Sunday, May 10, 2009


The war against global warming evidently starts at home, where President Obama says the price of electricity will “necessarily skyrocket” when the government caps carbon dioxide and issues emissions permits that utilities can buy and sell to one another.

The president and his allies have decided that man-made carbon dioxide is a witch’s brew that’s killing the planet, and they think that just because the cap-and-trade cure stings doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have to swallow it.

Their solution is embodied in the momentarily stuck Henry A. Waxman-Edward J. Markey global warming legislation, the goal of which is to banish one of the world’s most ubiquitous elements from our lives. Its proponents call it “back to the future.” They’re not kidding, either.

Nobody understands exactly what the legislation means in dollars and cents - more on this later - but to experience how it would feel to lower your personal carbon footprint to the size this bill proposes, set the flux capacitor to 1875. That’s the last time Americans’ carbon emissions matched the goals set by the Waxman-Markey legislation.

What, the old DeLorean is up on cinder blocks in the front yard again? In that case you can test drive Waxman-Markey by sailing down to Haiti, because current CO2 emissions are where Waxman-Markey wants America’s to be in 2050. Radical environmentalists think such a CO2 level will be heaven on Earth, but the place that has actually achieved it is a nation swimming in bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever, dengue fever and malaria, with 47 percent illiteracy and a life expectancy of 49 years. So excuse me if I remain unconvinced.

Just why anyone beyond reliably liberal politicians and environmental activists would support cap-and-trade is getting harder to understand. It is true that some utility companies that used to be suspicious now embrace it, but probably only so long as they get their free emissions permits.

Others say the bill is only alive because the Obama administration needs the revenues produced by cap-and-trade to pay for its broad expansion of government. The revenue impact is between $646 billion and $2 trillion over the next 10 years, but the longer the legislation lies out in the sun, the less appetizing it becomes.

Now even Democrats are getting concerned that it will damage their districts. One Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee put it this way in a question to former Vice President Al Gore: “What do I tell a single parent, for example, in my district with two children, two young children, making $8 an hour? What can I say to reassure her that she will be able to afford the cost of this legislation?” The vice president didn’t know, and neither does anybody else.

Republicans had hoped that the Congressional Budget Office would be able to put a price tag on the bill. But the CBO’s analysts finally told us they could not estimate its cost without having access to the actual numbers on permit allocations. A Democratic supporter responded by lecturing that “any witness who is familiar with this can adequately analyze these without numbers.”

But professional budget analysts could not do it, so Congress was left to make do with the information gathered in a week of hurry-up-and-pass-something hearings to accumulate global warming rhetoric instead of facts.

Fast forward to this week. Without actual numbers or the resulting cost estimates, we’re left to ponder the broad ranges of economic damage. The news is necessarily vague, but none of it is good. Your electricity bill will increase by 77 percent to 129 percent. Filling up your gas tank will cost anywhere from 60 percent to 144 percent more. The cost of home heating oil and natural gas will nearly double.

Do you think the above estimate will help the economy or hurt it? Most would answer that it will hurt, and cost millions of Americans jobs.

If Democrats manage to pass a cap-and-trade fiasco, millions of lost American jobs will likely pop up overseas. Already the recession seems to get deeper by the day. Michigan has an unemployment rate of 12 percent. Indiana has a 10 percent unemployment rate. Ohio is at 9.7 percent. California and Georgia are both at 9.2 percent unemployment. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, a cap-and-trade law will cost 3 million to 4 million net jobs lost. The Heritage Foundation puts it between 1.8 million and 5.3 million, and Charles Rivers Associates estimated it as high as 7 million. Because there is so little protection for industry jobs that rely heavily on affordable and dependable baseload power, I think we can expect to start buying more Mexican cement, Chinese fertilizer and Indian steel.

Under the Waxman-Markey draft we are capping our economy and trading away our jobs. We are instituting a regressive energy tax on Americans already enduring high unemployment, lost 401(k)s, and rampant home foreclosures.

I believe we cannot kick our economy while it is down and achieve anything good. Instead of supporting the notion that skyrocketing energy prices are best for Americans, let’s get busy accelerating the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies and getting American workers back at what they do best: working.

Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, is ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee.

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