Environmental Cap & Trade
The Bush Administration has regressed environmental policy faster and quieter than most of us realize. But the environment is a movement. Environmental policy changes, consistent with the administration's imperialism, will to avert global momentum. And there are encouraging signs the market believes it will fail.
However, they will line the pockets of Bush's benefactors in the short term. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and gas industry gave nearly $17 million to Republicans in 2002 and $1.9 million to the Bush campaign. The forestry industry gave $3.2 million to Republicans in 2002 and nearly $300,000 to Bush's campaign.
The Mercury News Washington Bureau asked three dozen experts in the environmental-protection and business communities to assess the administration's environmental record at midterm. They cited more than 50 major changes in policy, including:
• Dramatically stepping up drilling for oil and natural gas on public land.
• Loosening environmental restrictions on logging and mining on federal property.
• Easing rules that require environmental-impact assessments before thinning national forests, starting certain military activities such as bombing practice and building major transportation projects such as airports or highways.
• Cleaning up 31 percent fewer Superfund sites per month than the Clinton administration did, while polluters are paying 64 percent less in fines per month than they did during the late 1990s, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of settlements published in the Federal Register.
• Rejecting a worldwide treaty to curb global warming and pushing a comprehensive energy plan that stresses reliance on fossil fuels, which cause global warming and air pollution.
• Proposing to weaken the cornerstone air- and water-pollution laws enacted in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
• Proposing to slash air pollution from power plants by 70 percent and to limit diesel engine emissions.
Environmental-protection groups and many ecologists call Bush's record deplorable. ``The administration has been like carbon monoxide, hard to detect and deadly with respect to the environment,'' said David Wilcove, a Princeton University ecology professor.
Now if America was isolated, or really a super duper power, some of these policies might work. Raising the issue of the environment may actually be beneficial for republicans come election time in two years. Its a dangerous game, but provoking a Nader resurgence to bifurcate the Democratic campaign, or even a Green third party to split the vote against the most unified Republican front imaginable could be key to 2004. That is, however, if the economy doesn't split out the free market liberals.
The environmental movement arose and institutionalized faster throughout the world faster than any political issue in history. Beginning with protests in the late 60s that threatened to become a third party issue, the Democrats co-opted the issue and legalized reform through the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The EPA institutionalized the movement in the US.
When social movements are institutionalized they have staying power. Despite Bush's attempts to weaken the legal structure and EPA's enforcement, unless they succeed in dissolving the entire institution, enough will remain for a whiplash for progressive policy to occur quickly. And many are betting it will.
Our Carbon Free Future
Last week the creation of the Chicago Climate Exchange was announced to trade the credits earned by companies exceeding carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gas emission goals [Washington Post]. Multinational corporations have voluntarily formed this exchange despite the fact that they currently are not bound to pollution caps (because the Bush Administration has not ratified the Kyoto accord on global warming). But the "Cap and Trade" system envisioned in Kyoto, which originated in the US for acid rain, has been adopted by the EU and other Kyoto compliant governments.
Multinationals recognize the inevitability of a global Cap and Trade system for carbon and are already pricing regulatory scenarios of the administration's policy demise.
The Mercury News survey of policy experts ranked the administration's abandonment of the international treaty on global warming as the most important environment policy change. But while there is a need to bring to light these regressions, the market and public opinion imply an administration in isolation. The long term impact of Bush's regression is nominal, despite attempts
Another initiative is due in a few weeks from the Business Roundtable, representing about 150 mostly -U.S. companies. It plans to announce that each member has agreed to measure its annual greenhouse -gas emissions, publicly report the total and pledge to cut it by a certain amount.
The Roundtable, like the Chicago group, hopes such cuts will eventually produce emission credits that are globally tradable. Shorter term, some members hope such a show of concern about global warming will quiet calls for U.S. caps on emissions. The Bush administration has sketched out a voluntary plan to slow the rate of increase in greenhouse-gas emissions. But at a Senate hearing last week, Republican John McCain and Democrat Joseph Lieberman called for a U.S. system of caps and trading.[WSJ, "New Market Shows Industry Moving on Global Warming," 16 Jan]
As a potential third-party issue the enviroment may be co-opted again by both parties. But Cap and Trade market allocation of risk and social costs is a model on the rise. The World Bank says volume could double this year, to nearly $400 million. It estimates that since the first trade in 1996, permits for about 200 million metric tons of "CO2 equivalent" -- the market's currency -- have changed hands[WSJ].
This political economic model for regulation has promising applications for all kinds of pollution. Any negative externality of the way we do business, from anti-trust to spam, could potentially apply.