November 1, 1997

Selling out America’s Future in Kyoto

By: AF Editors

As if the burdens of social security and interest on the debt weren’t enough of a drag on young Americans, President Clinton now pledges to permanently cap our future economic growth. In Kyoto, Japan, in December, the President intends to sign an international agreement to permanently cap US greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement would require that the United States forever reduce its energy use by reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by around 2010. What will the agreement cost America’s future economy? The Administration isn’t telling. Although it admits it has analyzed the economic impacts of potential greenhouse gas reductions on average Americans, the Administration won’t share the results. So what are they trying to hide? If the recent debate over the new air quality standards is any indication, it’s probably bad news.

Virtually undetected, using the whim of bureaucratic fiat, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enacted some of the most expensive and scientifically indefensible regulations in American history in July. America now has new air quality standards for fine particles and ozone smog. But now that the standards are set in stone, the EPA quietly admits that the actual economic costs are much higher than it initially claimed.

It turns out that during the debate over the new particle and ozone standards, the EPA released only a partial annual cost estimate of $8.5 billion for both standards. This figure was widely misreported as an accurate estimate of the full cost of compliance. After enactment, however, the EPA admitted in its obscure Regulatory Impact Analysis publication that the full cost was actually more than four times higher at $46 billion. It also revealed that the new standards are so stringent that it is technologically impossible for 47 unnamed counties to comply.

This expense might seem justified if the EPA’s assertion, that 20,000 annual deaths occur due to fine particle exposure, were true. However, the discovery of a statistical error lowered that number to 15,000. Less than 1,000, and probably zero, deaths really occur according to the scientist who found the error, former Carter Administration environmental advisor Dr. Kay Jones. But the EPA refused to respond to Dr. Jones’ critique. Even more unbelievable was the EPA’s admission in the final rule, buried deep within a footnote in the Federal Register that, in fact, only one fine particle mortality study supports the new particulate matter standard, and not the 80 or so studies it previously claimed.

As for the ozone, the congressionally appointed Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) told the EPA that the new standard should not be more stringent than the old standard, since the old standard was sufficiently protective of the public health. Even the most sensitive among us, asthmatics, would see minimal benefits from the ozone standard. The new standard would reduce asthma hospital visits by less than 100 annually in New York City. Even worse, in weighing the financial costs and monetized health benefits, the agency itself admitted in its final Regulatory Impact Analysis (once again, after the standard became final) that the ozone standard would produce only negative annual social benefits in the range of $1.1 to $8.1 billion. Thus, the EPA knowingly moved forward with a standard that will do harm to the American people. Similarly, the Clinton Administration is keeping us in the dark about costs of the global climate treaty by failing to reveal its cost.

Although the President has proposed a so-called “free-market” solution to reducing greenhouse gases, don’t be fooled. His proposed international “cap and trade” program is nothing more than a stealth tax, which would permanently limit economic growth, by permanently limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in this country. Absent a major technological revolution in the energy sector, this cap would cost us trillions of dollars in the next century.

At the recent White House conference on global warming America was told not to worry, that the magic of cap and trade programs could reduce greenhouse gases at no cost to the economy. How can we limit our energy use without limiting our economic growth? Just implement a government-funded energy revolution. Throw in $5 billion in tax credits and subsidies for research and development and the government will miraculously find a replacement for the cheap fossil fuel energy upon which our economic well being relies.

But the President has failed to produce any economic analysis to suggest that his grand scheme is believable. Instead of revealing any credible analysis, the Administration relies on propaganda to convince the public. At the White House conference on global warming young orange-clad Greenpeace soldiers, more than willing to sell out their future prosperity, brandished solar panels in an attempt to convince America that easy technological solutions to greenhouse gases were at hand. Unfortunately, these young envirowarriors fail to understand simple economics. Although homes powered by solar rooftops might seem sexy, the plain fact is that the market has rejected solar power and other technologies as cost-effective alternatives to fossil-fuel. Costing three times as much as coal, solar power would fail to produce the same amount of goods our economy produces today using fossil fuel – not to mention its inability to produce constant, reliable electricity due to ever present clouds.

Since solar power and other technologies won’t save us from an emission/economic growth cap, we can only expect harsh implications for our economy. One of the few studies on the national economic impact of carbon trading programs, released by WEFA, Inc., forecasts an annual GDP loss of $227 billion in 2010 alone. This is equal to the total federal, state and local expenditures on elementary and secondary education. That’s $227 billion that won’t be around to pay for social security and interest on the federal debt.

Even worse, Americans will foot the world’s greenhouse gas reduction bill, while so-called “developing” nations – e.g., Russia, China, Mexico, Brazil, Korea – will be exempt from emission-reduction requirements. While the United States would be required to impose significant new burdens on our economy, our competitors in the global market would be free to emit greenhouse gases at will. Put simply, Americans are being asked to give up the most.

President Clinton thinks that global warming is “for real,” so he’s asking America to forfeit its future prosperity. However, it seems unlikely that a fossil-fuel dependent America will willingly swallow the economic consequences of major reductions in greenhouse gases. In an effort to scare up support for the treaty, the EPA is traveling the country to localize the impacts of global warming. These sideshows portend regional doomsday scenarios that include more hurricanes, melting glaciers, flooding and droughts, outbreaks of malaria and other fantastic stories. Onlookers in Boston, for example, were told that global warming would mean shorter maple syrup runs and abbreviated ski seasons in New England.

There are, of course, no data to support such wild claims of increases in natural disasters, and global warming is far from fact. Satellite temperature measurements, supported by weather balloon data, have shown a slight cooling trend since 1979 and the nascent science of climate modeling has predicted less and less warming as the models have grown in sophistication. According to the oft-cited International Panel on Climate Change, the United Nation’s panel of climate change experts, scientists have little confidence in the models’ predictions of regional climate.

Of course, there is always one glaring omission from the EPA’s sideshow, the cost to those of us who will foot the bill for years to come. If the Clinton Administration is intent on selling America’s future down the river in Kyoto, it ought to at least have the courage to give the public an honest assessment of what the treaty could cost. During the recent debate over the clean air standards, the public was mislead. Now Kyoto is only weeks away and the Administration is still trying to convince us that America will get a free ride. If the Administration is holding something back, then we can assume the worst.