Monday, July 6, 2009

Waxman-Markey Won’t Achieve Goals Failing the Good Lawmaking Test, Part I: Let’s Start Over on Climate Legislation

A couple weeks ago the U.S. House of Representatives barely passed a 1,200-page bill designed to address the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The “golf clap” applause for the bill comes only from those who believe passing something, anything, is better than passing nothing at all.

While I am among those who believe addressing GHGs is important, I am not praising the House’s achievement. Passing an ineffective, costly bill is worse than doing nothing. In fact, what the House’s “accomplishment” offers is more an example of a failed legislating experiment than good lawmaking.

There are four criteria for good lawmaking: the law will 1) achieve the desired goals 2) in the most economic and cost-effective manner 3) with the fewest unintended consequences and 4) has strong bipartisan support.

In this and subsequent blog postings, I’ll explain why the House bill fails all four good lawmaking criteria and that starting over is the best course of action.

I believe the Waxman-Markey bill is unlikely to achieve the desired goal of reducing GHG emissions.

Many in the environmental community share this concern due to the last minute provisions added to the bill that undermine its GHG-reducing elements. These last minute provisions were designed to garner Democratic votes to pass the bill. Many dealt with the use of agricultural offsets for carbon credits designed to enlist the support of Democrats from rural agricultural districts. Terrestrial sequestration of carbon can come from changing farming practices, converting cultivated lands to prairie, planting trees, and preserving forests. I’m not so sure the environmentalists concerns are correct; but they may be. Such approaches, like all lifecycle calculations, need more analysis.

But, I have a more concrete reason to question the effectiveness of the bill: it turns GHG reductions into a carbon credit accounting board game, sort of like Monopoly. Who can get the credits? How do they get them? How can we make the credits cheaper? What can be done with the credits? etc. This emphasis on the credits instead of GHG reductions creates a disconnect that assures that actual GHG reductions are unlikely to occur and certainly not to the levels desired by the bill’s authors and supporters.

Notice how the compromises made on behalf of agricultural interests took the form of allocating carbon credits for offsets? And, that is just one industry sector where “credits for offset” political trade-offs were made to curry favor or to allegedly lower economic costs of the bill. I fear that by focusing on credits instead of actual GHGs reductions no reductions will occur, leaving the worst of all worlds: higher energy costs, a fool’s gold carbon market created and increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHGs. How does that achieve the bill’s goals? It doesn’t; failing the first test of good lawmaking.

Accordingly, Congress should start over. The legislation should focus on getting actual reductions, even if they are small at first. That would put them on the good lawmaking path.

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