs would find that they are non-zero and positive. Hence, this bill represents bad public policy."

Cato senior fellow Patrick J. Michaels adds:

"There is no known suite of technologies that could possibly result in a 70% reduction of U.S. emissions. However, this legislation will attempt to do so by limiting the supply of carbon-based fuels ultimately via pricing mechanisms. The result is a true environmental tragedy. Capital that could have been used by individuals for investment in corporations that produce efficient things or produce things efficiently is instead squandered in a futile attempt to reduce emissions. This bill will have an effect opposite to its intent -- it will delay the development of technologies that could actually bring about meaningful carbon dioxide reductions."

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