While the political and policy focus is clearly on the Country’s struggling economy, caught within that debate is U.S. policy on climate change. As the economy continued to languish this summer, any hope of a cap and trade bill emerging from Congress died.
The bill was a victim of a Congress that created a Christmas tree of regulation out of a basic market-based concept. In the end the bill was labeled "cap and tax." And who raises taxes during the middle of a recession?
In fact, who passes any major piece of environmental legislation during a bad economy? While I don’t subscribe to all the viewpoints of the organization, a fascinating chart featured in an article by Daniel Weiss appearing on the Center for American Progress website paints a vivid historical picture that ties the state of the economy to the prospects for passage of major environmental legislation.
This from the article:
"The first Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (hazardous waste disposal) were all enacted when unemployment was 6 percent or lower. Unemployment is 50 percent higher now. Only four major environmental laws were enacted with annual unemployment over 7 percent, and none with unemployment greater than 7.5 percent. Unemployment averaged 9.3 percent in 2009 and 9.7 through September 2010."
The Congressional Budget Office provided testimony in August 2010 that the economy faces a slow recovery. Some have coined the phrase a "jobless recovery." The CBO says the unemployment rate, currently at 9.5 percent, will not fall to around 5 percent until 2014.
Coupling the CBO forecast with the historical track record on passing environmental legislation, climate change legislation may not have a serious hope of passing until 2014 or later.
With no legislative alternative, EPA will continue move its climate regulatory agenda forward. Environmentalists will continue to push nuisance claims in the courts. Unfortunately, the inefficiencies of "command and control" regulation and litigation will be the U.S. policy on climate change for the foreseeable future.
[Note: The New Yorker’s, Ryan Lizza, has an very interesting article on the inside the beltway politics regarding cap and trade legislation. A grand bargain between environmental groups and industry was scuttled by poor timing, unfortunate events and political infighting]