(/sites/default/files/uploads/2010/07/aobama-green.gif)Conventional wisdom says that cap and trade is dead, since America’s crippled economy simply can’t absorb another blow. Yet, while proposals to limit emissions of so-called greenhouse gases through a trading program may be on life support, it’s not quite time to administer last rites. Recent signs suggest that the administration and Democrats are getting ready to make one more big push in an effort to force something through.
The reason that Obama is so enamored with the program is obvious. Given the president’s inability to cut spending in any meaningful way, his only hope of restoring some sanity to the federal budget is a massive tax. Of all the available options, two have the potential to raise enough revenue to stem (not eliminate) the river of red ink pouring through the streets of Washington. The first, a value added tax (VAT), will almost surely be on the table when the president’s fiscal commission issues its recommendations after the elections. Cap and trade is the other option, although it wouldn’t be surprising to find that the administration angles for both in the long run. Just think of all the wonderful things they could do with all that cash.
The challenge Obama and Democrats face is framing a message that will resonate with the American people. So far, we have been variously told that cap and trade is necessary to save to planet, to free the United States from the tyranny of foreign oil, and to reassert out technological dominance in the energy sector. None of these attempts to spin an idea that most people recognize as having a debilitating effect on the economy have been very effective. Despite the best efforts of liberals and their allies in the mainstream media, far fewer Americans believe that human activities have or can affect the earth’s climate today than when our ocean-reversing President took the oath of office. The idea that we’d all be better off driving hugely expensive, inherently inefficient electric cars is ludicrous on its face. China’s supposedly “green economy” is in fact built upon coal-fired power plants and huge hydroelectric projects, though they are more than happy to churn out solar-panels for gullible Americans to buy.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid played a new card. Apparently, cap and trade is no longer defined by either caps or trades anymore. “I don’t use that,” Reid said in response to a question about placing a cap on carbon emissions. “Those words are not in my vocabulary. We’re going to work on pollution.” Lindsey Graham, who is either every Democrat’s favorite Republican or every Republican’s favorite Democrat depending on your point of view, warmed to the theme as well. In an interview with Politico he said:
Controlling smokestack emissions as part of an energy independence, job creation plan has some resonance with me. Cap and trade is associated with a solution to global warming. Again, carbon pollution is bad for people, bad for the environment. But you’re not going to turn the economy upside down based on that theory.
This exercise in semantics does a disservice to what is probably the most cost-effective, least intrusive way to reduce emissions of actual pollutants, as opposed to the pretend, greenhouse gas variety. Placing an overall cap on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted annually, and then letting the free market work out the details, is a far better way to reduce pollution than the traditional “command and control” model. Cap and trade programs have allowed the utility industry to drastically reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions over the years and, on the local level, have been a big part of reducing smog-forming emissions in municipalities like Los Angeles and Chicago. The problem with a national cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions isn’t the mechanism per se, it’s the target of the program: an innocuous, naturally-occurring gas that plays a very marginal role in determining climatic conditions.
But, having rammed a health care bill through Congress against determined national opposition, the Obama administration’s spin doctors undoubtedly feel that they can wrangle a cap and tax bill through as well, if they can just get the message framed correctly. As they gear up to have another go, we’ll no doubt see this most narcissistic of presidents making the rounds once again, bemoaning how the purity of his intentions have been so distorted by that dastardly Washington crowd, and declaring that once he has the time to explain the wisdom of his vision to the American people in more detail, everyone will come around.
The smart money still suggests that cap and trade won’t make it through this Congress, which is another way of saying that the program won’t happen at all; for it won’t have a chance with the next Congress. As the Obama administration gears up to make one, last-ditch effort to revive greenhouse gas legislation from its long coma before the election, the powers that be understand that their best hope of success is to re-label, repackage and rename a brand that America has long since lost faith in.