What Lessons Can Politicians Learn From the Acid Rain Program?
The Boston Globe ran a fantastic story Sunday about the lessons Congress can learn from the passage 20 years ago of a successful cap-and-trade program to combat acid rain.
From the Globe:
Yet even as scientists confirm the extraordinary success of the 1990 acid rain legislation, some say its lessons are being ignored. Politicians failed this year to pass legislation on the wider threat of global warming in large part because of Republican ridicule of the bill’s “cap-and-trade’’ approach — capping emissions and letting companies trade credits earned by cutting pollution. Yet it was a similar strategy, devised by a Republican president, that solved the acid rain puzzle.
The effort to pass an acid rain cap-and-trade program, which was masterminded by George H. W. Bush, faced the same criticisms that a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions faces today: It will ruin the economy, opponents said then, and say now. But, in the end, the program did not result in such far-reaching economic impacts.
According to the Globe:
An American Electric Power official told the Globe the legislation could lead to “the potential destruction of the Midwest economy.’’ Such fears proved wildly overblown. The $2 billion annual cost of the acid rain controls is about one-fourth the initial estimate, due in part to the lower-than-expected cost of controlling pollution. Competition sprang up to produce highly efficient, lower-cost scrubbers, and rail lines competed to bring lower-sulfur coal from Western states to the Midwest.
So, what makes this time different? Why did the acid rain program succeed while the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions went down in a ball of flames in the Senate?
One reason the Globe offers — and it’s been echoed by others — is that President Obama did not offer a clear plan from which Congress could work.
The Globe says:
Republicans say the Obama administration should have taken a lesson from the way Bush pushed the acid rain bill. Bush staked out a clear position, filing a bill that called for halving emissions, and using it as a basis for negotiations with Congress. “A president has to lead — and at times be firm,’’ Bush said in the interview. “Once we achieved our key objectives, we were more open to compromise to get a final bill passed.’’ Obama, by contrast, did not send a climate-change bill to Congress. Instead, he laid out key concepts and urged legislators to work out their differences.