Wait… did I read that right? Are we better off without any emissions regulations from the EPA? Do we even need a cap and trade approach? According to Dick Morris of the Creators syndicate, the United States “probably has already complied with the Kyoto/Copenhagen goals for reduced emissions… without taxes, without regulations and without government intervention.”
Seriously? Lyman is talking about the $46 million Obama just gave to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and reporting requirements, even as he cut hundreds of millions to other EPA programs. Cutting emissions is clearly a priority for the President, who has pushed for the U.S. to cut our emissions to 5.0 billion metric tons of carbon by 2015.
But where does Morris get off saying that we are better off without the EPA setting regulations?
He begins by noting the total carbon emissions in the past three years:
In 2007: 6.12 billion metric tons of carbon
In 2008: 5.92 billion
In 2009: 5.5 billion
He then predicts that when we finish calculating the 2010 measurements, we’ll likely be at Obama’s goal. Without any EPA regulations or a cap and trade structure.
He also cites figures showing changes in the share of our energy production coming from different sources between 1996 and 2009 (via U.S. Energy Information Administration):
Coal: 52 percent in 1996, down to 45 percent in 2009.
Natural gas: 13 percent up to 23 percent.
Nuclear: Steady at 20 percent in 1996 and 20 percent in 2009.
Renewable: 2 percent in 1996, 4 percent in 2009.
Based on his numbers, it’s exciting news. If we’ve actually reduced the share of our our total electricity that is produced by coal, that means we’ve done the easy work of fixing the low-hanging fruit. EPA regulations will be a great next step to making deeper, systemic changes that any new machinery or plants will need to be constructed in accordance with. At the same time, adding government regulation to the amount of emissions will spur further innovation on how to make manufacturing more efficient, which will help the U.S. economy be competitive in the coming decades.
The key element in these numbers that I see is not that coal use is down 7 percent, but that renewable energy is up only 2 percent. Shifting from coal to natural gas, while a useful short-term solution, is not a long-term energy solution. It’s like buying time rather than addressing the issue. A band aid that looks pretty much like the wound already did.
Morris ends his column by saying we don’t need cap and trade or carbon regulation to lower emissions in the U.S., claiming instead that the whole thing is about greater government control. He credits the drop in emissions to the free market and free enterprise system responding to persuasion and incentives, smugly asserting this as the true inconvenient truth.
I am not going to dispute Morris’ numbers, nor am I going to dispute that persuasion and incentives both play powerful roles in changing the behavior of business. What I will dispute is his assertion that we’ve done enough and don’t need to do any more.
Image Credit: freefotouk via Flickr