Home inFocus A Climate Bill That Does Nothing for the Climate

A Climate Bill That Does Nothing for the Climate

S. Fred Singer Fall 2009

The House of Representatives on June 25 passed HR 2454, the Waxman-Markey Bill, also known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACESA. Few of the members who voted for the bill had actually read the 1,200-page bill, never mind the 300-page amendment added just before the vote. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) attempted a kind of filibuster before the vote by reading from the 300-page amendment, which apparently only he and his staff had analyzed. Forty-four Democrats defected and voted against the bill, while 8 Republicans voted in favor. The bill was a cliffhanger to the very end; it passed by a narrow margin, 219-212.

The Senate will deliberate in the fall, but it won’t be easy. Earlier this year, the Senate included in the budget resolution an amendment ensuring that any future climate legislation mandating emissions cuts would need a 60-vote super majority instead of only a simple majority.

No matter what form the final legislation takes, Waxman-Markey promises to place an enormous burden on the American taxpayer, and will do so without delivering benefits for the environment.


In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in January 2008, President Barack Obama calmly explained how cap-and-trade—the carbon dioxide rationing scheme that is at the heart of Waxman-Markey—would work:

“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket… because I’m capping greenhouse gases, coal power plants, natural gas, you name it… Whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money, and they will pass that [cost] on to consumers.”

Obama further suggested that his energy policy would require the ruin of the coal industry. “If somebody wants to build a coal-fired plant, they can,” he told the Chronicle. “It’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

Cap-and-trade has been an unmitigated failure in Europe, where it has been in operation in recent years. It has failed for three main reasons. First, it has proven to be far more costly than envisioned. Second, it has not met its carbon reduction targets. Finally, it has been highly susceptible to corruption and abuse.

Cap-and-trade will also be a job killer here in the U.S. Heritage Foundation economists found that over a 2012-2030 timeline, job losses could average more than 1.1 million. The Black Chamber of Commerce and The Brookings Institution are projecting catastrophic job losses as well.

Putting caps on emissions will raise costs for many manufacturing industries, which they will not be able to pass along to consumers. If they tried to pass on the costs, they would lose out in competition to imports from countries that are not burdened by these higher energy costs. The only way to get around that would be to transfer operations—and jobs—overseas.

Waxman-Markey, therefore, talks about the necessity of imposing countervailing import duties to “level the playing field” and to reduce “carbon leakage.” This policy prescription is not only forbidden by the World Trade Organization (WTO), to which the United States subscribes, but such protectionism could potentially set off a global trade war, similar to the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1929, which exacerbated and prolonged the Great Depression.

Consumption Tax

Waxman-Markey could also herald the largest tax ever adopted by the United States. It is an indirect tax, similar to a consumption tax; it could raise the cost of energy use for American consumers by more than $2 trillion over a 10-year period, or roughly $2,000 per year, per household.

One factor that contributes to the expense is the requirement for so-called “renewable” sources of energy to replace fossil fuels in electricity generation and transportation—all to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. Another important factor that will drive up costs is the emission cap, which is set to reduce emissions by 2020 by 17 percent (compared to the 2005 level) and by 83 percent by 2050.

What is more alarming to taxpayers is the fact that the bill is replete with tax breaks, subsidies, and mandates that will only serve to benefit special interest groups and industries. Most of the money raised from selling tradable ration coupons (emission permits) will not be used to further benefit the environment, or to even offset the rising national debt.

According to a 2008 study by the Center for Public Integrity, more than 770 companies and interest groups spent some $90 million on the salaries and expenses of 2,340 climate-change lobbyists in Washington, DC. These lobbyists cut deals to get votes. For example, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) was reportedly assured of getting $3.5 billion for favorite projects in her district if she voted for the bill. The chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson (D-MN), negotiated favorable deals for his constituencies, including agribusinesses, before he and his committee members would vote for the bill.

There is also the problem of “offsets,” which presumably allow a company to continue to emit carbon if the company agrees to pay for an emissions reduction elsewhere. This could mean saving a forest in South America or closing down an emitting facility in China. It is not surprising, therefore, that the bill has been vociferously opposed by Greenpeace, Ralph Nader, and global warming alarmists like James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, among others.

Carbon Reduction

What is most disconcerting about Waxman-Markey is that the bill appears to be less about helping the environment and more about transferring money, issuing regulations, expanding bureaucracies, and causing general economic mayhem.

