July 14, 2024

Searching for sustainable climate change policy

Dr. Robert Kates’ attack (BDN, March 8) on proposed legislation to require that the benefits and costs of regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions be clearly stated is a sign that the battle for an honest, prudent and bipartisan climate change policy is at least under way.

The offending legislation is LD 72, An Act to Promote Sound Science in Climate Change Policy, sponsored by Rep. Henry Joy, R-Crystal. LD 72 requires that “when the Department of Environmental Protection adopts rules designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the department must issue an estimate of the amount of global warming that will be prevented and the costs that will result from the rules requiring reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

A 2003 party-line vote in the Maine House directed the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a plan to implement the 2001 New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP). The CCAP is an updated regional version of the Kyoto Protocol and obligates Maine to reduce our GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, 10 percent below that by 2020, and eventually by 70 to 80 percent or more.

The DEP recently rolled out 55 GHG policy options. There will not be an up-or-down vote on the policy package. It is to be implemented piecemeal, by executive order, statute, rule-making and “social marketing.” As a consequence, LD 72 became the only vehicle to discuss our emerging climate change policy.

Maine’s business and regulated community strongly supported the bill, as did national advocates for free markets, capitalism and technology. Maine’s environmental community was strongly against it. The administration indicated before the hearing that they were prepared to support a very watered-down and amended version, but reversed course and testified against the bill. They will not tell the people of Maine how much global warming they are preventing, or at what cost.

The DEP will specifically not detail exactly how much global warming their proposals will prevent. They intend to speak only about the metric tons of carbon emissions averted and about the “co-benefits,” other alleged environmental and health benefits that may result. Despite continuing and expensive efforts to frighten the people of New England about how serious and devastating global warming is, environmental advocates are unwilling to tell us how much global warming their efforts will prevent. And if, as Natural Resources House Chair Rep. Ted Koffman, D-Bar Harbor, says, “Kyoto is only a first step,” it might be a good idea to start with honesty.

According to Virginia State Climatologist Dr. Patrick Michaels, the median prediction for averted global warming under Kyoto is an essentially undetectable 0.14 degrees C. over the next century- a five- to 10-year delay at best. If the science is indeed “settled” it should be neither difficult nor expensive to make similar best estimate predictions for the GHG emissions-control strategies |proposed. If the science is settled enough to end debate and design and implement policy, it is settled enough to provide these estimates at very little, if any, cost. The “minor cost” fiscal note attached to LD 72 essentially concedes this point.

In no instance is the likely effect on energy prices and the economy openly stated in presenting the options. In fact, the net per ton carbon emissions averted cost adopted by the DEP ignores or hides the real cost issues. The Regional Greenhouse Gas “Cap and Trade” Initiative will sharply raise energy prices, but by the DEP’s calculus apparently $3 per gallon gasoline and $0.30 per kilowatt-hour electricity will actually be good for Maine. Many lead advocates and policy-makers know better, hence their reluctance to openly state the cost, or be too closely associated with the likely consequences.

If Maine’s global warming policy was an insurance policy, it would be one with virtually no coverage, a very steep premium, confusing terms and impenetrable legalese – and the agent insists you have to have it right away, and wants you to buy 40 more. LD 72 is a regulatory precautionary principle, allowing environmental advocates to do whatever they please so long as they are honest and up-front about the benefits and costs. It probably has no chance on Gaia’s green earth of passing.

Jon Reisman teaches environmental policy at the University of Maine at Machias. He is also a Maine Public Policy Institute scholar and contributor to TechCentralStation.com.

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