Congressman Boehlert's Stunning Degree of Climate Change Policy Cluelessness


In my earlier post this morning, I asserted that the Washington Post hit something of an op/ed trifecta this morning citing my colleague Nick Gillespie's blogpost on the Charles Krauthammer "Don't Touch My Junk" op/ed and software entrepreneur Morris Panner's "Strangling innovation with redtape" op/ed.

The third op/ed is by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) dealing with climate change science and policy, headlined, "Science the GOP can't wish away." So why do I think Boehlert's op/ed belongs in this morning's trifecta? I agree that the balance of the evidence indicates that human activities are warming the planet and that it might become a serious problem. But what, if anything, should be done about it?

In contrast to Panner, Boehlert exhibits a stunning degree of policy cluelessness. Boehlert naively writes:

While many in politics—and not just of my party—refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change, leaders of some of our nation's most prominent businesses have taken a different approach. They formed the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. This was no collection of mom-and-pop shops operated by "tree huggers" sympathetic to any environmental cause but, rather, a step by hard-nosed, profit-driven capitalists. General Electric, Alcoa, Duke Energy, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler signed on. USCAP, persuaded by scientific facts, called on the president and Congress to act, saying "in our view, the climate change challenge will create more economic opportunities than risks for the U.S. economy."

There is a natural aversion to more government regulation.

Natural aversion? He's kidding, right? Alas, apparently not. It would be hard to assemble a bigger bunch of rent-seekers hoping to cash in on complicated new climate change regulations. For example, USCAP favored the incredibly recondite (but lucrative) Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed by the House of Representatives in 2009. In that bill, USCAP companies would be showered with free carbon emissions permits which they could turn into free cash.  Before he became Obama's budget director, former Congressional Budget Office director Peter Orszag testified before Congress that this form of cap-and-trade would

"…represent the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States. All of the evidence suggests that what would occur is that corporate profits would increase by approximately the value of the permits."

As I believe Panner would recognize, a system of emissions permits would create high barriers to entry for any new startups that might want to use energy (and that would be nearly all of them). Incumbent behemoths beholden to the government, e.g., USCAP members, would see the anti-competitive aspects of cap-and-trade as just an additional wonderful way for the government to guarantee their profits.