NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 3, 2009

If members of Congress need yet another reason to kill the Waxman-Markey bill, the Obama administration's economy-suffocating, job-destroying energy program, Princeton University's Tim Searchinger and his colleagues have a humdinger: Carbon reduction laws encourage widespread deforestation as trees and other vegetation are harvested to produce energy from biomass to replace oil and gas.  The problem is that in the long run, this process actually increases greenhouse gas emissions, which cap-and-trade is meant to reduce, according to Searchinger.

The Princeton researcher's paper, published Oct. 23 in Science, points out that almost all prior global warming studies failed to take into account the carbon emissions that result from converting cropland and forests to energy production.  This accounting error treats all bio-energy as carbon-neutral, the authors say, despite the fact that burning wood and clearing land actually releases quite a large quantity of carbon into the atmosphere.

According to Searchinger:

  • By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, the researchers found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20 percent savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years.
  • Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50 percent.
  • Neither the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nor existing European cap-and-trade programs have taken into account widespread deforestation as farmers worldwide respond to the new economic incentives.

Those figures might actually underestimate the growth of greenhouse gas production caused by reliance on energy produced from bio-mass sources because cap-and-trade includes $30 billion in subsidies for alternative energy research, development, and commercialization, including bio-mass.  In other words: A vote for the House version of cap-and-trade or the companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Sen. John Kerry ( D-Mass.), actually means a vote for even more greenhouse gases.  Who knew?  Now, it's the opponents of cap-and-trade bills who can honestly say they are just trying to save the planet from the ravages of greenhouse gases, says the Washington Examiner.

Source: Editorial, "Save the planet? Kill cap-and-trade," Washington Examiner, October 30, 2009; and Timothy D. Searchinger et al., "Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error," Science, Vol. 326, No. 5952, October 23, 2009.

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