- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

Global warming may or may not be real, but Washington’s latest proposal to deal with it would sure get America’s drivers heated up.

Not that there’s anything new about costly environmental regulations adding to the pain at the pump. Prices have hovered around $2.00 per gallon for a month now, and next to the high price of oil, these regulations are the biggest contributor. Federal rules have contributed to the nation’s inadequate refining capacity by discouraging expansions at existing facilities and preventing construction of new ones. The last refinery was built in 1976. Other measures have led to a hodgepodge of fuel specifications requiring more than a dozen different blends throughout the country. Overall, the federal regulatory costs may well exceed the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. New rules, phased in this year, have brought this burden to an all-time high.

As bad as it is, some in Congress want to make it worse by regulating emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Cars and trucks are a significant source of these emissions, and could not be left out of any serious attempt to deal with them.

Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, have co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions for the first time ever. In effect, the bill would place restrictions on the amount of coal and oil that could be used. An earlier version was voted down last year in the Senate by a 55-43 margin. Doubts about both the seriousness of global warming and whether the Climate Stewardship Act would make any difference helped sink the measure.

The Climate Stewardship Act’s high costs also made it a non-starter. According to estimates from the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), the bill would have added $444 to the average annual household energy budget once the provisions were fully implemented. In addition to sharply higher electricity prices, EIA estimated a 40-cent-per-gallon increase in the price of gasoline.

According to an updated EIA analysis, the newer, scaled-back version of the bill is still very costly. This includes an additional 13 cents per gallon of gas by 2010, and 29 cents by 2025. And that’s on top of the price impact from all the other regulations.

To make matters more worrisome, environmentalists and some politicians have already belittled the Climate Stewardship Act as merely a “first step” toward far costlier future crackdowns.

Many of the same politicians grandstanding against today’s high gasoline prices can’t get enough of these expensive environmental measures. Some even voted for the Climate Stewardship Act the first time around. If these legislators don’t learn to put two and two together, the price at the pump could really heat up in the years ahead.

Ben Lieberman is director of air-quality policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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