On Friday evening, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), a well-intentioned but misbegotten Frankenstein monster of a bill intended to combat climate change. Republicans Mary Bono Mack, Mike Castle, Mark Kirk, Frank LoBiondo, John McHugh, Dave Reichert, and Chris Smith joined 211 Democrats to put the bill over the top 219-212. Showing the profiles in courage typical to elected politicians, about three dozen Democrats hung back during the roll call until passage was certain, waiting until they could safely vote no without riling their party’s leaders.
As its sponsors struggled to make it palatable to representatives from energy-producing states, the bill swelled from 942 pages to just over 1,200, leaving undecided members little time to digest the new material. This brings to mind Rep. John Conyers’s admission to Michael Moore that members of Congress “don’t really read most of the bills” they vote for, because it would “slow down the legislative process.”
Two weeks after his election as president, Barack Obama said, “Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.” Shortly thereafter, more than 100 scientists signed a newspaper advertisement responding, “With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true.” The scientists, from places as varied and esteemed as Los Alamos National Laboratory, the American Physical Society, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania, said the “case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated.”
But even many who are not skeptical about global warming found things to dislike in ACES. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who voted against it, said, “It won’t address the problem. In fact, it might make the problem worse.” Kucinich faulted the bill’s “Enron-style accounting methods” and allocation of $60 billion for Carbon Capture and Sequestration, “a single technology which may or may not work.” Kucinich faulted the corporate welfare embedded in the bill, saying that the “trillion dollar carbon derivatives market will help Wall Street investors,” with any benefits “passed through coal companies and other large corporations, on whom we will rely to pass on the savings.”
“I take climate change seriously,” libertarian economist Megan McArdle wrote last week. But she said the projections for ACES’s “effect on global warming are entirely negligible,” and any hope that U.S. passage of the bill will “persuade China and India to get on board” is “entirely wishful thinking on the part of American environmentalists. China is not going to let its citizens languish in subsistence farming because 30 years from now, some computer models say there will be some not-well-specified bad effects from high temperatures. Nor is India.”
Indeed, United Nations data suggest that ACES will reduce global warming by 0.07 of a degree Fahrenheit by 2050. In exchange, the U.S. risks sparking a trade war with those two massive economic powers when their own near-certain failure to act results in U.S. sanctions. While the Congressional Budget Office says ACES will drive up the average family’s energy bill by about $175 per year by 2020, that does not take into account the larger economic cost.
A Center for Data Analysis study concludes ACES will hurt the gross domestic product by $9.4 trillion by 2035 and cost the average family $1,241 per year. That’s because, as the Wall Street Journal put it last week, “the whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars.” A British analysis finds the average family there is paying nearly $1,300 a year for carbon-cutting programs that were introduced just a few years ago.
As Obama himself said during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Businesses would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that cost onto consumers.” Meanwhile, reductions in consumer spending will necessarily mean a decline in production which could eliminate more than 1.1 million jobs.
This is an awful lot to pay for legislation that will not reduce global warming and will not encourage other major economic powers to become more environmentally conscious. Maybe next time, Congress should read the bill before voting on it.