Let's face it. The average individual American has little or no clout with Congress and can be safely ignored. But it's a different story with groups such as Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy. When they speak, Congress listens. Unlike the average American, they are well organized, loaded with cash and well positioned to be a disobedient congressman's worse nightmare. Their political and economic success has been a near disaster for our nation.
For several decades, environmentalists have managed to get Congress to keep most of our oil resources off-limits to exploration and drilling. They've managed to have the Congress enact onerous regulations that have made refinery construction impossible. Similarly, they've used the courts and Congress to completely stymie the construction of nuclear power plants. As a result, energy prices are at historic highs and threaten our economy and national security.
What's the political response to our energy problems? It's more congressional and White House kowtowing to environmentalists, farmers and multibillion dollar corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland. Their "solution," rather than to solve our oil supply problem by permitting drilling for the billions upon billions of barrels of oil beneath the surface of our country, is to enact the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandates that oil companies increase the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline. Anyone with an ounce of brains would have realized that diverting crops from food to fuel use would raise the prices of corn-fed livestock, such as pork, beef, chicken and dairy products, and products made from corn, such as cereals. Ethanol production has led to increases in other grain prices, such as soybean and wheat. Since the U.S. is the world's largest grain producer and exporter, higher grain prices have had a huge impact on food prices worldwide.
Congress and the environmentalists aren't through with us. If you're bothered by skyrocketing food and energy prices, wait until Congress reintroduces its environmentalist-inspired Climate Security Act, so-called "cap and trade." Cap and trade is deceptively peddled as a free-market solution to the yet-to-be-settled issue of man-made climate change. Under its provisions, companies would be able to emit greenhouse gases only if they had a government allowance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a 15 percent cut in emissions would raise the annual average household's energy costs by $1,300. Since energy is an input to everything we use, we can expect everything to become more costly, resulting in a reduction in economic growth.
There's a hateful side to cap and trade that's revealed by asking the question: How will it be decided who received how much allowance to emit greenhouse gases? Congress could sell the allowances and/or give them away to favorite constituents. You can bet the rent money that a new army of lobbyists, with special pleadings, will descend on Washington to lobby Congress. And you can be sure that campaign contributions and favoritism will play an important role in the decision of who received what amount of allowances.
Much worse than that is the massive control government would have over our economy and our lives. Congress might decide that since tobacco use is unhealthy, it might not issue allowances to tobacco companies. While many Americans might applaud that, how many would like Congress to refuse to issue allowances to companies that produce foods that some people deem unhealthy such as French fries, sodas, canned soups and potato chips? Congress might deny, or threaten to deny, allowances to companies that in their opinion didn't hire enough women and minorities. The possibilities for control over our lives would be endless and could include nuisance-type edicts such a requiring us to buy a permit to barbecue in our backyard.The thirst to wield massive control over our economy helps explain the near-religious belief in manmade global warming and the attacks on scientists and others who offer contradictory evidence.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.