More flaws in the Waxman-Markey climate legislation emerge
I’ve come back from vacation to find that the cap-and-trade debate rages on — today with Paul Krugman of the Times entering the fray in a blog post about the costs of the legislation.
Citing a Congressional Budget Office report pegging the cost of Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade at $22 billion in 2020, he notes that given the projected population, that works out to just 18 cents a day per person. Krugman’s conclusion is that “the costs of cap-and-trade are very, very low.”
But Krugman then fails to address the crucial issue: If burning carbon doesn’t cost all that much in 2020, then what incentive would we have to switch to more expensive, carbon-free alternatives? Perhaps the answer is that the period between now and 2020 is intended as a transition period during which we will get used to the idea of cap-and-trade, and that after 2020 the cost of carbon will increase dramatically. But if that’s the case, then what of the argument that cap-and-trade won’t cost much? (Not to mention all of the climate-altering carbon emissions that will not be mitigated up to 2020.)
Conversely, if under cap-and-trade, carbon will never cost all that much, then how will we avert climate mayhem?
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation would result in more coal being burned in 2020 than at present.
” . . . to attract vital support from congressional Democrats representing heavily coal-dependent areas, authors of the legislation, including Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), have made a series of concessions that substantially soften its effect on coal — at least over the next decade or so.
Citing an EPA analysis, the article says the legislation “gives utilities a financial incentive to keep burning coal by joining the cap-and-trade system” — namely, the use of offsets. (For example, paying farmers to plant trees, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, rather than phasing out coal plants.)
“We’ve ensured a role for coal,” said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), as quoted by the L.A. Times.
So here’s another question for Krugman, and other supporters of the legislation such as Joe Romm: If it really is an effective policy for avoiding climate change, then why are supporters of coal so enthusiastic about it?
Again, maybe Waxman-Markey supporters are just kicking the ball down the road a bit. After all, the EPA projects that the use of coal would fall rapidly after 2020. But according to the L.A. Times story, that prediction rests on two assumptions: new nuclear power plants will begin pumping power into the grid; and carbon capture and storage technology will start having a big impact. Maybe. But maybe not.
One thing seems certain: Even if Waxman-Markey becomes law, it will accomplish very little until at least until 2020. And there are good reasons to doubt that it will ever be remotely enough to lead us toward the promised land: an 80 percent cut in carbon emissions by mid-century.