Monday, March 30, 2009

Rep. John Shimkus on Cap-and-Trade

Rep. John Shimkus A couple of posts below, we wrote about Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s objections to cap-and-trade and suggested the arguments were not very well thought out yet. As cap-and-trade wends its way forward, we expect there will be a fair number of arguments against it – after all, Europe’s first try at it was an unmitigated mess and if not carefully thought out, it could prove a massive shock to the energy industry and its customers – so there are arguments to be made.

We like cap-and-trade more than not, as long as one accepts as premises that carbon emission reduction is a desirable goal – we do – and would prefer not to crater industries while achieving that goal – we do so prefer. Almost anyone is going to accept the second premise; however, not all accept the first. This can be for honest reasons – the science is questionable enough to sow doubt – or for dishonest ones – chances for getting reelected to Congress decline if big donors or a constituency gets upset. And of course there are many tick marks on the scale between honest and dishonest.

A bipartisan group of coal- and oil-state lawmakers said Wednesday they would vote against any climate-protection plan that results in a massive loss of jobs, though it was unclear if there are enough of them to stop President Obama's cap-and-trade greenhouse-gas proposal from becoming law.

"What happens to these coal miner jobs?" asked Illinois Republican John Shimkus, as he held up a large, black-and-white picture of blue-collar workers.

"I challenge the Democrats to move this bill, because we will defeat them at the polls," Mr. Shimkus said during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee on energy and environment.

We’ve knocked out some comments by Texas Democrat Gene Green – this isn’t a Republican issue alone, by any stretch – but we found Shimkus’ comments interesting. This is not a dishonest argument and it answers to an Illinois concern. What Shimkus is arguing against is what cap-and-trade means to avoid – laying off workers in a fell swoop. Shimkus isn’t an outlier here. Business Week puts the argument like this:

Leveling the playing field by forcing fossil-fuel prices to reflect their true cost will spur a wave of clean-energy investment: research and development in new technologies, new factories to produce solar panels and wind turbines, and energy-efficiency retrofits of commercial and residential real estate. That means jobs, and lots of them. While some businesses that rely on dirty energy will be hurt, many others will thrive in the clean-energy economy.

Seems fair, but it’s not a one-to-one correlation. Wind and solar may set up in coal country but may not. What helps Arizona won’t help Illinois. Cap-and-trade means to avoid this outcome by applying pressure over time, not all at once, but the result could still be devastated local economies. So Shimkus has an argument that should be weighed into policy creation.

Then again, here’s Rep. Shimkus on carbon dioxide:

It's plant food ... So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? ... So all our good intentions could be for naught. In fact, we could be doing just the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.

Plants did pretty well before the industrial revolution and there were more of them then. So this one’s a non-starter. But not all arguments are golden, are they? That doesn’t make them dishonest.

Rep. John Shimkus is a six-term representative. He’s had his ups and downs – a minor role in the 2006 scandal regarding House pages was likely a low point for him – and he quoted the Bible a few days ago to explain that he doesn’t think global warming is important because man cannot destroy the Earth. Time will tell if that’s a high or low point.

1 comment:

GRLCowan said...

If the permits that are traded in a cap-and-trade system are issued equally to all citizens, it can work. Those who emit less can make money by selling their permits to those who emit more.

This makes the permits a kind of second currency. Many emitters, such as drivers of hydrocarbon-burning cars, are already paying government for the privilege. Dividing this money back out equally to the citizens would work well too, and we woiuld avoid multiplying token systems unnecessarily.

Plus, it would start the trading off with a tax reduction.

(Internal combustion made continent)