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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

How Republicans block legislation is key

What do Republicans have to gain, or lose, from blocking climate change legislation?

The answer depends not on whether the Republicans block the cap-and-trade legislation -- which they should -- but how they do it.

If they block the current version of the bill using arguments that foster a dialogue with the public, they will have taken an important step in re-establishing the Republican Party as the party of ideas that acts in the public's best interest. Yet, if they do so in a way that reinforces the image of a "just say no party," they will have provided a public service but lost a great opportunity.

In contrast to the claims of many cap-and-trade advocates, climate policy is not simply an either or proposition. There are more positions than just "the science is settled" or "it's all a scam." In fact, many individuals who fall outside of both those camps accept that action to reduce the risk of human-induced climate change is appropriate. And that group is calling attention to a critical element lacking in the current debate -- alternative, flexible policy options that are both consistent with our state of knowledge and in line with economic, energy and technology realities.

The Kerry-Boxer cap and trade legislation fails miserably on all counts.

Republicans should step up and fill the void by accepting that there is a legitimate risk, albeit a small one, and that the inevitable growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the economic growth of developing countries could have an adverse environmental impact even as developed countries slow the growth of their emissions. They should also make clear that the risk does not justify the kind of rash actions proposed in either the Senate or House bills. Constraining energy use, mandating impossible emission reductions timelines and mandating alternative energy systems that are not yet commercially viable is both bad public and climate policy.

The overwhelming evidence from a very large number of independent economic analysis demonstrates that cap and trade is a badly flawed approach. Instead, a simple carbon tax, for example, with revenues used to reduce another tax (i.e. the payroll tax) is far superior. A study earlier this decade by Resources for the Future concluded that a carbon tax was five times more cost-effective than a cap and trade scheme. There are real world examples too; the European Union has already gone down the carbon trading road. And its experience shows that this option doesn't work and to cheating, manipulation, and higher energy prices.

America can do better but only if there is an honest examination of the options and a better understanding of what know and don't know about human impact on climate. Environmental and political ideology is a poor foundation for sound policy.

By William O'Keefe  |  November 3, 2009; 8:28 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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"If they block climate change, and we gets years of radically oppressive heat, the Republicans look like idiots."

So you're saying if gets hot for 2 or 3 years, climate change is real.

But if it has been cooling for 2 or 3 years, that doesn't mean anything.

And then you call anybody an idiot who doesn't believe in Global Warming.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | November 8, 2009 11:47 PM
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...and yes, I agree, the European model of cap-and-trade emission control is a train wreck! They gave out so many credits on implementation that the current value of credits is nil. That's why applaud the Obama administration for instituting a (hopefully) proper survey of carbon emissions in advance of implementing cap and trade.

Posted by: fr3dmars | November 8, 2009 12:37 AM
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CEO, George C. Marshall Institute! All that I can say is that he'd shake his head in shame. Regardless of causes, if warming continues, his dear Europe will have a truly delightful time when polar ice-cap melting weakens the Gulf Stream and invites the Woolly Mammoth and Cave Bear to re-evolve (as if such were possible).

Oh wait!!!!!! Now I get it! How DARE we do anything to endanger all-American red-blooded business! Without the bulwark of Republican opposition, our precious bodily fluids will be contaminated by the commie perverts -- oops, that was "Buck" Turgenson.

All (earned) mockery aside, sure big impact, trivial changes like cogeneration and LED light bulb development and pulling adequate natural gas lines to the the NE where too huge of a fraction of houses still heat with oil would be great. As would already implemented (but inadequate) restrictions on automotive fleet tailpipe emissions.

On the other hand, what is the specific argument against rewarding major single-source polluters for reducing emissions and penalizing them in the only meaningful way for failing to do so? Should Southern Company, which generates more carbon dioxide and sulfur emissions than all of Scandinavia get a free ride?

I think not.

Posted by: fr3dmars | November 8, 2009 12:24 AM
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There is a real argument at this YouTube video that the soon to be signed Copenhagen treaty is a major loss of freedom and independence for the U.S.
With Obama signing the treaty, and the Senate's ratification, the U.S. is bound into a system of world government that compels Americans to pay other countries for our past development and CO2 usage. Copenhagen and the corresponding "Cap and Trade" legislation in Congress should be scrapped, and replaced by a sensible path toward cleaner energy based on the technology that is available and that can be developed within 20 years. A carbon tax that starts small, and offsets the income or Social Security/Medicare taxes, would be a better approach. Going to clean energy does not have to mean the loss of U.S. freedoms. It could be as simple as replacing all the natural gas furnaces with cogenerators that give heat and electricity, feeding the grid, so we don't have to ever build another centralized power station again.

Posted by: DMBicksler | November 3, 2009 7:26 PM
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Doesn't it depend on what happens with the weather. If they block climate change, and we gets years of radically oppressive heat, the Republicans look like idiots. If they block climate change, and we get several years of harsh winters and mild summers - the Republicans will claim credit for preventing dumb laws that weren't needed.

Given Americans' focus on short term things - a policy based on this year's fad in science, which demands expensive programs to prevent something that will take decades or centuries to happen - MAY BE VERY UNWISE POLITICALLY.

Posted by: akuperma1 | November 3, 2009 4:20 PM
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