Offsets Are Crucial in Cap and Trade (Letter to the Editor)

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency implies (“Cap and Trade Will Work Well Again,” Letters, July 20) that because cap and trade worked for acid rain it will work again for carbon dioxide emissions. The fact is that the success of the acid rain trading program has been greatly exaggerated, with the program having little to do with the reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions. Yet even if it were to have been as successful as claimed, there would remain one huge difference between the acid rain program and cap and trade for carbon dioxide: the presence of offsets. Offsets make actual emission reductions very hard to achieve, or even to measure.

As Ted Gayer of the Brookings Institution has pointed out, it was offsets that wrecked Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Green the Capitol initiative, when the supposed emissions reductions purchased from the Chicago Climate Exchange were found to be illusory. The House didn’t learn from this experience, of course, and included more provisions for offsets in its cap-and-trade bill because offsets reduce the ruinously high cost of cap and trade, at the expense of lowering any actual reduction in emissions.

With offsets, cap and trade will merely increase energy costs for Americans. Without them, we’ll get some real emissions reductions at a price no one is prepared to pay. That, sadly, is what cap and trade for greenhouse gases is really all about.