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  • EPA Lawyers Speak Out Against Cap and Trade

    Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two lawyers currently working at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spoke out against cap and trade in their Washington Post column. Zabel has first hand experience with cap and trade, overseeing California’s cap and trade and offsets programs. The article is full of good reasons why a cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a bad idea. They also highlight how it differs substantially from the acid rain cap and trade plan, which proponents  tout as a reason to cap and trade CO2:

    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 authors explain, however, that these minor modifications and cheap alternatives aren’t available when it comes to America’s energy use:

    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.”

    The brunt of the authors’ objection to a cap and trade system has to with the offset provision. If a coal plant believes it’s cheaper not to reduce its carbon footprint, it can pay someone else to do so. For instance, a company could pay a logger not to cut down trees, or they could pay someone to grow trees since trees absorb carbon. Or a developing country can build a cleaner coal plant saying they were going to build a dirtier one while cashing a check from a developed country for the alleged carbon offset. Williams and Zabel make the same case with the forest owner:

    [I]f the landowner wasn’t planning to cut his forest, he just received a bonus for doing what he would have done anyway. Even if he was planning to cut his forest and doesn’t, demand for wood isn’t reduced. A different forest will be cut. Either way, there is no net reduction in production of greenhouse gases. The result of this carbon “offset” is not a decrease but an increase — coal burning above the cap at the power plant.”

    And the offset program creates perverse incentives and unintended consequences:

    [C]onsider the refrigerant HCFC-22, the manufacture of which creates an extremely powerful greenhouse gas as a byproduct. This byproduct is relatively easy and cheap to destroy, and governments could require refrigerant manufacturers to do just that. But offset investors have persuaded regulators to approve destruction of the byproduct as a carbon offset, making it twice as profitable to sell byproduct destruction as it was to sell the refrigerant.”

    Designed to be a cost containment measure, experience with offsets have led to nothing but fraud with no reduction in carbon dioxide. The architects of cap and trade legislation claim that farmers and landowners with forestland to be the big winners from the offset program. But the economic pain they suffer, along with everyone else, will be much greater than any offset check they collect.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to EPA Lawyers Speak Out Against Cap and Trade

    1. Bobbie Jay says:

      Cap and trade has to go. So do all who follow. It is nothing but corruption and control.

      Government corruption and control has to go. Reprimand is necessary and appropriate.

    2. Benjamin, Washington says:

      If the government's goal is to reduce carbon emissions, there is a simpler and more transparent method of doing so: a carbon tax. Right now, the current cap and trade provisions amount to a tax on carbon, but the revenue gets transfered to diverse parties. This article clearly demonstrates this by indicating that provisions of cap and trade would move revenue from wealthy countries to poor countries and from coal producers to forest owners. The problem is that this is not necessarily an efficient outcome. In economics, they would call this "rent seeking."

      A carbon tax would generate revenue specifically for the government and would much less disruptive. It would also be more transparent because all parties involved would know where revenue is being tranferred.

      Of course, the politicians in Washington know that they cannot pass any legislation with the word "tax" in it so they've concocted a system that amounts to the same thing but has a much less efficient and transparent system of implementation. This is dishonest on the part of our lawmakers and should not stand. A policy should be called by what it is and, if that means it will be rejected by the public, then so be it.

    3. Pingback: Our Choice or Al Gore’s Choice? « Conservative Thoughts and Profundity

    4. V Wilkinson, UK says:

      Williams and Zabel do draw attention to the urgent need to control carbon emissions. "Many people are aware that climatologists have concluded additional impacts from

      warming are now inevitable. However, what is less well recognized, but is highlighted in James

      Hansen’s recent letter to President-Elect Obama, is the true urgency of the climate crisis

      (http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20081121_Obama.pdf). Recent modeling by James

      Hansen and his colleagues has demonstrated that sustainability of a habitable climate, similar to

      the one we have known over the last 10,000 years, requires us to reduce atmospheric CO2 from

      its current level of 385 parts per million (“ppm”) to 350 ppm or below. To call this task

      challenging, given continued world-wide burning of fossil fuels and forests, is obviously a

      serious understatement. Hansen notes that, while changes in forestry and agricultural practices

      may be used to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, the benefit of these changes may be limited to

      about 50 ppm. His conclusion is that, because of the long life of CO2 in the atmosphere, if we

      exceed 400 ppm for more than a very limited time, it may be impossible for us to return to levels

      of CO2 below 350 ppm, even if we cut carbon emissions to minimal levels in the future. With

      levels of CO2 climbing approximately 2 ppm each year since 2000, this indicates we may have

      relatively few years left to accomplish rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen, et

      al, state, “If the present overshoot of this target CO2 (i.e., 350 ppm) is not brief, there is a possibility

      of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects”"

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