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Day-After Reflections on Bush’s Climate Speech



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Yesterday, in his Rose Garden speech on climate change, President Bush proposed a “national goal” of freezing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2025, with reductions to follow thereafter. Thanks to conservative opposition, the President stepped back from more damaging options, such as a cap-and-trade program for utilities.

Bush’s proposal is bland stuff compared to the economy-chilling emission reduction targets pushed by Al Gore, Gov. Schwarzenegger, and the European Union. One reason Bush gave the speech was to explain the position U.S. negotiators would be taking at today and tomorrow’s “major economies” energy and climate meeting in Paris. If Bush can actually persuade some of the world’s industrial powerhouses to back similar national goals as an alternative to the Kyoto process, then maybe some good will come of this initiative. More likely, I fear, his speech will further legitimize Gore’s “planetary emergency” spin on global warming.

The White House Web site has a Fact Sheet elaborating the points Bush made in his speech. Below, I offer a few observations (indented) on the central portion of the Fact Sheet.

There Is A Right Way And A Wrong Way To Approach Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The American people deserve an honest assessment of the costs, benefits and feasibility of any proposed solution.  Decisions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges, but should be debated openly and made by the elected representatives of the people they affect. 

Yes, the American people deserve an honest assessment. The Gore camp repeatedly portrays its draconian emission reduction schemes as a free lunch or even as a road to riches. Bush is also absolutely correct that decisions with far-reaching economic impact should not be made by unelected regulators and judges. But does the President have the fortitude to reject and condemn the policy extortion of those who would use the threat of court-ordered regulation to demand Kyoto-style energy rationing as a legislative remedy? That remains to be seen.

Some courts are taking laws written more than 30 years ago to primarily address local and regional environmental effects and applying them to global climate change.  The Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act were never meant to regulate global climate change.  If these laws are stretched beyond their original intent, they could override the programs Congress has recently adopted, and force the government to regulate increasingly smaller users and producers of energy – from schools and stores to hospitals and apartment buildings.

Spot on, but why didn’t Bush’s EPA make this argument the centerpiece of their brief in the Supreme Court global warming case, Massachusetts v. EPA? That case might have been decided very differently had EPA spotlighted the fact that it could not regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new motor vehicles—the immediate policy goal sought by plaintiffs—without triggering an economy-chilling regulatory cascade that Congress clearly never approved or intended when, in 1970, it enacted the Clean Air Act provision addressing emissions from new motor vehicles.

Congressional debate should be guided by certain core principles and a clear appreciation that there is a wrong way and a right way to approach reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Bad legislation would impose tremendous costs on our economy and American families without accomplishing the important climate change goals we share.

Correct as far as it goes, but the point needs to be sharpened. Cap-and-trade proposals are either all pain for no gain (for example, Kyoto, at a cumulative cost of trillions of dollars, would avoid only a hypothetical and undetectable 0.07 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050) or an economy-crushing “cure” that is worse than the alleged disease. The only region of the world to achieve dramatic emissions reductions over a sustained period of time is the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Their “method” was economic collapse.

The wrong way is to raise taxes, duplicate mandates, or demand sudden and drastic emissions cuts that have no chance of being realized and every chance of hurting our economy.  The right way is to set realistic goals for reducing emissions consistent with advances in technology, while increasing our energy security and ensuring that our economy can continue to prosper and grow.

The wrong way is to “duplicate mandates.” Bush also said this in the speech. The meaning is not immediately obvious. I believe Bush means that even the direct policy objective pursued by plaintiffs in the Mass v. EPA case is the “wrong way.” Plaintiffs sought to force EPA to set carbon dioxide emission standards for new motor vehicles. In practice, such standards are just fuel economy standards by another name, because more miles to the gallon equal fewer pounds of carbon dioxide per mile, and vice versa. Bush’s point: The December 2007 energy bill just increased fuel economy standards for new cars and light trucks to 35 mpg, so imposing CO2 emission standards on new motor vehicles would either wastefully duplicate or conflict with the law Congress just enacted.  

The wrong way is to adopt policies that would sharply increase gasoline prices, home heating bills for American families, and the cost of energy for American businesses.  The right way is to adopt policies that spur investment in the new technologies needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more cost-effectively in the long term without placing unreasonable burdens on American consumers and workers in the short term. 

Here is where Bush remains 180 degrees opposed to the Gore camp—assuming he does not waiver. The Gore camp believes that the main way to spur investment in new technologies and reduce emissions is to adopt policies that sharply increase gasoline prices, home heating bills, and the cost of energy for American businesses.

The wrong way is to jeopardize our energy and economic security by abandoning nuclear power and our Nation’s huge reserves of coal.  The right way is to promote more emission-free nuclear power and encourage the investments necessary to produce electricity from coal without releasing carbon into the air.

Nuclear power is already heavily subsidized. We don’t know the details of what Bush is proposing, but more subsidies will not benefit taxpayers. Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) for coal-fired electricity is nowhere near ready for commercial application on an industrial scale. The real test for Bush and his allies is whether they will capitulate to Gore-camp demands to ban new coal plants until and unless they come equipped with CCS.    

The wrong way is to unilaterally impose regulatory costs that put American businesses at a disadvantage with their competitors abroad – which would simply drive American jobs overseas and increase emissions there.  The right way is to ensure that all major economies are bound to take action and to work cooperatively with our partners for a fair and effective international climate agreement. 

Yes, climate policies that put U.S. businesses at a disadvantage and simply relocate rather than reduce emissions are all pain for no gain. However, taking a bad treaty like Kyoto and making it truly global would only make it worse.

The wrong way is to threaten punitive tariffs and protectionist barriers, start a carbon-based global trade war, and stifle the diffusion of new technologies.  The right way is to work to make advanced technology affordable and available in the developing world, by lowering trade barriers, creating a global free market for clean energy technologies, and enhancing international cooperation and technology investment.  

It would clearly be wrong to penalize developing countries via trade sanctions for using the affordable energy sources that helped make America the envy the world. But it is also wrong to inflate global food prices and increase world hunger via bio-fuel mandates that divert massive quantities of grain from food to auto fuel. How can Bush expect the Europeans to heed his warnings about carbon tariffs creating a humanitarian disaster in the future when he continues to champion bio-fuel policies that are creating a humanitarian disaster today?  



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