Budget & Tax

Jay T. Edwards | August 3, 2009

'Cap and Trade' Is Not the Answer

Jay T. Edwards

Many in Congress are intent on imposing a tax on companies that produce carbon emissions so as to improve the climate and reduce global warming. The U.S. House of Representatives has sent this "cap and trade" bill to the U.S. Senate. Under the plan, acceptable levels of carbon dioxide emissions will be determined and capped by the government. Emissions over the cap will be taxed unless the offender can trade a credit with another company under the cap. This tax scheme stems from a growing concern about global warming and the effect on global temperatures by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Concern for global temperature is not new to my generation. In 1970, scientific consensus held that the planet was cooling and we needed to find more sources of energy or we would freeze to death. The 30-year cooling fear ended in the late 70s and was replaced by the now ongoing warming trend. Since the planet has warmed only one degree over the last 100 years, I wonder if Congress isn't overly concerned about our planet's ability to adjust its thermostat. According to global circulation models, if carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere were doubled it would only result in about a one-degree increase in average global temperature over the next 100 years.

If the planet can adjust to our intrusions, it brings up the question about the need for carbon emission regulation. Most everything we do has a carbon footprint. Depending on how the "cap and trade" tax is implemented, the cost of everything will go up. A low-carbon economy will be a major setback to our standard of living. Congress wants us to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Since fossil fuels constitute the greatest level of carbon emissions, reductions of this order cannot be achieved until we have viable alternatives for them. Consequently, with "cap and trade" in place and no alternatives for energy production, the government stands to raise huge sums of revenue from emissions. This will be useful in reducing the massive federal budget deficit but will devastate the economy.

The solution does not lie in wind and solar power as alternatives for fossil fuels. To generate comparable electricity to a typical gas-fired power plant, a wind farm would require by most estimates about 40,000 acres of land. Solar land requirements are not much better. Currently, wind and solar satisfy about one-sixth of one percent of our energy demand. The president proposed to double that in the next four years. That means, if he can do it, the contribution will grow to one third of one percent. Meanwhile, demand is projected to grow by 30-plus percent in the next decade.

Let's hope brighter minds prevail on global warming and the impact of carbon dioxide before "cap and trade" becomes law.

To see how much "cap and trade" would cost your family, visit

Major General (Ret.) Jay T. Edwards, USAF, was the founding executive director of the Energy Center at the University of Oklahoma. He is an OCPA trustee.

Jay T. Edwards

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