Capping jobs, trading in misery — wrong answers to global warming

To make good on that back-to-the-future design, the Energy and Commerce Committee worked hard earlier this year. It took 37 hours over four days of methodically rejecting 56 separate Republican efforts to learn the full cost of the bill, to prevent scams in its trading system and even get the federal regulators out of hot tubs. In the end, the 946-page Waxman-Markey global warming bill that we produced was passed on a vote of 33-25. It now stands as the vehicle of choice for making good on the Speaker’s promise to tackle global warming.

I think Republicans have legitimate and serious concerns about this redirection of our energy policy in America, and we shouldn’t be alone. Energy is the bedrock of a free-market economy that has become the most productive and the largest in the world. A third of the world’s GDP is based on the United States economy, and that economy for more than 150 years has been based on a free-market allocation of resources in the energy sector.

The focus of our efforts is on carbon dioxide, however. It’s just .038 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the man-made component is just .01 percent. Nor is CO2 a pollutant in any rational sense of the word. It is a naturally occurring, indispensable part of life, and it correlates directly to growth in jobs and economic opportunity for Americans. We’ve seen a nearly CO2-free society before, but Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge hardly seems like a model for world prosperity and individual happiness.

Secondly, the system of allowances on which the pending legislation relies is flawed right from its basic math to the way in which the allowances were given away to gain political support among the recipients.

For example, the transportation sector today is responsible for 35 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, yet transportation gets a grand total of 2.25 percent of the allowances. Come 2050, when CO2 emissions are supposed to be cut by 83 percent, it seems like the transportation sector will need to be cut drastically. Assuming we don’t develop some sort of emission-free power for airplanes, general aviation is going to have to use fossil fuel or planes won’t fly. It seems to me that it is simply a physical impossibility to get to that 83 percent reduction. On top of that, instead of auctioning the emissions permits, as President Barack Obama promised, we’ve given away 85 percent in order to generate industry support for the legislation.

Next, no matter how you cut it, costs are going up. The CEO of the utility that provides most of the electricity for Iowa says that in Iowa alone, costs are going to go up nearly $400 a year per residential customer. Also, the Energy Information Administration predicts price rises of between 35 cents and $1.28 per gallon for gasoline. If you take a conservative projection of, say, 50 cents a gallon, a family with two working parents could pay about $800 a year more for fuel. Then there’s the green jobs revolution. They’ve been trying that in Spain, and what their experience tells us is that for every green job created, two conventional jobs are lost. Moreover, the cost of green job creation in Spain is about $1.2 million per job in government subsidies.

Finally, evidence is mounting that the EPA’s pivotal endangerment finding was based on a process that suppressed countervailing opinion from career staff. In an e-mail from a supervisor, one longtime EPA staffer was told bluntly that “the administrator and the administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision …” In fact, his doubts were hazardous to his office, the boss warned.

Some say the clock is ticking, and we must act boldly and right now. At the same time, nobody’s quite sure what happens next with the Waxman-Markey bill because the longer it lies exposed to examination, the more it disappoints.

Whatever happens next, I hope Democrats and Republicans can find some way to apply common sense to what we’re doing. We don’t want the cost of energy to bankrupt working people; we want them to drive what they want to drive and go where they need to go, and we want them to keep their jobs. That doesn’t seem too much for the people who inhabit this world to expect of us.

Barton is ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.