Cap-and-Trade Is a Bait-and-Switch

Cap-and-Trade Is a Bait-and-Switch
July 13, 2010

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, and... (read full bio)

With opinion polls showing the U.S. public strongly opposes the imposition of expensive cap-and-trade restrictions on greenhouse gases in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is attempting to pull off a deceitful bait-and-switch scam that would make the most ruthless used-car dealer blush.

A Cap by Any Other Name . . .
The primary effect of Reid’s plan—forcing an expensive and substantial reduction in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions—remains the same as before, though the language of his plan has been scrubbed of all references to global warming or cap-and-trade.

But an expensive cap on carbon dioxide emissions, by any other name, is still an expensive cap on carbon dioxide emissions.

Until now, global warming activists have been upfront about their desire to force a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, seeking to pass a law requiring an 83 percent cut. U.S. consumers would have no choice but to purchase much more expensive renewable energy.

But polls show the American public is already angry about persistent unemployment, a looming federal debt crisis, and an expensive and unwanted Obamacare health insurance mandate. The public realizes cap-and-trade would add to the nation’s economic burdens, and polls show voters will harshly punish politicians who try to impose such a mandate.

The answer to this political dilemma, Reid figures, is simple: Scrub any references to global warming or cap-and-trade from his desired legislation, while still forcing people to switch to expensive renewable energy sources.

Back-Door Carbon Cap
Reid’s new plan is to pass a drastic renewable power mandate that would directly force American consumers to purchase the same amount of expensive renewable power that a cap-and-trade bill would require in a less direct manner.

Instead of legislation saying, “You must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 83 percent,” with the only possible means being purchasing expensive renewable power instead of inexpensive conventional power, Reid is pushing for legislation saying, “You must purchase most of your power from renewable sources,” which accomplishes the same thing just as surely, and just as expensively, as cap-and-trade would.

Preplanned Divisiveness
Reid also is considering an alternative strategy that would retain explicit cap-and-trade language but initially impose restrictions on the utility industry alone. Those behind that scheme believe it will be easier to divide and conquer individual sectors of the U.S. economy than to hit them all at once.

The plan is to sell cap-and-trade restrictions on the utility industry alone as a “compromise” global warming bill—and then go after the rest of the economy once their foot is in the door and the utilities are under the government’s thumb.

Proponents of this divide-and-conquer strategy argue utilities will then throw their weight behind efforts to cap other sectors of the economy, to level the playing field—albeit at a much higher altitude.

Such a “compromise” bill addressing the utility sector alone would be an attempt to pit various sectors of the economy against each other and ultimately clear the path for universal CO2 restrictions.

Thwarting Voters’ Will
Either approach means the same thing: Reid is baiting the American public by saying he is not proposing a cap-and-trade bill, but he is planning the most deceitful of switches by imposing mandates and restrictions that accomplish the exact same thing at the exact same cost.

Just as troubling, with wavering Democrats concerned that supporting either plan could spell doom for them in the November elections, Reid is considering waiting until after the November elections to present his schemes to a lame-duck Congress that will not have to fear voter backlash for at least another two years and could include many members who have already been voted out of office.

All that Harry Reid is missing in his dishonest used car salesman playbook is a rolled-back odometer and bubble gum holding the car doors in place. One thing’s clear: The U.S. economy will be a wreck if any of these schemes becomes reality.

James M. Taylor (jtaylor@heartland.org) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, and... (read full bio)