Politics & Policy

Scrap the Cap

Hear that? It’s the sound of another 1,000-page bill hitting desks all over Washington. Sens. John Kerry and Barbara Boxer have introduced the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” which is the Senate equivalent of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill that passed the House earlier this year. Compared to Waxman-Markey (1,428 pages), the Kerry-Boxer bill (925 pages) is a model of concision. However, it is expected to grow as Senate Democrats try to buy Republican votes with token support for nuclear energy and offshore drilling. Skeptical senators should not take the bait.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has blown the whistle on the Democrats’ strategy, which involves targeting Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham. We’ve been down this road before: Last year, when the GOP was winning the debate over offshore drilling, Graham and four other Republicans nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by signing onto a watered-down compromise that would have opened only a tiny sliver of the coast for drilling in exchange for a batch of new subsidies for renewable energy, including nuclear power.

Graham is at it again: He recently shared a byline with John Kerry in the New York Times, signaling his willingness to play ball on cap-and-trade as long as the final bill contained the right incentives for nuclear power and a few nods to offshore oil and gas production. (He’s also keenly interested in a provision that would impose green tariffs on Chinese imports competing with South Carolina’s textile industry.) But as Inhofe told NRO’s Robert Costa last week, “we can build nuclear plants and support new energy exploration without tying it to cap-and-trade.”

#ad#Indeed, any bill that linked new petroleum production to cap-and-trade would lack coherence. The whole point of cap-and-trade is to make energy generated from fossil fuels more expensive and thereby reduce CO2 emissions. Like Waxman-Markey, Kerry-Boxer would set a cap on CO2 emissions. Major emitters, such as petroleum refineries, would have to purchase offsets in order to stay under the caps, and that would raise the price of fuel. It makes no sense to clear the way for new oil and gas production while at the same time trying to tax oil and gas out of existence.

New incentives for nuclear power or offshore drilling would not compensate taxpayers and energy consumers from the raw deal they would be getting under cap-and-trade. The Heritage Foundation estimates that the Waxman-Markey bill would cost the average family of four almost $3,000 per year in higher energy costs. What do we get in return? Even the bill’s most enthusiastic supporters admit that it would not have a significant impact on global temperatures unless countries like China and India pass their own carbon caps. Neither country has shown any enthusiasm for emulating our proposed folly.

So cap-and-trade is not likely to work in the real world, and it will not be easy to make it work politically, either: A new Pew study has found that the percentage of Americans who see solid evidence for man-made warming has fallen dramatically. Average global temperatures have actually fallen this decade even though CO2 emissions have continued to rise. This by itself does not prove anything — cap-and-trade supporters argue that this is nothing more than a temporary downswing in the middle of an upward trend. But the same models that predicted catastrophic warming in the future failed to predict the current cooling. That should give policymakers pause.

Falling support for climate-change legislation mirrors persistent opposition to the Democrats’ reorganization of the nation’s health-care system — another initiative on which they appear determined to forge ahead. How many massive bills can this Congress pass over mounting concern that it is doing too much, too quickly? Come election season, the GOP must shift from defense to offense and put forward an alternative agenda for the country. But for now, blocking the Democrats’ unpopular million-page legislative juggernaut makes for good policy and good politics.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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