TCS Daily

Shame on McCain

By Marlo Lewis - January 8, 2003 12:00 AM

Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) aspires to be the Energy Rationing President, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to help him attain that dubious distinction.

Today, Sen. McCain, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, will hold a hearing on legislation he and Sen. Lieberman are co-sponsoring that would force major energy, manufacturing, and transportation companies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to year 2000 levels by 2010 and 1990 levels by 2016.

Although the McCain-Lieberman CO2 reduction targets are not as draconian as those stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol (seven percent below 1990 levels during the five-year averaging period, 2008-2012), McCain-Lieberman is close enough for government work. Moreover, since CO2 is not regulated under the Clean Air Act (because CO2 is plant food, not an air pollutant), enactment of any CO2 control legislation would establish a fateful precedent. Once federal agencies get a green light to regulate CO2, we can be sure climate alarmists like Kyoto Joe Lieberman will return to the charge, demanding ever more stringent controls.

Why is this a prescription for energy rationing? Because CO2 is the inescapable byproduct of the hydrocarbon fuels - coal, oil, natural gas - that supply 70 percent of U.S. electricity and 84 percent of all U.S. energy. There is no device that can be bolted onto a car engine, a steel mill, or a fossil fuel-fired power plant that can scrub CO2 out of the exhaust stream. Thus, the only way to meet a mandatory CO2 reduction target or "cap" is to use less of the affordable, plentiful, increasingly safe and clean hydrocarbon fuels that power the U.S. economy and contribute mightily to America's competitive edge in global trade. CO2 controls are just another name for energy rationing - the regulatory equivalent of an energy tax.

Now, it's not hard to understand why Sen. Lieberman is keen to have Chairman McCain shepherd energy rationing legislation through the Commerce Committee. The chances of such legislation becoming law in the 108th Congress are nil. But that's exactly the point. When the Republican-led Congress fails to pass the bill, Sen. Lieberman will be able to blame the GOP and, especially, its leader, Mr. anti-Kyoto, President George W. Bush. Let there be no confusion, then, as to the political function of today's hearing. Sen. McCain is setting the stage for Sen. Lieberman's presidential campaign - a campaign in which Lieberman will bash Bush and the GOP for "inaction" on global warming.

Sen. Lieberman's crusade to "save the planet" would be funny, were it not for the multi-billion dollar losses energy rationing would inflict on American households, especially those on low and fixed incomes. The scientific case for climate alarmism has never been robust, and it is weaker now than when Kyoto was negotiated in 1997.

The theory of catastrophic warming absolutely depends on the assumption of strongly positive water-vapor feedback effects. According to the computer models underpinning Kyoto, the heat energy from man-made CO2 will by itself warm the planet only about one degree Celsius. However, that relatively small increment in global temperature will supposedly speed up evaporation and, thus, increase atmospheric concentrations of water vapor, the main greenhouse gas. It's the assumed increase in water vapor that allegedly will drive global temperatures to dangerous levels.

However, an empirical study in the November 15, 2002 issue of Science found that evaporation in the Northern Hemisphere has actually decreased over the past 50 years. And a satellite study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (March 2000) found a negative water vapor feedback effect. Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT and two NASA colleagues found that, as ocean temperatures in the tropics rise, cirrus cloud cover diminishes, allowing more surface heat to escape into space. As surface temperatures increase, cirrus cloud area decreases. That lets more infrared radiation leave the planet, cooling the surface back down. According to the researchers, this thermostatic or "iris" effect is powerful enough to "cancel [positive] water vapor feedback in almost all [climate] models."

Even if the science underpinning Kyoto were correct, Kyoto would still be an expensive exercise in futility. As a study in the November 1, 2002 issue of Science explains, stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 over the next 50 years will require replacing as much as three times current global energy production with non-emitting technologies. Yet, according to the study, "Energy sources that can produce 100 to 300 percent of present world power consumption without greenhouse emissions do not exist operationally or as pilot plants." One implication of the study is that nothing short of "new technologies" and "drastic technological breakthroughs" can stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels while meeting global energy needs. Any serious attempt to stabilize CO2 levels via regulation is a prescription for global economic collapse.

But if catastrophic warming is speculation rather than science, and if energy rationing will just make us poorer without making us safer, then why is Sen. McCain advancing Kyoto Joe's climate agenda and political career?

The McCain-Lieberman collaboration is all the more baffling given Sen. McCain's previous positions on energy issues. In 1993, Sen. McCain voted against the Clinton-Gore tax on fossil energy production. He also cosponsored legislation with former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) to require a 60-vote super-majority to raise taxes. Yet as a June 2001 Congressional Budget Office study of CO2 cap-and-trade programs notes, "the economic impacts of cap-and-trade programs would be similar to those of a carbon tax: both would raise the cost of using carbon-based fossil fuels, lead to higher energy prices, and impose costs on users and some suppliers of energy." Sen. McCain is now pushing the regulatory equivalent of an energy tax.

Sen. McCain also voted for the July 1997 Byrd-Hagel resolution, whereby the U.S. Senate, in a vote of 95-0, opposed the Kyoto Protocol, partly because it would exempt three-quarters of the world from the kind of binding CO2 controls it would impose on the United States. Yet the McCain-Lieberman emissions cap-and-trade legislation would impose a Kyoto-style energy-rationing scheme on the United States alone.

Sen. McCain might reply that since Canada and the European Union have ratified Kyoto, he is not advocating unilateral constraints on U.S. energy production. But that just raises a constitutional objection. If his aim is to ratify Kyoto, then shouldn't Sen. McCain try to do it the old fashioned way, via a two-thirds vote of the Senate, rather than through ordinary legislation, which requires only simple majorities for passage?

During the 107th Congress, Sen. McCain co-authored with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) a fierce critique of the Senate energy bill. Published in the East Valley Tribune and titled "Energy Plan Lacks Juice," the McCain-Kyl op-ed blasts the Senate bill for including tax credits for "alternative fuel" vehicles, a mandate on refiners to manufacture gasoline from ethanol, and a requirement on power companies to generate 10 percent of their electricity from non-hydroelectric "renewable" energy sources. Sens. McCain and Kyl complain that, "Since Arizona has a relatively poor potential for wind generation, our state will have to purchase 'credits' from out-of-state utilities to satisfy this mandate."

The irony here is over the top. Every measure Sen. McCain rightly excoriates in his op-ed is a staple of Kyoto-inspired agitation. Yet in their impact on energy markets and consumers, the Senate energy bill provisions pale in comparison to a full-blown CO2 cap-and-trade program. For example, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that a 10-percent renewable portfolio standard would raise electricity prices one percent nationwide. In contrast, EIA estimates that, depending on their stringency, CO2 controls could increase consumer electricity prices 33 percent or more.

Sen. McCain has a lot of explaining to do. If he opposes energy taxes, why is he advocating its regulatory equivalent? If he supports the Byrd-Hagel resolution, why is he now acting to overturn it? If he opposes the anti-consumer, anti-energy provisions of the misnamed Senate "energy" bill, why is he teeing up a more lethal assault on American prosperity? Sen. McCain's colleagues will be doing a public service if they raise such questions at today's hearing.

Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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