Climate change legislation: if the big-money guys want it, it's probably going to happen | Bleader

Climate change legislation: if the big-money guys want it, it's probably going to happen


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The opposition has mobilized so it can try to do to climate change legislation what's been done to health care reform—that is, get people distracted from the real debate by raising the specter of catastrophe, socialism, and other liberal ideas. But there are increasing signs that Congress will be compelled to enact some kind of carbon cap-and-trade law soon. The most significant is that lots of rich guys think they can make money off it.

Yesterday JPMorgan Chase, one of the last giant American banks, announced plans to buy an Irish company called EcoSecurities that specializes in the carbon offset and carbon trading business. Last year JPMorgan acquired Climate Care, another company that specializes in carbon offsets. As Reuters reports, most other major banking firms—including Bank of America / Merill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs—have also invested in the markets for carbon offsets, in which a company tries to make up for its dangerous greenhouse gas emissions by putting money into a low-emitting project, or carbon trading, in which companies barter for credits allowing them to pollute.

Why are they getting into the business? Not because they want to save the planet (though hopefully they do). They obviously think it's going to make them big money.

This spring, by a 219-212 vote, the U.S. House passed the Waxman-Markey bill, which would create a system of capping allowable greenhouse gas emissions and letting companies trade the rights to produce them. Over the summer its foes, led by oil companies and business groups that say it's a jobs killer, furiously lobbied against it in anticipation of Senate consideration later this fall. Illinois congressman Mark Kirk cast one of just eight GOP votes for the bill, but he's been backing off his support since declaring a run for Senate and coming under serious fire from conservatives.

Yet backers of the legislation include not just environmental groups but also big energy companies like Chicago-based Exelon, and they've renewed their campaign to get some kind of carbon trading legislation passed this year.

They also appear to have strong evidence available to counter their opponents' claims. Last week, for instance, a NYU study estimated that the economic benefits of Waxman-Markey more than double the costs. As the Wall Street Journal summarized: "Since Waxman-Markey is meant to cost about $660 billion, that means the bill provides $2.27 in benefits for every dollar spent, the brief concludes. That doesn’t include extra benefits—cleaner air from a cleaned-up power sector, for instance. And it suggests that even tougher greenhouse-gas targets in the Senate version of the bill would make an even more compelling economic argument."

Of course, to suggest the bill makes sense doesn't mean it has a political chance. If health care reform gets nixed or bogged down, Waxman-Markey could get tabled too—and it may happen regardless. But the argument that market-based climate change legislation would kill the economy gets weaker every time the most powerful financial interests in the world say otherwise.


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