Senate Scheduled To Vote On Unilateral Climate Change Bill

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday is expected to debate amendments to a bill proposed by Sens. Lieberman (I-CT) and Warner (R-VA) that would create a "cap and trade" system designed to cut total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions.  Yet an expert with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) says the cap and trade system would slow economic growth with little if any environmental improvement to show for it. 

"Back in 1997 the Senate took the sensible position that the U.S. should not adopt any climate treaty that would either harm the economy or that didn't include meaningful participation by major developing countries," said H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the NCPA.  "Now, with an election year fast approaching, many of the same Senators are rushing to adopt a unilateral bill that violates both of those principles.  The good news is this proposal has little chance of becoming law."

The bill, titled "America's Climate Security Act," would restrict greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, petroleum refiners, major manufacturers and natural gas supplied to both residential and commercial buildings under what is called a "cap and trade" mechanism. Under a cap and trade system, government establishes a cap on total emissions, and then auctions or gives allowances to the affected industries, allowing them to emit carbon dioxide at certain levels.  Companies are also allowed to trade their emission allowances among themselves, so that companies that can cost effectively cut emissions more than their allowed amount can sell their excess emission credits to others.  Over time, the annual emissions limits would decline. 

Burnett noted that an analysis of cap and trade proposals in general by the Congressional Budget Office estimated costs to the economy in tens of billions and perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars annually and concluded that the poor would bear the brunt of resulting higher energy prices. 

"These costs could be quite high since the technologies don't exist at the present to meet the emission reduction goals," said Burnett.  "There is no telling if and when we can separate economic growth from growth in energy use or at least from growth in fossil fuel use."

Increasingly scientists are advocating geo-engineering approaches, as more immediate, cost-effective ways to reduce warming.  And politicians and analysts world wide are coming to embrace the need for adapting to future warming.