Planet Gore

Op-Ed of the Day

“Cap-and-trade Mirage” by Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, lawyers for the EPA, in today’s Washington Post. An excerpt:

We are speaking out as parents, citizens and attorneys, but our analysis is informed by more than 20 years each at the Environmental Protection Agency’s San Francisco Regional Office, including Allan’s extensive experience overseeing California’s cap-and-trade and offsets programs for the EPA.

Cap-and-trade means a declining “cap” on total emissions, while allowing trading of pollution permits. Confidence in the certainty of declining caps is based on the mistaken assumption that cap-and trade was proven in the EPA’s acid rain program. In fact, addressing acid rain required relatively minor modifications to coal-fired power plants. Reductions were accomplished primarily by a fuel switch to readily available, affordable, low-sulfur coal, along with some additional scrubbing. In contrast, the issues presented by climate change cannot be solved by tweaks to facilities; it requires an energy revolution through investments in building clean-energy facilities.

The biggest obstacle to this revolution is that uncontrolled fossil fuel energy remains much cheaper than clean energy. Cap-and-trade alone will not create confidence that clean energy will become profitable within a known time frame and so will not ignite the huge shift in investment needed to begin the clean-energy revolution. In recent interviews, even the economists who thought up cap-and-trade have said they don’t believe it’s an appropriate tool for climate change.

What guarantees failure of the proposed climate bills, however, are their provisions for carbon offsets, a concept not used in the acid rain program. Both bills allow all required greenhouse-gas reductions for almost 20 years to be met with carbon offsets rather than actual reductions in use of the capped sources. Offsets — considered indispensable to keeping cap-and-trade affordable — are supposed to be “additional” reductions beyond what is legally required. But experience with offsets in Europe and California has shown that ensuring real “additionality” is not an achievable goal.

The rest here.

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