The McCain-Lieberman and Bingaman Climate Amendments: Kyoto-by-Inches Is Just as Foolish, by Marlo Lewis, Jr.

Proponents claim that the McCain-Lieberman and Bingaman climate amendments to the Senate energy bill are “modest” steps to address the potential risks of global warming. In reality, the amendments are:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


  • Radical measures that would institute a sharp break with all previous <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. policy;
  • All economic pain for no environmental gain; and
  • Camel’s-nose-under-the-tent strategies to break the political ice for economy-chilling litigation and regulation.


Kyoto-by-Inches Is Just as Foolish


Few Senators would vote to ratify Kyoto Protocol. The main reason: In July 1998, Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research calculated that Kyoto implemented on a constant basis by all industrial countries would avert only 0.07°C of global warming by 2050[1]—too small an amount for scientists to detect. In October 1998, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated Kyoto would reduce U.S. GDP by approximately $100—$400 billion in a single year (2010). [2] Kyoto is all economic pain for no environmental gain. No responsible policymaker advocates spending untold billions for a hypothetical and unverifiable 0.07°C reduction in global temperatures five decades later.


Ever since the Wigley and EIA analyses, climate alarmists have tried to sell the public on scaled-down policies that cost less than Kyoto but that, if adopted, would have the political virtue (in their eyes) of establishing the critical legal precedents and regulatory machinery. These policies are just as foolish. They would do less economic harm than Kyoto but would also avert less global warming. Yet the total costs are still huge. Whether the energy-rationing scheme is Kyoto, Kyoto Lite (McCain and Lieberman’s original bill, S. 139), Kyoto Extra Lite (their pared-back version, S. 1151), or Kyoto-by-Inches (Bingaman’s amendment), it is still an expensive exercise in futility, as the following Table shows. [3]


Tons GHG Reduced 2050 (a)

GW Avoided 2050 (a)

Tons GHG Reduced 2050 (b)

GW Avoided 2050 (b)

Cum GDP Loss to 2025

S. 139





$1,354 billion

S. 1151





$776 billion






$331 billion












GHG reductions are in million metric tons carbon equivalent; GW avoided is in degrees Celsius


Under the very favorable assumption that Sen. Bingaman’s cap-and-trade scheme would permanently lower U.S. emissions by the same amount achieved in the last year (2025) of the program, Sen. Bingaman’s plan would avert a hypothetical and imperceptible 0.008°C of global warming by 2050 [see columns labeled (a) above].  That would not benefit people or the planet one whit. Under a reasonable alternative assumption that there would be some residual lowering of the U.S. emissions baseline but the program would not reduce more emissions after it terminates than it did while it was in effect, the Bingaman plan would avert only 0.002°C of global warming [see columns labeled (b)]. Don’t the American people have better things to do with $331 billion?


Radical Break, Not Modest Step


Claims that Sen. Bingaman’s plan is “modest” because it would cost less than Kyoto or McCain-Lieberman are disingenuous. The plan aims to institute a radical break with all previous U.S. policy. It would regulate carbon dioxide (CO2)—something the U.S. Government has never done, and for good reason. Carbon dioxide is the inescapable byproduct of the carbon-based fuels—coal, oil, natural gas—that supply roughly 85 percent of all U.S. energy. The power to regulate CO2 is literally the power to restrict the America people’s access to energy, and, thus, cripple U.S. productivity, competitiveness, and growth.


In politics, “The most important part of the fight is to decide what it is about.” [4] Up to now, the fight has been about whether the U.S. Government should suppress access to carbon-based fuels. Enacting any carbon cap, however “modest” in size, would fundamentally change the nature of the fight. From that point on, Congress would continually have to debate how much and how fast to suppress fossil energy use. This would be disastrous for consumers and the economy.


Camel’s-Nose-under-the-Tent Strategy


Like the McCain-Lieberman bills, the Bingaman amendment is a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent strategy to align U.S. law with Kyoto’s aims and mechanisms. The job of all such proposals is to break the political ice for far more costly economy-chilling litigation and regulation. The accompanying cartoon, published in October 2003, during the Senate debate on McCain-Lieberman, makes the issues crystal clear




[1] Wigley, T.M.L. 1998. The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4 and climate implications. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 25, No. 13: 2285-88.

[2] EIA, Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on U.S. Energy Markets and the Economy, October 1998, Table ES-1, p. xv.

[3] GDP loss estimates for S. 139 and S. 1151 are in 1996 dollars. GDP loss estimate for Bingaman’s amendment is in 2000 dollars. Supporting documentation for all calculations is available in my longer paper of the same title, available at

[4] E.E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America (1960).