Firing Blanks on FOIA Part II

by Iain Murray on September 17, 2009

In his update to his post, Declan McCullagh notes an objection by the Center for American Progress:

The fourth objection is the most compelling. The Center for American Progress writes: “The potential benefits of clean energy legislation far outweigh the modest costs.” That’s a reasonable cost vs. benefit calculation, and it includes the claim that even with the extra taxes, cap and trade is so vital to America, it’s still worth it.

That’s the right approach to take: it would be a very good thing if all federal regulation were subject to a cost vs. benefit analysis. For example, if rising temperatures are significantly harming the planet, and cap and trade would reduce greenhouse gases enough to slow the rise, that would be a real benefit. But the Center for American Progress never actually makes that argument, and as CEI senior fellow Christopher Horner says: “Nobody has ever said this will change the temperature. It won’t.”

Well, we’ve already covered that one.  Even taking the most favorable analysis to WaxKey, the costs to Americans massively outweigh the benefits to them.  Here’s my post from a week ago:

There’s a new cost:benefit study from New York University Law School’s Institute for Public Integrity that, its authors claim, shows that, “From almost any perspective and under almost any assumption, H.R. 2454 [Waxman-Markey] is a good investment for the United States to make in our own economic future and in the future of the planet.”  A good investment for the US? Really?

The authors recognize that the benefits they find are global, while the costs are located in the US.  So let’s see what benefits accrue to US citizens and at what cost. (I am working with the authors’ figures here, which derive from the EPA, and are significantly different from the figures provided by such groups as the Heritage Foundation or the American Council for Capital Formation, which find much, much higher costs.)

Highest possible benefit = $5.2 trillion / 6 billion people = benefits of $866 per person

Cost to US citizen = $660 billion / 300 million people = cost of $2200 per citizen

That means a best possible benefit to cost ratio for a US citizen of 0.4:1.

The report talks about thinking of the Waxman-Markey costs as a “highly effective, highly leveraged form of foreign aid.”  One has to doubt that, given that the benefits that accrue to the developing world do so mostly in the far future, while the developing world is in desperate need of greater wealth – and better access to energy – today.  Even if it were true, however, one wonders whether the American public will accept a de facto tax increase of around $1300 per person, or $400 billion total, to pay for such climate aid.

Yet that’s assuming that the “high end” benefits scenario is what occurs.  The global low end benefits are actually far outweighed by the American costs, leading to a benefit:cost ratio to America of something in the order of 0.05:1 (or a cost:benefit ratio of 20:1).

And, of course, there’s no guarantee that a reduction in American emissions will amount to a reduction in global emissions.  We have seen the response to European cap-and-trade schemes being the relocation of facilities to other jurisdictions.  If so, the effective foreign aid program of Waxman-Markey might actually be a loss of American jobs to be replaced by developing world jobs, with no emissions reduction at all.  That would be very generous of us, but not quite what the authors of this study have in mind.

To summarize, the authors of the study have conclusively demonstrated that the Waxman-Markey bill is actually a very bad deal for the United States, and their attempts to claim otherwise are just spin.

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