H. Sterling Burnett and James Franko: There's time to get climate policy right

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Source: Washington Examiner

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have offered a global warming bill that would further the government's growing stranglehold on the economy by commandeering the energy sector through climate legislation.

Though there will be some differences from the Waxman-Markey bill that barely passed the House of Representatives in late June, the core of the bill will be the same: a cap-and-trade scheme that will amount to the largest energy tax ever foisted upon the American people.

Raising taxes on energy, the lifeblood of the economy, during a recession is hardly a stroke of genius.

According to Treasury Department, in a memo that the Obama administration had tried to suppress but was forced to release under the Freedom of Information Act, the Waxman-Markey climate change bill will cost each family as much as $1,761 each year.

More recently, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Waxman-Markey bill could reduce U.S. gross domestic product by 3 percent below what would otherwise occur -- that's hundreds of billions of dollars of lost productivity. And, those are the rosy estimates if the government gets everything right. As other economic analyses make clear, anything less than perfection and the costs really increase.

Because the Boxer-Kerry bill sets even stricter emission limits, logic dictates that it will hit pocketbooks even harder.

The rush to legislate is based on the argument that we must act now or risk climate Armageddon. But most of the predictions of catastrophe are based upon a series of computer models that are increasingly recognized as fundamentally flawed.

For instance, global temperatures have been flat or even slightly decreasing for the past 10 years all the while greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase.

None of the multitude of models predicted this result. How can we be expected to trust the long-term projections of computers that can't get the near-term stuff right?

There is mounting evidence that the sun has a larger role to play in global temperatures than the models and many climate scientists understand. Which just goes to show how imperfect human understanding of our global environment really is.

On the bright side, those pushing the climate legislation argue that limiting fossil fuel use will be an engine of green job creation. Government subsidies can certainly create green jobs, but in the end robbing Peter to create work for Paul doesn't increase the economic pie -- it just gives a different person a larger slice than he or she could earn through voluntary exchange in the marketplace.

Spain has been held up as a model of a government-funded green job growth, but a study from King Juan Carlos University pointed out that for every green job the government "creates," 2.2 jobs are lost. With unemployment at 10.2 percent in October, should we be moving ahead legislation that is likely a net job killer?

If one is truly worried about the effects of global warming, America could take action right now that would both help the economy and reduce CO2 emissions. By removing taxpayer subsidies for fuel use and eliminating regulatory barriers to nuclear power and biotechnology, we can decrease CO2 emissions right away.

In addition, we could end government-subsidized flood insurance, which encourages people to overbuild on the coasts and in floodplains -- a bad idea even if sea levels aren't rising.

Actions such as these, rather than government rationing of energy, would allow families, not politicians, to make great gains during a recession.

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow and James Franko is a legislative assistant with National Center for Policy Analysis.