EDITORIAL: Redact and withhold

Hiding public information is a game every new administration tries. President Obama’s Treasury Department is only the latest to join the fun, this time with a Freedom of Information Act request from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Even after all the rule-bending, Treasury’s sparse response is embarrassing to the administration and its environmental allies.

In April, CEI requested Treasury records that “involve ‘cap-and-trade’ schemes that deal with ‘carbon,’ ‘carbon dioxide’ or ‘greenhouse gases.’ ” After much delay, Treasury’s Jennifer Beasley this week finally replied with portions of five measly documents, at least one written during the presidential transition period. That’s a suspiciously slim record for one of the administration’s signature proposals.

It’s particularly suspicious because FOIA responses are supposed to include a dated index and detailed description of anything withheld. Ms. Beasley’s response contained zilch. Worse, the paltry documentation originally contained blacked-out portions, until Treasury backtracked late Friday afternoon after inquiries from The Washington Times.

It is easy to understand why. The documents are sprinkled with embarrassments for cap-and-trade enthusiasts. A March document states that the administration’s proposal “could generate federal receipts on the order of $100 [billion] to $200 billion annually.” The upper range would amount to new taxes three times the $65 billion assumed in the president’s official budget. As CEI noted, that could amount to a $2,000 annual impact on the average household.

Administration defenders say that since the estimate of $100 billion to $200 billion came out, the relevant cap-and-trade proposal has been altered to give away rather than sell some “emissions credits.” However, before Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag entered the West Wing, he argued that such changes would make things worse. In 2008 congressional testimony, he said that a “policy of giving away rather than selling a large share of the allowances could be more costly to the economy and impose disproportionately large burdens on low-income households.” He also explained that “firms would not ultimately bear most of the costs of the allowances but instead would pass them along to their customers in the form of higher prices. Such price increases would … occur regardless of whether the government sold emission allowances or gave them away. Indeed, the price increases would be essential to the success of a cap-and-trade program.”

That’s not all. A transition document from November estimated even higher costs - as high as $300 billion annually. An originally redacted part of an undated document said that “domestic policies to address climate change and the related issues of energy security and affordability will involve significant costs and potential revenues, possibly up to several percentage points of annual GDP (i.e. equal in size to the corporate income tax).”

With the economy still sputtering, no wonder the administration would rather pretend its own analysis doesn’t exist.

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