Today our Republican Congressman Randy No-gebauer (Neugebauer) took a rare turn at the microphone to oppose the current proposed emissions trading (aka cap and trade) bill. I could have guessed his position without watching him speak, but at least he reminded us that he exists, even though it was to bleat “no” yet one more time.
Reducing mankind’s harmful effect on the environment is not going to be easy, but it must be done. The science is quite clear on this matter, and anyone can observe industry’s many negative consequences, whether it’s mountaintop removal coal mining, man-made earthquakes from overzealous oil drilling, or a sky full of black smoke that’s melting our glaciers and warming our planet.
I believe that cap and trade is a good way to proceed with limiting harmful emissions and nudging industry in the direction of renewable energy. (The smart ones like T. Boone Pickens are already headed that direction anyway.) However, we should proceed carefully.
Since 2005, the EU (particularly the UK) has led the way in emissions trading as a way to reduce carbon emissions. It hasn’t been a perfect start by any means, and US lawmakers should study the successes and failures of the EU approach before passing a carbon cap and trade bill for our nation.
In particular, I think the EU made three crucial mistakes that we would be wise to avoid:
1) Instead of auctioning off all of the credits at the outset, the EU hooked up well-connected companies with free carbon emission credits, which were promptly sold to competitors at a huge profit. We can’t afford to play favorites and jeopardize a new and necessary system like that.
2) There were no penalties/tariffs against energy imported into the EU from other countries with no emissions control laws, or on companies who use carbon-emitting raw materials generated in other countries. We won’t tolerate lead paint on toys made in China; we likewise should not tolerate rampant pollution from Chinese — or any other nation’s — industry.
3) The EU allowed too much of the cost (which will be high initially but decrease over time) of emissions trading to be passed on to the consumer. I believe an equitable solution to this problem can be found. Energy companies clearly should not be allowed to make record profits by gouging consumers in the name of increasing costs from cap and trade (this is what happened in the EU), but neither should we put energy companies out of business. Of course, the former scenario is much more likely than the latter, and we should guard against it.
Ultimately, the whole world will have to take emissions regulation seriously, whether through cap and trade or through some other system. The survival of humanity depends on it. In the meantime, first-world nations have a moral obligation to lead the way by cleaning up their own act. And we should go forward with confidence, remembering our successes with closing the hole in the ozone layer and with reducing the problem of acid rain (through a cap and trade system on sulfur dioxide emissions, in fact).
Once we have removed the carbon splinter from our own eye, we can help our neighbors do the same.