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Let's Do Something—Anything

The trouble with the new "cap and trade" bill

David Harsanyi
July 1, 2009

Facts. Costs. Consequences.

Who cares?

We're in the middle of pretending to save the planet, baby.

If it's about helping "the environment," suspend reason and salvation is yours. As I'm sure you've heard a lot of smart and compassionate folks tell you lately, doing something—anything!—is better than doing nothing.

So the House did something. It passed a "cap and trade" bill that would ration energy, destroy productive jobs, levy the largest tax increase in United States history and, for kicks, penalize foreign trade partners who fail to engage in comparable economic suicide.

Now, assuming there are no speed-reading clairvoyants in the House, no one who voted for the 1,200-page bill—plus the 300-page amendment dropped the morning of the vote—possibly could have read it.

And any scum-sucking scoundrel who points out that "doing nothing" already includes spending billions on renewable energies and living under thousands of regulations is, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman shrewdly noted, a traitor to humankind.

Speaking of doing nothing: Though it has the potential to stagnate the economy, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, according to the Environmental Protection Agency itself, would not create any reductions in emissions by 2020. The piddling impact of the bill is documented across the ideological spectrum.

So after the House passed the bill, I, curious about the particulars, sent a query to Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), because hers was one of the votes that put the bill over the top. Markey had been on the fence regarding cap and trade, so surely, she gave the bill a thorough once-over before voting. Not surprisingly, I received no reply.

When I later caught Markey swinging at softballs on television, I realized that she probably had been too busy boning up on her talking points to take the time to slog through 1,500 pages of a radical and generational shift in energy policy.

As terrible as this bill is—and America's only hope is that a more reasonable Senate will kill it—Markey and others have mastered the art of passing environmental legislation. Throw in "green jobs" or a "new energy economy" and you are golden. What kind of insensitive monster is going to stand in the way of a windmill?

If you're really in a fighting mood, drop a line about "energy independence"—and don't we love to hear that one? But do not under any circumstances, as Markey did, stray from your script to offer this remarkably ill-informed myth: "We are now beholden," Markey claimed, "to unstable governments in the Middle East for the majority of our oil."

That's scary stuff. And it brings up an important point: Cap and trade schemes do nothing to foster energy independence, though they hold the distinct possibility of making us more "dependent" on foreign oil imports.

Having to pay for expensive carbon credits will be an incentive for many American companies to close their carbon-emitting businesses and move abroad to places less devoted to destroying themselves.

The House's cap and trade also means that any energy that does not rely on windmills or solar panels—so, nearly all energy—could become cheaper to import rather than refine here.

It is also distressing, but not surprising, to hear a politician assert that trading with foreign nations means we are beholden to them rather than explain how trade makes partners more peaceful, makes us competitive, and makes everyone more prosperous.

But even if you measure trade as Markey does, we do not import the "majority" of our oil from "unstable" "Middle Eastern" countries.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the top sources for U.S. crude oil for many years have been Canada and Mexico—with Saudi Arabia third.

Saudi Arabia is a terrible place ruled by religious fascists (whom no American president ever should hold hands with or bow to), but it is rather stable, considering.

Not that it makes any difference, mind you. Something, after all, needs to be done.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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