States Show That Carbon-dioxide Curbs Aren't Scary

December 02, 2009|By JAY HANCOCK

A federal plan to limit carbon-dioxide emissions would cripple small business, subject Americans to "reckless taxes" and increase "wasteful Washington spending," contends House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Does he know that a similar scheme already operates in 10 states from Maryland to Maine? Today, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will auction off its sixth batch of permits in an effort to reduce power-plant CO2 emissions 10 percent by 2018.

So far, it's costing Maryland families maybe $1.50 a month, according to Baltimore Gas & Electric. It was approved by former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Can you feel the tyranny?

The Maryland program is an antidote to the argument that cutting carbon emissions will be oppressive and ruinous. The program sets the stage for substantial carbon-emission reductions, and so far hardly anybody even notices it.

If Congress passes cap-and-trade legislation, if the Copenhagen summit goes anywhere next week, what emerges will be similar to what's already working here.

The debate in Washington over capping carbon emissions "is like watching a replay of the discussion of [the greenhouse gas initiative] in the states," says Shari T. Wilson, Maryland's secretary of the environment.

In today's auction, electricity producers will buy permits to emit carbon over the next eight years. Coal-fired generators will need many permits; natural-gas plants, fewer; and nuclear, solar and wind facilities, none.

The idea, hatched after governors became impatient with federal inertia on climate change, is to put a price on emissions that are expensive for the planet but had been free for energy customers.

Costlier carbon energy will push people to find clean alternatives. Auctioning the permits produces revenue to invest in clean energy and conservation. So far, Maryland has gotten $85 million for adding home insulation, subsidizing residential solar generators and cutting household electric bills.

Such wasteful spending!

It's true that carbon-emission permits will become pricier as limits fall. Constellation Energy, Mirant and other operators of coal-fired generators will have to bid more and pass the price on to customers.

It's also true that a federal cap-and-trade regime would be costlier than the regional compact. Maryland's deal applies only to power-plant emissions - about 35 percent of total carbon dioxide output. Federal legislation would put a price on all businesses' carbon dioxide production.

But the cost won't be as high as many opponents of carbon-control legislation claim. And it won't be nearly as expensive as the bill for dealing with unlimited climate change.

It is shocking that people who call themselves conservative want to sit on their hands in response to global warming. Conservatives are about risk management. They buy insurance. They obey traffic laws. But in the biggest risk of all, they want to do the equivalent of running every red light on U.S. 40 at rush hour.

Don't say the evidence for climate change isn't in. Glaciers, retreating around the world, don't lie.

The federal legislation should be carefully crafted. Diplomats must make sure developing nations also limit carbon output. Give exemptions to important industrial assets such as Severstal's Sparrows Point plant.

The regional initiative is a model for what can happen in Washington and Copenhagen.

"Three out of the 10 [greenhouse gas initiative] states have a Republican governor," says Jonathan Schrag, the program's executive director. The initiative "was proposed by a Republican governor in New York - Governor Pataki. So I think we really are a bipartisan program."

One that shows that starting to control carbon emissions isn't as scary as some would have you believe.

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