For decades, environmental extremists have been stymied when their doomsaying predictions collide with the reality of an ever-improving environment, driven by the enormous wealth created by our market economy. The “problem” they describe is always something different, but the “solution” is always the same: draconian restrictions on economic activity, vastly expanded government power (usually internationally), and greatly diminished individual freedom.
In the 1960s, the doomsayers wrung their hands about over- population and predicted widespread famines before better technology drove an enormous increase in crop yields. In the 1970s, resource shortages were predicted that would cripple the global economy, with everyone from the Club of Rome to President Jimmy Carter convinced that we were up against meaningful resource constraints to growth. Yet prices plummeted for every significant natural resource as technology drove production and substitution. In the 1980s, the scare story was biodiversity, focused on the idea that the loss of so-called keystone species would cause a cascading effect that would kill us all. That turned out not to be true. So in the 1990s, the environmental extremists settled on a new doomsday scenario: global warming.
Global warming is different because its doomsday predictions can’t be tested by reality. They depend on computer models that predict disaster many decades, or even centuries, into the future. The environmental extremists no longer need a new scare story every decade.
Carbon dioxide – a colorless, odorless gas with no direct adverse health effects – is at the heart of the global warming debate because it is the greenhouse gas that is most directly connected to human activity. The Obama administration is intent on having its way with carbon dioxide emissions at any cost, and by any means. In fact, President Obama’s relentless pursuit of extreme global warming regulations is perhaps the clearest example of his disregard for our constitutional system of separation of powers and democratic accountability There was fierce public debate over Obama’s 2009 plan for draconian emissions cuts. The public opposed it, Congress rejected it, and the electorate, via the polls, clearly said “no.” Yet Obama pushes forward.
These regulations will cost every American household thousands of dollars a year without any environmental benefit to show for it – except a nice, green feeling for our political elites. And to what end? The regulations would have no discernible impact on global levels of greenhouse gases or on global average temperature, even if you believe the most dire predictions about global warming. In fact, the 83 percent reduction in emissions Obama supports would prevent a ridiculously insignificant 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit of warming.3
These regulations are not being worked up on the House or Senate floor. They’re being discussed behind closed doors. A secret effort has quietly moved forward to implement cap-and-trade – and even more extreme forms of regulation – by backdoor administrative means at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an abbreviation that might better be reinterpreted as “Extreme Power Abuse.”
CAP-AND-TRADE: A TAXING SITUATION
One of Obama’s top priorities after taking office was to impose a national cap-and-trade scheme to ration energy use. Obama explained how the system would work in a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board during the 2008 campaign:
Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad . Because I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, you know, natural gas, you name it – whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money: They will pass that money on to consumers.4
In other words, cap-and-trade is a way to impose a massive energy tax – and pretend it’s not a tax. Once elected, Obama stopped honestly describing cap-and-trade; instead he launched a deceptive campaign to convince the American public that cap-and-trade would magically cause Americans to use much less energy without noticeably raising prices. Whether this campaign was borne from a deep sense of denial or outright malfeasance remains to be seen.
Al Gore himself explained the origins of cap-and-trade in describing the lesson he learned from an attempt to pass a straightforward energy tax in 1993:
I worked as vice president to enact a carbon tax. Clinton indulged me against the advice of his economic team . . . One House of Congress passed it, the other defeated it by one vote then watered it down and what remained was a pitiful 5 cent per gallon gasoline tax. That contributed to our losing Congress two years later to Newt Gingrich.5
Enter cap-and-trade . The political “innovation” of the cap-and trade scheme is that instead of levying a tax directly, it puts a cap on overall greenhouse gas emissions, and establishes a market for companies to buy and sell emission permits. The overall effect is the same – if a company wants to emit more carbon dioxide, it must pay more . So it’s a tax with the added uncertainty of a rate that’s unknown and set at auction. Despite these efforts at obfuscation, the so-called American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, known as Waxman-Markey, collapsed after its chief sponsors, U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman CD-Calif.) and Edward Markey CD-Mass.), could not hide its true tab. The Congressional Budget Office scored that cap-and-trade bill-a whopping 1,200-page tome, plus a 300-page amendment that was added at three in the morning on the day of the House vote-as an $873 billion tax hike .6
The budget office also agreed, in its official analysis, with what Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle – that the costs would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. CBO Director Doug Elmendorf explained in his Senate testimony, “Under a cap and-trade program, consumers would ultimately bear most of the costs of emission reductions.”7
I don’t often agree with MoveOn.org, but on April 17, 2009, the organization sent out an urgent fund-raising alert to try to save cap-and-trade that got it exactly right. MoveOn.org’s Adam Ruben said in the e-mail: “If Republicans convince voters that clean energy legislation amounts to a new tax, Obama’s plan is toast.”
