How to lie about cap-and-trade

A veteran of Bush's EPA says Obama's plan to restrict greenhouse gas emissions is a "cash cow" for his "health and social welfare agenda." Huh?

Published March 13, 2009 10:19AM (EDT)

If the attacks already being launched against the Obama administration's cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are any indication, critics aren't going to restrict their arguments to debates over the economic pros and cons of various approaches. They are going to just flat-out lie.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Keith Johnson, who normally does an excellent job of covering environmental issues at the Journal's Environmental Capital blog, leads off an item with the assertion that "President Obama's approach to climate legislation seems to be undermining his chances of passing any climate bill." But his main source for this claim comes from a Bush-era EPA administrator, Tracy Mehan, writing in the right-wing propaganda outlet the American Spectator.

President Obama has driven a stake in the heart of his carbon cap-and-trade program. By transforming it from a relatively cost-effective environmental program into a cash cow to finance his ambitious health and social welfare agenda, he has encumbered it with very expensive baggage. Blue Dog Democrats and conservation-minded Republicans will gag on its cost to an economy now racked by recession ...

[The Obama administration] intends to sell carbon allowances and pocket the proceeds to carry out its ambitious social agenda. It views the proposed carbon cap-and-trade program as a means to generate more federal tax revenues rather than simply an environmental program to be implemented in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Mehan, a staunch social conservative and advocate of water privatization during his tenure at the EPA, is not the most obvious source I would look to for a forthright appraisal of Obama's cap-and-trade plan. A polite characterization of Mehan's description of Obama's cap-and-trade plan would be to call it a gross misrepresentation -- or at the very least, misleading. For example, Obama's cap-and-trade plan isn't even scheduled to kick in until 2012, so the fear that Blue Dog Democrats will "gag" on its cost during a "recession" is a  red herring. Obama will have bigger things to worry about than his cap-and-trade plan if the U.S. is still in recession in 2012.

More important, what in the world is Mehan talking about when he references Obama's "health and social welfare agenda"? In the budget outline that the White House presented to Congress two weeks ago, the administration predicted that auctioning off emissions permits would result in revenue of $646 billion by 2019. The majority of that revenue "will be returned to the people, especially vulnerable families, communities, and businesses to help the transition to a clean energy economy." $150 billion, over a period of ten years, "will fund vital investments in a clean energy future."

Ironically, many environmentalists believe that the administration is diverting too much cap-and-trade revenue to tax rebates, and would like to see a far higher percentage devoted to clean energy technology investment. Honest people could have a good argument on the merits of such a proposal. But you can't really have an honest debate with critics like Mehan, who manage the magic trick of turning a straightforward cap-and-trade policy proposal into an illusionary "cash cow"/health-and-social-welfare Trojan horse.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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