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In our opinion: Defeat Waxman-Markey bill

Published: Friday, June 26 2009 12:09 a.m. MDT

Utah is currently doing what it can to combat climate change, even as the existence of the issue is still hotly debated.

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As soon as today, the House could vote on an energy bill that would end up costing Utahns a lot.

The cap-and-trade legislation, known as the Waxman-Markey bill, would set a cap on the amount of carbon that could be emitted in the nation as a whole. The companies that emit carbon then would have to buy or sell permits allowing them to emit a certain amount, and over time that amount would be ratcheted down as the nationwide allotment decreases. That means the permits, in turn, would become much more expensive.

The cap-and-trade solution might work when it comes to regulating something that can reasonably be reduced through efficiencies. But it promises to be a horrible disaster with carbon emissions. That's because the technology to provide the type of energy to which Americans are accustomed has yet to be developed. Wind and solar power cannot presently provide it, nor will they be able to for many years. Unless the nation is prepared to build 100 new nuclear plants over the next 20 years, as Utah Sen. Bob Bennett suggests, there is no way to cheaply provide for the nation's energy needs.

Cap and trade would end up raising the cost of electricity to the point where Americans would have little choice but to use less. That means they would be forced into buying fewer laptop computers, iPods, televisions and other electrical appliances. It means the move toward hybrid automobiles would be stymied, as the cost of running one would increase dramatically. Technological innovation would begin to dry up as venture capitalists would grow suspicious of any new idea that would require electricity. And, it is worth noting, this increase in energy costs would hurt the poor more than any other group.

In short, it would mean fewer jobs, higher unemployment and a prolonged economic downturn. This would hurt Utahns, in particular. Energy costs here are low because of the abundance of coal-generated electricity. Coal generation would become much more expensive. The state would be forced to look elsewhere for energy.

Democrats have been touting a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office that the bill would cost only $175 more per household by 2020. But that ignores the fact that 2020 is the year in which the bill's most drastic cutbacks in allowable carbon emissions would take effect. From then on, it would cost much more.

Proponents of the bill would remind Americans to have faith in their own ability to innovate and develop technology to generate energy more efficiently and with less pollution. It is true that Americans have a history of being inventive in the face of challenges. However, such inventiveness thrives best in the absence of draconian, government-engineered crises. It works best under free-market conditions. Government could help best by offering incentives, not by mandating that the technological revolution of the past two decades be drastically curtailed.

Waxman-Markey should be defeated.

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