Carbon-Cap Conundrum
Losing legislation.


Think the recent spate of Big Government initiatives on Capitol Hill is ambitious? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Move over, $307 billion farm bill. Forget about that $300 billion bailout for greedy mortgage bankers and their irresponsible borrowers.

Because when it comes to expanding Uncle Sam’s girth, nothing tops the global warming cap-and-trade proposal currently before the Senate — the America’s Climate Security Act, widely known as the Lieberman-Warner bill (named after its two lead sponsors, Independent Joe Lieberman and Republican John Warner).

Beneath all its painfully precise social engineering lies one objective — to force Americans to change their way of life so dramatically over the next few decades that global temperatures will fall. How? Through an unforgiving cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. Specifically, carbon-dioxide emissions must be 19-percent below the 2005 U.S. level by 2020, and 71 percent lower by 2050. The only way to meet these goals is to drive up energy costs — and federal revenues — significantly. This is essentially a massive new energy tax, calculated by the Congressional Budget Office to increase federal revenues by $1.2 trillion in the first 7 years.

And what environmental benefit can we expect from all this? According to one oft-cited analysis, if all the world’s industrial nations were to comply fully with the similarly ambitious goal in the Kyoto Treaty, the world’s climate would be all of 0.07 degrees Celsius cooler. “Such a miniscule change in global temperatures,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Marlo Lewis notes, “would be too small to detect.”

Keep that metric in mind as you read on.

The crucial dynamic at work here — call it the carbon-cap conundrum — is that there are only two ways to achieve Lieberman-Warner’s objective without flat-lining the economy.

The first is by increasing dramatically our use of clean nuclear energy. Indeed, an abundant amount of nuclear energy is essential if we are to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This, in turn, requires lawmakers to identify ways to circumvent the inevitable thicket of lawsuits and regulatory challenges that environmental groups would mount to block the construction of new nuclear power plants and the storage of nuclear waste. Absent this, the costs of cap-and-trade proposals rise dramatically.

The second way to achieve the bill’s goals is more problematic. Scientists will have to develop, design, and deploy carbon “capture and sequestration” technology that works in the manner envisioned by the bill’s architects — and soon. While oil and gas companies have used a form of sequestration technology for decades to extract additional increments of oil and gas from wells, experts say a version suitable for the global-warming wars is still decades away.

Leading environmental groups dismiss these challenges. Greenpeace argues on its website that “hundreds of technologies are now available, at very low cost, to reduce climate damaging emissions” and that transitioning to this “new era of energy” will bring “economic growth, new jobs, technological innovation and . . . environmental protection.”

But a recent analysis of the Lieberman-Warner bill by my colleagues at the Heritage Foundation concludes that its economic consequences will be dire. In the manufacturing sector nearly 3 million blue-collar jobs would disappear. Incomes would fall, fuel prices would skyrocket, and carbon tariffs on goods imported from countries that do not meet the bill’s rigorous standards would add to the cost of imported clothes, consumer electronics, and automobiles.

Americans are expected to bear all these economic costs, remember, in exchange for an imperceptible change in global temperatures four decades hence. As constituents begin to appreciate these costs, the prospects for cap-and-trade bills should diminish.

In April, legislators jettisoned Maryland’s own ambitious version of climate control legislation. As the Baltimore Sun reported, all momentum on behalf of the bill came to a screeching halt after a few dozen members of the United Steelworkers union, which represents about 5,000 workers in Maryland’s steel, brick, cement, chemical, and paper plants, descended on Annapolis “wearing T-shirts that said in green lettering: ‘Save our jobs.’ ” Their message, as articulated by one of the protesters, was clear. “[T]his should not be forced upon us. We have to make sure that jobs don’t go to other states or other countries.”