A Free-Market Energy Blog

Why Waxman-Markey Is Not A Climate Bill

By Chip Knappenberger -- June 29, 2009

The current debate has proven one thing very clearly. The U.S. climate debate is not about saving the climate. It is about regulation for its own sake in the name of “saving the climate.” This fact should give pause to everyone who really cares about human welfare. Cap-and-trade is at odds with the economic wealth needed to adapt to a future that cannot be centrally planned by politicos.”

“Cap-and-Trade and the Temple of Enron,” MasterResource

Saturday’s New York Times headline (print edition) read: “House Backs Bill, 219-212, to Curb Global Warming.” But if the 219 House members who voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454, aka the Waxman-Markey climate bill) thought they were casting a vote to “curb global warming,” they were sadly mistaken.

As I have shown, the climate impact of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions prescribed under Waxman-Markey is very small—best case it reduces projected global warming by less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit by 2050 and only about one-third of a ºF by century’s end—a reduction that is scientifically meaningless. Many Representatives, in their pre-vote statements on the House floor, pointed this out, and perhaps many of the dissenting vote casters took this fact to heart.

However, while many of the opposition speakers mentioned the paucity of climate impacts from the emissions reduction measures, the great majority of the supporting speeches focused on energy security and domestic job creation (a contention vehemently challenged by the dissenters) and left the influence on the climate out of it! Undoubtedly, they knew full well that it would be inconsequential.

The only thing that the bill’s supporters could muster up about climate is that U.S. actions were necessary in order to convince the governments of China and India to curtail their emissions (the countries that hold the biggest keys to the rate of future greenhouse emissions growth and thus climate change).

But this is a peculiar argument for passing legislation that will impact the daily lives of each and every resident of the U.S. in ways which we probably will not like (higher energy costs) and which will produce no direct climate effect. Why offer it up as a reason for the governments of India and China (and other developing countries around the world) to impose the same (likely unpopular) restrictions on their citizenry? Opposition speakers rightly referred to this as the see-we’re-jumping-off-a-cliff-won’t-you-all-follow approach.

But if the developing countries do not follow us (after all they are developing countries and limiting energy consumption is not particularly good for development), the best we have to hope for is that while the U.S. limits its energy consumption as it tries to develop new non-greenhouse gas emitting technologies to prepare us for the future, the rest of the world, using a proven and for the near future (if not longer) plentiful fuel sources, doesn’t pass us by—economically and technologically (i.e. they develop new energy technologies in the course of their growth and development).

By passing the bill, the U.S. House of Representatives indicates its support for the establishment of an artificial scarcity of fossil fuels—legislating that fossil fuels are “running out” (i.e., the ever-tightening “cap”) and forcing us to try to use something else (all the while hoping that this doesn’t negatively impact our economy). The idea is to spark innovation in response to a dwindling supply. While it is certainly true that hard times lead to innovation, it is certainly not true that all innovation grows from hard times. The House has decided to impose hard energy times on us now (as if things aren’t hard enough already), rather than wait to see if they develop on their own (at some time in the not-too-near future).

Now, the debate moves to the Senate. Hopefully these 100 individuals will not be motivated by the “curbing global warming” canard—because, as I have shown, whatever they decide, America’s future energy choices will not alter the course of global climate. Any sacrificial song must have different verse.


  1. Peter  

    Chip, I agree
    – Good point too you make re an artificial scarcity of fossil fuels
    = why the energy efficiency craze given that energy supply is not a problem, and that emission can be dealt with directly (processing or substitution)

    Energy efficiency legislation is supposed to be “great at lowering people’s electricity bills…”

    Yes, ban consumers from buying what they want and applaud the savings!
    (Little savings in banning impopular products, and inefficient products need to be popular or noone would buy them, classic example Edison’s light bulb, bought 19 times out of 20 in the USA and therefore a banning priority with a big section 211 all to its own in the Waxman-Markey Bill!).

    The fact is that efficiency regulation on a product sacrifices performance, construction, appearance and price features, and does not necessarily give the savings suggested anyway.

    onwards regarding efficiency regulation effect on buildings, lightbulbs, cars, dishwashers and other products.

    I have also written a long account of why the cap and trade in the Bill doesnt work

    Market Reduction of CO2: Cap and Trade – or Not?
    Basic Idea — Offsets — Tree Planting — Manufacture Shift — Fair Trade — Surreal Market — Real Market — Allowances: Auctions + Hand-Outs — Allowance Trading — Companies: Business Stability + Cost —
    In Conclusion

    INSTEAD, Keep Life simple, deal with the problem….

    Assuming a need to deal with emissions,
    electricity generation (coal, gas) and transport (mainly automobiles) alone account for nearly 80% of fuel combustion emissions

    No Trade Problems like the ones Obama mentions.
    Unlike with Cap and Trade, that involves cement, steel and other industries having to face imports from unregulated countries, electricity and transport changes are not just more limited, but also largely local.

    The focus on electricity and transport gives several advantages – apart from lowering CO2 emissions:

    1. Local environmental benefit from less pollution of sulphur and all else that’s in the emissions, regardless of the less certain or immediate global benefit from CO2 reduction – and that is one reason why the focus on carbon trading is wrong, compared with the focus on reducing fuel combustion emissions.
    2. Electricity supply alternatives which together with improved grid distribution gives better competition and keeps down electricity bills for consumers.
    3. Transport alternatives (using electricity, hydrogen and other energy sources), which also reduces the dependency on oil imports.

    Funding and Impact
    Equity and long term loan finance can be used: Long term industrial loans from financial institutions, particularly if federal/state guaranteed, give low yearly interest repayments and lessen the effect on electricity bills or transport cost.
    The impact on the businesses is further lessened by the stability and predictability surrounding the funding.
    Since only electricity and transport are involved, other business continues as usual and consumers and society in general are spared expense and disruption.
    This is even more obvious from energy efficiency regulation not being necessary either.

    Compare with
    today’s all-encompassing Cap and Trade (emission trading) suggestions, with unpredictability, expense, and needless disruption from normal business practice on one hand, or unnecessary profiteering from free allowance handouts with little actual emission reduction on the other hand – together with extensive regulation on what people can or can’t buy and use.


  2. Malcolm hill  

    I cannot believe it that the Americans are so stupid that their Congress has approved a bill that none of the voters in the House, including the proponents Waxman and Markey–have read.

    Dear God– tell me that it is not true.


  3. Rent Seeking, Crony Capitalism, and U.S. Energy Politics: Who Wins from the Racket? — MasterResource  

    […] for rent seeking. Most of the hundreds of billions of tax dollars devoted to Waxman-Markey will do little or nothing to reduce the simulated impacts of increased CO2 levels, nor will these monies result in greater […]


  4. Rent Seeking, Crony Capitalism, and U.S. Energy Politics: Who Wins from the Racket? - Master Resource  

    […] for rent seeking. Most of the hundreds of billions of tax dollars devoted to Waxman-Markey will do little or nothing to reduce the simulated impacts of increased CO2 levels, nor will these monies result in greater […]


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