NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 18, 2005

The Bush Administration's proposed Clear Skies program, which would reduce emissions through a cap-and-trade approach, is being assailed by Democrats, environmentalists and even editorial cartoonists.

According to New Republic editor Gregg Easterbrook, President Bush's goal of cutting pollution from power plants would usually win praise from environmentalists -- that is, if a Democrat such as Al Gore had proposed it. But opposition to the program is simply motivated by politics, says Easterbrook.

If passed, Clear Skies would:

  • Cut power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury by more than 70 percent.
  • Set an overall reduction quota for the power industry, but let market forces work by allowing individual plants to decide how to reduce emissions through trading pollution permits.

The plan would also permanently cap plant emissions nationwide, meaning that pollutant levels must not rise no matter how much more power is generated in the future. The proposed cap for sulfur dioxide is 90 percent lower than the amount emitted in 1970; the cap for nitrogen oxide is 94 percent lower than 1970.

In practice, cap-and-trade systems have proved faster, cheaper and less vulnerable to legal stalling tactics than the "command and control" premise of most of the Clean Air Act. For example, a pilot cap-and-trade system, for sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power plants, was enacted by Congress in 1990. Since then sulfur dioxide emissions have fallen by nearly a third (the reason you hear so little about acid rain these days is that the problem is declining -- even though the amount of combustion of coal for electricity has risen,) says Easterbrook.

Source: Gregg Easterbrook, "Clear Skies, No Lies," New York Times, February 16, 2005.

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