Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Today’s House testimony and other random items

Posted by Rich Sweeney on January 23, 2008

Today the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming heard testimony on carbon permit allocation from John Podesta (Center for American Progress), Robert Greenstein (Center of Budget and Policy Priorities), Peter Zapfel (European Commission), Dallas Burtraw (RFF), and Ian Bowles, (Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts). The video should be up online soon, and it’s worth watching. For now though, here are some of the highlights:

  • Greenstein talked compellingly about the regressive nature of a carbon tax or cap. His presentation began with this slide:
    • Skeptics of big government would have hardly found today’s hearing reassuring. Here is a non-exhaustive list of programs/ endeavors today’s participants suggested we fund with cap and trade auction revenue. I’m sure pool and spa safety will work it’s way onto this list eventually:
      • energy efficiency
      • R&D
      • offsetting the program’s impact on the poor
      • job programs
      • decoupling
      • offsetting program’s impact on utilities
      • offsetting program’s impact consumers
      • oversight of the program
    • The lowlight of the hearing came courtesy of Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). While questioning Greenstein about what to do with carbon cap revenues he appeared to be making a logical point in favor of a carbon tax over a cap. Panic quickly set in and the representative blurted “I’m not for a for a carbon tax”, which resulted in laughter from the audience. He then mumbled something about “Europe’s program being a disaster and us not needing to follow them” then promptly passed the microphone. (def check this out once the video’s up)

    In related news, the EU announced today that it will auction off all carbon permits in phase III of its cap-and-trade program. Estimates of windfall profits from giving the permits away in phase I are in the ballpark of $20 billion. If only they had listened to today’s panelists back in 2002…..

    Finally, two random CT related items from my inbox:

    • The first is a highly scientific study of Obama and Hillary’s energy policies:
      • I counted the amount of times a few words were used in both hillary and obama’s published energy plans. Here’s some interesting results. Note that anyone who knows anything knows that conservation or efficiency is by far the best solution to any and all of our energy problems. Coal is not.
        • Hillary total words: 7185
          Obama total words: 6313
        • Hillary “efficiency or efficient” frequency: 2.116%
          Obama “efficiency or efficient” frequency: 0.855%
        • Hillary “coal” frequency: 0.306%
          Obama “coal” frequency: 0.4435%
    • The second is from a reader in response to David Roberts comment on coal and asthma:
      • asthma cost us about $11 billion in 1998. Say, 6% inflation per year in asthma costs, so its probably $19 billion or so. How much asthma reduction is actually possible from, say, eliminating coal? Prolly not much. Especially when you limit it to the southeast. I bet health care costs of atmospheric mercury are even less… http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/lung/asthma/asthstat.pdf

    One Response to “Today’s House testimony and other random items”

    1. DK said

      I’m just commenting on yout last note. You shouldn’t be so dismissive of the health effects from eliminating coal. Asthma is only one small health effect of PM, SOx, and NOx. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies note that Electrical Generating Units (EGU’s) emit 2/3s of the nation’s SO2 and a quarter of the nation’s NOx. Over 70 percent of them are more than 25-50 years old and 50 times worse than modern coal-fired technology. For example, EPA estimated that its top 12 FY 2007 civil air enforcement cases will result in $3.8 billion in health benefits annually from the consent decrees requiring plants to install new technology. Of those top 12 air cases, half of them (78 percent by emissions) were New Source Review cases against coal fired power plants. That’s 500 fewer premature deaths, 1000 emergency room visits, 1500 cases of bronchitis, 1000 non-fatal heart attacks, 8000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 50,000 days of missed school avoided each year from 2007 cases alone. That 250,000 tons (507 million pounds) of pollution reduced, is < 1.5% of the 17.5 million tons of EGU emissions in 2001. Those estimates are based on lots of research on the health effects of PM, and are probably on the low side. Other mortality estimates would yield nearly twice those results. As a national average, each ton of PM reduced is up to $300,000 in health benefits and each ton of SOx is up to $45,000. When you’re talking about 17.5 million tons of emissions from EGUs, that’s a lot of health benefits to consider. Let alone the effects of CO2 (EGUs account for 40 percent of US emissions), mercury (EGUs account for approximately 33 percent of US emissions), and other air toxics (at least 67 different pollutants). Sometimes it pays to look beyond the world of CO2 and climate change. However, as you noted before, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, Clean Air Act New Source Review, and mercury regulations are in place to address some of the emissions.

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