Climate mandates would empower politicians, lobbyists: Column
By Todd Myers
If the activists who took part in the “Climate Strike” get their way, politicians and lobbyists will gather behind closed doors, in a metaphorical smoke-filled room, to write the nation’s climate policy.
The result will be bad for personal freedom, our economy, and, ironically, for the environment.
Promoting the notion that we face a “climate crisis,” marchers demand massive government mandates to reduce CO2 emissions. They claim only politicians can deliver this, and that small, daily changes by ordinary people are a “distraction.” This is the perfect message for politicians, but not for the environment.
Politicians who argue “Only I can do what is necessary,” are not only self-serving, but they belittle and disempower citizens. Some followers appear to want that.
Saying the only acceptable solution is political absolves climate activists of making any personal sacrifice for the cause they claim to support. After all, if their small efforts mean nothing, activists can feel righteous simply by demanding that others make the sacrifices they will not.
Handing control of climate policy over to politicians also means the rules will be written behind closed doors with many of the industries demonized by marchers. In Washington state, where I live, the oil company BP testified in favor of a CO2 cap-and-trade system. In Oregon, the loudest supporters of the 100 percent renewable electricity mandate were private utilities.
Why would industries embrace these rules? Regulation favors the rich, and contrary to what teenage activists believe, corporate lobbyists are happy to work with politicians to set the rules of the game. Politicians get public credit for “bold” action, while regulated companies create rules that hamper competitors while receiving guarantees that protect their business.
Some politicians are not subtle about this insider bargain. When congressional Democrats proposed a cap-and-trade system in 2009, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote in The Wall Street Journal boasting of the opportunity the complicated system offered to her state’s financial traders. A year after financial crisis, politicians were already inviting lobbyists to profit from the system of rules they would help write.
The cost for these deals is paid by the rest of us who are not in the room. And they will do little for the environment.
Political approaches are often extremely wasteful. In Washington state, the Low Carbon Prosperity Institute estimated the state’s new 100 percent renewable electricity mandate would cost about nine times as much as the cost of CO2-reduction projects available on the market. Researchers (including Obama economic adviser Michael Greenstone) found government policies to promote energy efficiency cost 28 times more than what is available in the marketplace.
If we are serious about reducing our impact on the environment, we need to move decisions out of the smoke-filled rooms and empower individuals so they can be part of decisions that affect their family.
This approach is not only more ethical; it is more effective. Empowering people to conserve energy gives them the will and ability to save money and reduce environmental impact. Unlike politicians, when individuals choose strategies that don’t work, they admit the mistake (albeit quietly to themselves), stop, and find something that does work. Of course, politicians will claim individual action is not enough. Rather than trusting politicians and hoping for a 100 percent solution that will never come, we should focus on doing many things one percent better.
These are the incremental, positive solutions government admits it can’t implement. In the 2009 cap-and-trade proposal, a report to the House Commerce Committee admitted that applying it to households would be an “administrative burden.” Instead, the 1,428-page bill was filled with political favoritism and giveaways, with taxpayers, small businesses, and homeowners bearing the cost. The rules are written to make life easy for bureaucrats and reward politicians, not to help the environment or empower individual conservation.
Effective climate policies empower individuals with technology and choice. Cutting inside deals in smoke-filled rooms makes politicians and corporate lobbyists the winners, at the expense of families and the environment.
Todd Myers is Washington Policy Center’s director of the Center for the Environment. He can be contacted at email@example.com.