Editorial: Cap-and-trade bill promises paltry returns

Democratic dissension, Republican opposition and growing public skepticism may derail Congress’ potentially economy-crippling carbon cap-and-trade bill, perhaps saving Americans billions of dollars.

The bill’s author, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is opposed by centrist Democrats, who fear the Draconian regulations would severely harm their constituents. Congress members representing the steel industry and coal and nuclear power generators oppose the 648-page American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, authored by Rep. Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Meanwhile, Republicans cite studies showing the bill would increase a typical family’s energy prices at least $3,100 a year, and over 20 years result in 7 million lost jobs and $7 trillion in reduced economic output. Republicans say the legislation is essentially a “tax bill,” and plan alternative legislation to create incentives for “clean” coal and more nuclear energy.

President Barack Obama invited 36 House Democrats to the White House last week to urge passage of the legislation that would sell permits to companies, gradually diminishing allowable greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the prodding, negotiations remained stalled.

Growing skepticism over the approach — and even the need — to fight global warming by curbing greenhouse gas emissions isn’t limited to Capitol Hill. An artificial market in government-mandated carbon credits would be “monstrously stupid to do right now,” Berkshire Hathaway Inc. CEO Charlie Munger told CNBC, adding the move is “almost demented” considering other nations’ intention to continue industrial development, emitting vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

Public sentiment is at a new low, too, says pollster Zogby International. Only 30 percent of Americans support cap-and-trade, and 57 percent oppose it. A Pew Research poll of voter priorities ranked global warming dead last behind the economy and 18 other areas.

The Gallup Poll recently found a record 41 percent surveyed believe global warming claims are exaggerated, and at most 2 percent even cite the environment as their biggest concern.

In addition, a recent study by the National Center for Climate Research shows that if fully implemented, the Waxman-Markey bill would produce global temperature “savings” of only 0.05 degree centigrade over 50 years. Even James Hansen, the NASA scientist and perhaps most ardent proponent of manmade global warming as a threat, urges the bill’s defeat, saying it would be ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases.

Even the premise for curbing greenhouse gases is flawed. There has been no cause-and-effect relationship convincingly established between rising carbon emissions and higher temperatures. Indeed, temperatures have leveled off or declined since 1998 while CO2 emissions have skyrocketed, the opposite of the global warming theory.

Considering its questionable assumptions, economic costs and hardships, this bill promises a paltry return on investment. One might say it’s “almost demented.”