For example, the bill’s impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere is negligible. Instead, it legislates a bookkeeping operation for carbon dioxide. It involves constructing different emission scenarios, assumes that different countries can enforce emission restrictions, and then calculates the resulting levels of atmospheric CO2 over time. One major flaw here is that the cooperation of the most important foreign emitters of CO2—China and India—is critical to the success of the legislation. It is unlikely that China will agree to any substantial emission reductions or even to reducing its rate of growth; India has announced that it definitely will not do so. Thus, even if U.S. companies obey Waxman-Markey to the letter of the law, it will likely make no significant difference to global CO2 levels.

Climate Change

But even if the bill were to reduce the global rate of CO2 growth by a measurable amount, there is no guarantee that this will have a detectable effect on climate. Of course, climate models run on giant computers all predict a substantial increase in global temperature corresponding to increasing carbon dioxide (an increase of 3 degrees centigrade for a doubling of CO2 concentration). Most of the concern about future climate change is based on the results of such models.

Empirical evidence, however, is quite different. When one compares the recent history of global temperatures with increases of CO2, one finds that climate sensitivity may only be one-tenth of the calculated value. A more sophisticated analysis of the data that looks for the “fingerprints” of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) cannot find any such evidence. This disparity is also a crucial argument against the use of models to predict any significant future warming.

The empiricists—also known as “realists,” although they are often labeled as “skeptics” or “deniers”—have a ready explanation for why models fail to reproduce past observations: They are not detailed enough to capture significant climate parameters, such as clouds. Further, the correlation between the general temperature increase of the 20th century and the increase of carbon dioxide is merely coincidental. The global climate began to warm after the Little Ice Age (the 13th through 16th centuries), long before atmospheric CO2 levels increased appreciably. Moreover, during the past century there was a lengthy period, from 1940 to 1975, when temperatures decreased while CO2 levels rose. More significantly, there has been no temperature increase during the past 10 years, despite rising CO2 levels.

The best data on climate change by far comes from weather satellites, which have now been recording atmospheric temperatures for 30 years. If one looks at the data in detail, one sees hardly any warming trend between 1979 and 1997, followed by a major warming during the year 1998, which cannot be attributed to carbon dioxide but rather to a natural climate disturbance known as “El Nino.” This was followed by a slight cooling trend in recent years. In other words, there has been no continuous increase in temperature, despite model calculations of the CO2 greenhouse effect (the heating of the surface of the earth due to increased carbon in the atmosphere).

While the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it is more than 90 percent sure that warming in the last 50 years is mostly human-caused, it presents no credible evidence to support this claim. Indeed, there is no such evidence. The earth’s climate varied —both warming and cooling—long before humans used fuels, and even long before humans inhabited the earth. There is no reason to believe that Americans driving SUVs have suddenly impacted these natural climate effects.

To be sure, scientists universally accept the reality of the theoretical greenhouse effect and that human activities have increased CO2 levels. The dispute is only whether these increases have caused any significant warming in the last 150 years. If climate change is mainly a natural phenomenon, as concluded by the independent Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), then all policies to control emissions or otherwise “engineer” the climate are pointless and wasteful.

Science Speaks for Itself

As the earth’s climate continues to cool, and as people begin to lose interest in the global warming issue, the alarmists are growing desperate and inventing more lurid climate scenarios. Former Vice President Al Gore has become the leader of this group. He and his science advisor James Hansen talk about sea level increases of 20 feet by 2100 (scaled down from even higher values), while more realistic data suggest that the oceans will rise only from 3 to 10 percent of this value. Scientists should be able to determine the veracity of these claims in just a few years.

The most recent alarmist hype was issued at a “science conference” in Copenhagen in March 2009. The conference warned of unimaginable disasters in advance of the crucial Copenhagen Climate Congress of December 2009, where global policies are made. The alarmists hoped they could persuade world governments to adopt drastic limits to greenhouse gas emissions.

The odds are against Gore and his cohorts. It’s not just that the science is against them. The global financial system has also made politicians reluctant to adopt drastic measures that have severe economic consequences. Accordingly, the Copenhagen Climate Congress will lend rhetorical support to the need for global climate legislation, but not ink an agreement. Even if a new protocol is signed, it will be years before enough countries ratify it. By then the climate may have cooled significantly. This would demonstrate to world leaders—as well as the members of Congress who voted for Waxman-Markey without understanding the science behind the debate—that nature rules the climate, not human activities.

S. Fred Singer, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, served as the founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is the organizer and coauthor of the NIPCC publications (www.nipccreport.org).