Of course, it was a tax. And it was toast. Enough Americans broke the code, with the help of those of us who weren’t going to let the Obama administration impose a nearly $1 trillion stealth tax on an already overburdened economy Obama’s failure wasn’t a failure of communication, it was a failure of obfuscation. Cap-and-trade is a huge tax hike, and the American people don’t want it.
While Waxman-Markey squeaked through the House in June 2009, it stalled in the Senate. Energy-state Democrats balked at the wildly unpopular bill, which was a bridge too far with the American people, already erupting in anger over health care take over legislation.
Not even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama could twist enough arms to force every Senate Democrat to walk the political plank on cap-and-trade, and only one Republican, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), continued to publicly support the bill. Eventually he pulled the plug, too, and the American people went to the ballot box in 2010 to, among other things, decide the future of cap-and-trade .
THE PEOPLE SPEAK: CAP-AND-TRADE IS TOXIC
Cap-and-trade was utterly buried in the 2010 election, most visibly in southwest Virginia, where coal-country Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Va .) – who had not only voted for cap-and-trade but cut the key deal to try to buy off opposition from some energy companies – was soundly defeated on the issue. Just a few days before the election, Boucher gave an explanation to the Roanoke Times: “It puts the burden on me to provide a complicated explanation to a complex issue and go through about a four-step logical process to persuade people that what I did was the right thing for coal.”8
It wasn’t, of course. And it was the wrong thing for the country. The people of his district had too much sense to listen to his excuses. Boucher, after 28 years, is no longer a congressman.
In nearby West Virginia, Democrat Joe Manchin was trailing in the polls until a game-changing television ad, “Dead Aim,” showed him shooting a bullet through the House-passed cap-and-trade bill with a rifle. According to The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, “It was a high-risk, high-reward move that clearly helped turn the race back in Manchin’s favor.”9 Manchin is now a U.S. senator.
It was the same story all over the country. Cap-and-trade supporters in competitive races lost. Notable losers who provided Nancy Pelosi with the key votes to get cap-and-trade past the finish line in the House included: Betsy Markey CD-Colo .), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), Baron Hill (D-Ind .), Frank Kratovil CD-Md.), Ike Skelton CD-Mo.), Harry Teague CD-N.M .), Steve Driehaus CD-Ohio), Mary Jo Kilroy CD-Ohio), John Boccieri CD-Ohio), Zach Space CD-Ohio), Paul Kanjorski CD-Pa.), Tom Perriello CD-Va.), Rick Boucher CD-Va.), and Steve Kagen CD-Wis.) .
That’s a pretty thorough rejection of cap-and-trade. One would think that the administration would get the hint and focus its attention elsewhere. But, incredibly, Obama and his EPA are attempting to revive this nefarious scheme, this time trying to hide it even further from taxpayers’ eyes and the democratic process by using an administrative agency to impose the regime, instead of following the legislative process described by the Constitution.
Phil Kerpen is head of American Commitment and a leading free-market policy analyst and advocate in Washington. Kerpen was the principal policy and legislative strategist at Americans for Prosperity for over five years. He previously worked at the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute. Kerpen is also a nationally syndicated columnist, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the 2011 book “Democracy Denied.
Excerpt provided by BenBella Books.
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