Climate Bills Are Self-defeating

Will 2007 be the year that the U.S. signs up for global warming regulation? After looking at the five climate bills being considered so far in the 110th Congress, I’m not so sure it will be.

A bill drafted by Senate Energy Committee chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is the most economically palatable bill and seems to have the most interest on Capitol Hill. But it would likely accomplish little in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions — the ostensible purpose of global warming regulation.

Bingaman’s bill calls for reductions in the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions by 2.6 percent per year from 2012-2021 and by 3.0 percent per year starting in 2022. Bingaman’s focus on reducing emissions intensity – rather than reducing absolute emissions of greenhouse gases – is what sets it apart from the other climate bills, which are all geared toward reducing total emissions.

What’s the difference between reducing “emissions intensity” and total or absolute emissions?

Conceptually, reducing absolute emissions is relatively straightforward. The goal would be to simply cut greenhouse gas emissions by specified amounts. Despite its apparent simplicity, emissions reduction is complicated by the fact that there is no general agreement as to how to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the first place.

So far, emissions have been generally guess-timated based on energy production and/or use levels for a limited number of sources. Emission cuts also do not take into consideration the likely economic impacts of any attendant reductions in energy use.

Emissions intensity, by contrast, attempts to relate emissions to economic productivity.

Let’s say, for example, that a company’s total amount of greenhouse gas emissions doubled from 2000 to 2005. If over the same period of time its economic output also doubled, then the company’s emissions intensity remained constant. But if the company’s economic productivity had quadrupled, then its emissions intensity would have been cut in half. Emissions intensity, then, is a measure of efficiency, where the goal is higher economic output per unit of greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions intensity is an approach favored by some large businesses that support global warming legislation. General Electric, for example, touts on its web site its goal, “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions’ intensity 30 percent by 2008…”

Household cleaner-maker SC Johnson wants to reduce its emissions intensity by 23 percent. Emissions intensity is also a feature of the Bush administration’s voluntary approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But for environmentalists, emissions intensity is a legislative non-starter since it only results in more energy efficient productivity without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Under an energy intensity scheme, greenhouse gas emissions would, in fact, likely only increase. On its web site, the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the emissions intensity concept “pollution by any other name.”

The fact that Bingaman’s bill doesn’t achieve the objectives of global warming alarmists – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and rationing energy – means that it will likely be dead-on-arrival.

In contrast to the Bingaman bill, the other four bills – known as Feinstein-Carper, Kerry-Snowe, McCain-Lieberman and Sanders-Boxer – all require, to varying extents, absolute reductions in emissions from current levels.

On one end of the scale is Feinstein-Carper which would require that emissions be reduced to 2001 levels by 2015, followed by 1.0-1.5 percent annual emissions reductions in perpetuity – a goal that could be adjusted on a discretionary basis by the Environmental Protection Administration. On the other end of the scale is Sanders-Boxer which would ultimately require an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

In contrast to the fanciful emissions reduction timetables proposed by the various bills stand the national energy-use and emissions projections of the Department of Energy.

Although the U.S. will become more energy efficient over the next 25 years – energy intensity is projected to decrease by 1.8 percent per year between 2005 and 2030 – projected economic growth will require that total carbon dioxide emissions increase 60 percent – from 5 billion metric tons in 1990 to 8 billion metric tons in 2030. These projections are based on the DOE’s estimation that, for the next 25 years, fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) will supply about 86 percent of our energy needs.

Despite predictions of global warming gloom-and-doom, politicians are unlikely to turn-off the lights on U.S. economic growth simply to please environmentalists. They may be especially reluctant given the refusal of emerging economic powerhouses like China, India, and Brazil to reduce energy use in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only did China add twice as much electrical generating capacity in 2006 as California has in total, but a Chinese officials told the Financial Times (Feb. 7) that greenhouse gas reductions are the “unshirkable responsibility” of the “rich industrialized nations.”

Let’s also not overlook the fact that in 1997 the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against U.S. participation in any global warming treaty that didn’t include developing nations or that threatened U.S. economic development. That resolution has not been repudiated by the Senate.

To be sure, global warming alarmism will likely only intensify for the foreseeable future – if nothing else, Oscar- and Nobel-nominee Al Gore has a new book coming out in the spring that will undoubtedly be as heavily promoted as his movie.

Nevertheless, the global warming legislation desperately sought by the Greens and opportunistic business interests may very well slam into a show-stopping wall of economic reality.