CPR's Flatt and Buzbee on Waxman-Markey Bill in Atlanta J-C and Houston Chronicle

by Matthew Freeman

CPR Member Scholars William W. Buzbee and Victor Flatt have an op-ed in this morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution offering a critique of the “discussion draft” of the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. Several CPR Member Scholars have blogged extensively about the bill here on CPRBlog, and with this op-ed, and a similar piece published the week before last in the Houston Chronicle, Professors Buzbee and Flatt take that discussion to the opinion pages of two important regional newspapers.

In the Atlanta J-C piece, they write:

The [Waxman-Markey] bill is smart and comprehensive, covering energy, fuels, cars and more.  Despite some shortcomings, it’s nevertheless a good place to start the congressional discussion about how to fix the most serious environmental problem the planet has ever faced. Polluting industries have mounted a scare campaign to persuade us that it’s too severe, will cost jobs, choke the economy, and more – the same complaints we hear every time industry worries about being inconvenienced.  But the truth is that in important ways, the bill doesn’t go far enough. 

Alongside their piece, the let’s-not-bother-with-a-solution argument is presented by Donald Hertzmark, an oil and natural gas industry consultant.  As if on cue, he writes that the bill would be a “job killer” that would drive up emissions overall by shipping American jobs to China, while being a boon for lawyers because it would launch a “trade war.”  (Scared yet?)  One statistic stands out in the piece. He writes that, “a recent University of Massachusetts study found, the average wage in ‘green energy’ jobs is about 65 percent of that in the industrial and energy jobs that are lost.”  It’s an op-ed without footnotes (not his fault), so it’s hard to be sure where precisely that stat comes from, but perhaps this is it – a recent study from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts that puts the wage figure at about 80 percent, but that then goes on to make a critical point Hertzmark omits: that it would create roughly three times as many jobs paying more than $16/hour, and that it would create more jobs at all wage levels than spending within the oil industry.  (That’s from pages 11-12 of the report, “Green Recovery.”) 

Buzbee and Flatt's piece offers up a few suggestions for improving the Waxman-Markey bill:

  • On cap-and-trade: “[T]he all-important question is where the caps are set, and the bill, though starting more restrictions sooner than past bills, ultimately sets the cap considerably above the levels recommended by scientists and international negotiators.  Some commitment is better than complete U.S. inaction, but the effort will be for naught if developing countries like China balk at emissions targets because they believe the United States isn’t shouldering its fair share. “
  • On the integrity of carbon offsets: The bill “gives polluters sound incentives to cut their own emissions, and it adjusts offset credits to account for risks that offsets aren’t as beneficial as hoped.  But the bill needs to do better to ensure that environmental harms associated with offsets can be addressed. “
  • On the preemption issue – preemption of state carbon-trading mechanisms and state regulation of air pollution in general: Waxman-Markey would indeed require states to surrender their own cap-and-trade markets for five years, but otherwise preserves the possibility of state legislation.  That makes the question of where the federal cap is set all the more critical. In addition, the draft bill’s language needs to be strengthened to ensure states retain their usual powers to otherwise protect their citizens and the environment.”
  • On environmental justice: “The co-pollutants that go up the smokestack with carbon dioxide can have a severe impact on communities near the smokestacks, and those communities are usually poor, and often minority.  And since some polluters will accumulate credits or offsets allowing them to burn more fuel, there’s good reason to worry about ‘hot spots’ where co-pollutants get out of control.”

CPR Member Scholars blogged extensively on various aspects of the bill in the days after its April 2009 introduction.  Here's a quick rundown:  Nina Mendelson on Citizen Suits, Victor Flatt on Carbon Offsets, Kirsten Engel on State and Regional Cap-and-Trade Regimes, Alice Kaswan on Environmental Justice as well as Renewables, Transportation, and EPA and State Regulation, William Buzbee on Federalism Issues, and Holly Doremus and Alex Camacho on Adaptation.  Also visit CPR’s climate change page, here.

© 2016 The Center for Progressive Reform