The Public Policy

Counting the Costs

But not taking the temperature. The Southern Governors Association on cap and trade.

By 8.25.09

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It's hard to imagine the Southern Governors Association would come up with a cap-and-tax plan when only half their members showed up at their annual meeting over the weekend, but Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia did his best to sow harmony around the idea.

In his role as chairman of SGA, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the Old Dominion Democrat got to choose the topic of this year's conference. Despite some resistance from colleagues -- presumably from oil-producing states like Mississippi and Alabama (Texas and Louisiana being no-shows), and from coal-cultivating neighbor West Virginia -- Kaine was allowed to move forward as long as he "promised to merely start a conversation and not push any specific agenda." He only partially kept his commitment.

The conversation started, and while governors debated the merits of cap-and-tax schemes, whether a specific agenda was pushed depends on your interpretation. If the meaning is, in this context, that carbon emissions must be limited and how it is accomplished is open for discussion, then no "specific agenda" was pushed.

But if you're a climate realist (like thousands of scientists and millions of Americans) who recognizes that human attempts to limit carbon are futile and will do nothing to change global temperatures one way or another, then the push to cap emissions was on. Not one climate scientist was present to help the SoGovs understand that global temperatures have not increased since 1998; that Antarctic ice extent is increasing; that surface temperature stations show a bias towards warming; or other fun facts that undermine the global warming paranoia.

"Obviously we all agree on the goals of trying to approach this climate-change issue -- that's cleaning up our air and holding down greenhouse-gas emissions," said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. "The issues that we're wrestling with are in the details of how we do that, the cost of doing it and how those costs are distributed."

It appears the closest anyone came to challenging climate assumptions was Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, who "asked how scientists can reliably forecast global temperatures into the next century if 'we can't even predict what the weather will be like later this afternoon.'"

Logical enough, but then later he praised the work of the Center for Climate Strategies, a cap-and-tax advocacy group that has lobbied state governments (mostly governors) to institute carbon limits and negotiate regional agreements with each other, such as the Western Climate Initiative and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Its goal is to create a hopeless mishmash of state-level carbon regulations that would cause electric utilities, oil companies, and other industries to cry "uncle" and beg the federal government for a single, national standard.

The other conference attendees also avoided science questions, and instead acted as though something had to be done about greenhouse gases, with the debate about what cap-and-trade would cost the South. A voice of negativity arose from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, according to the Daily Press of Newport News:

A federal energy bill that has passed through the U.S. House and awaits a vote in the Senate could have a devastating effect on power companies and result in rising electric costs for consumers, a panel of Southern utility officials told 11 Southern governors Sunday.

The bill's requirement that utilities generate 20 percent of their power through renewable resources like wind and solar by 2020 or face penalties puts an unfair burden on utilities in the South, where those types of power generation are less effective, the utilities said….

"Many of our states have no chance to generate consistent wind and solar power," said [Barbour]. The House-passed energy bill, named the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, "just screws us."

Similarly Kaine's fellow Democrat governor from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, also voiced opposition, the Virginian-Pilot reported:

[Manchin] said he strongly opposes a proposed cap-and-trade strategy pending before Congress. And he warned that any plan that significantly hikes energy costs will not only hurt his state's ability to compete for businesses and jobs but also put the United States at a huge disadvantage against China and India, economic giants that are not party to worldwide negotiations on climate change policy.

For their parts, Kaine and his chosen discussion panelists repeated the "we must do something" mantra.

"We're going to have to move out and take a couple steps knowing [China and India are] not going to immediately follow," said retired Virginia Sen. John Warner, who spoke on climate change and national security. "Maybe by Step 3, they'll recognize they need to get going, too."

"I think the biggest bang for the buck because you both save money and you remove a lot [of greenhouse gases] is in the conservation and efficiency investments," Kaine said.

No one expected unanimous consent on the issue going in to the weekend, but that's not what Kaine needed. He and his fellow climate alarmists sought just a few Southern governors to start a "conversation" and buy into the program, much like what happened in the West, Midwest, and Northeast. All the talk points to a likely mission accomplished.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.