… the bill’s measures might not offset the emissions from the paper it’s printed on. You can judge the effectiveness of a US bill by its length: the shorter it is, the more potent it will be. This one is some 1,200 pages long, which is what happens when lobbyists have been at work.
There are mind-boggling concessions to the biofuels industry, including a promise not to investigate its wider environmental impacts. There’s a provision to allow industry to use 2bn tonnes of carbon offsets a year, which include highly unstable carbon sinks like crop residues left in the soil (another concession won by the powerful farm lobby). These offsets are so generous that if all of them are used, US industry will have to make no carbon cuts at all until 2026.
Like the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), Waxman-Markey would oblige companies to buy only a small proportion (15%) of their carbon permits. The rest will be given away. This means that a resource belonging to everyone (the right to pollute) is captured by industrial interests without public compensation. The more pollution companies have produced, the greater their free allocation will be – the polluter gets paid. It also means, if the ETS is anything to go by, that the big polluters will be able to make windfall profits by passing on the price of the permits they haven’t bought to their consumers.
In one respect the bill actually waters down current legislation, by preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal-burning power stations. If the new coal plants planned in the US are built, it’s hard to see how even the feeble targets in this bill can be met, let alone any targets proposed by the science.