Can the Climate Control Zealots In Congress Be Stopped?

Is the president losing his cool? In his press conference on Tuesday President Obama showed rare flashes of sarcasm and impatience as he dealt with veiled criticism of his muted response to the brutality in Iran and the prospect that his beloved health care legislation may not survive the bloody birth canal that is Congress.

Still, the president was collected enough to employ an old favorite of those under pressure, the tried and true "bait and switch" approach. Hey, if your health care package is getting torched, start playing up the importance of your equally gigantic land-grab known as the American Clean Energy Security Act. Also called the Waxman-Markey bill, this legislation was suddenly number one on the president's agenda. That's bad news for those ramming through this dangerous re-write of our energy industry. While most talking heads have been focused on health care, the climate control zealots had their hands on the throttle. Shining a little light on this endeavor may better reveal some of the bills warts' and just in time since it moves to the House floor today.

The American Petroleum Institute sent a letter to Congress this week which claims that the Waxman bill "would mean gasoline at more than $4 per gallon" and that "the bill will cost Americans billions of dollars in higher costs, kill jobs and will not deliver the environmental benefits promised." The API note references a study done for the Black Chamber of Commerce that estimates the bill will result in a net loss of over 2 million jobs a year (net of added "green" jobs). The study also estimates annual drops in GDP of $170 billion in 2015, $350 billion in 2030 and $730 billion in 2050. In short, the API describes the bill as "fundamentally flawed."

The Heritage Foundation has weighed in with equally dire projections, claiming that the bill will reduce GDP through 2035 by $9.4 trillion, destroy on average 1.1 million jobs, raise electricity rates by 90% after adjusting for inflation, increase gasoline prices by 58% and hike an average family's energy bill by $1,241. At the end, they say the bill will add $28,728 per person to the federal debt.

If the Waxman bill is so controversial, why have we not heard much about it? You can thank the Congressional Budget Office for that. Unlike their riveting assessment that proposed healthcare legislation would increase the federal deficit by $1.0 trillion between 2010 and 2019 and still leave 37 million uninsured, the CBO's figures for the impact of the Waxman bill are relatively benign. They estimate that the legislation will cost the average American family only $175 per year -- not an unreasonable price to pay for cleaner air, you might say.

However, this assessment only covers the implementation of the cap-and-trade aspect of the bill, and not the costs of federal spending for new technologies or the cost of meeting mandates on energy efficiency. It also does not take into account the possibility of tariffs levied on high-carbon imports. In other words, it does not reflect the fact that your new toaster may have to use less energy, and the accomplishment of that goal may end of costing you more.

Also, the CBO analysis relies on one extremely questionable assumption -- that the revenues collected from the sale of allowances, or emissions permits, are recycled back to consumers. That is, the cost to consumers is significantly higher than $175 per household; that figure is reduced by presumed "rebates" aimed at offsetting the higher costs that industry will presumably pass onto consumers.

How much is that increased cost? Congressman Markey (D-Mass.) says in a press release that the government will raise $846 billion over the next decade in revenues. These funds, according to Markey, will be dedicated to "assist consumers with the transition to a clean energy economy at least 50% will go back to consumers."

A sober assessment of the government's budget situation over the next decade would lead some to think that there is about as much chance of cap-and-trade revenues being recycled back to taxpayers as there is of Nancy Pelosi taking command of the CIA. The government is looking high and low for revenues to fund healthcare legislation and a slew of other programs; this torrent will be just too delicious to give up.

The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the House of Representatives yesterday that explains its opposition to the American Clean Energy Security Act. Among other things, it criticizes the bill for not recognizing the role that carbon fuels will play in transitioning to a renewable future. It also urges Congress to require the international community to hop aboard pointing out that unilateral moves by the U.S. will eliminate any leverage we have in gaining future cooperation from other countries.

The Chamber also objects to the likely imposition of future tariffs on carbon-intensive imports which would damage companies reliant on imported goods and possibly ignite a trade war.

What does this 1,000 bill provide in the way of climate rescue? One paper for the Science and Public Policy Institute claims that the bill will lower the earth's temperature by 0.1 to 0.2 degrees C by 2100. According to the Heritage Foundation's Ben Lieberman, no one has argued that the impact will be significant.

My view is that this is a huge, ungainly bill of 1,000 pages that establishes a whole new layer of regulation and cost on our beleaguered manufacturers. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is serious business -- important for both our security and our economy. This bill is unrealistic, overly complex, costly, and at the end, ineffective. Maybe our speedy legislators should pay less attention to the calendar and more to providing the country with a balanced and reasonable program.