Cap-and-trade legislation has died, with little hope of resurrection for a long time to come. What the representatives of the people cannot accomplish, however, the Environmental Protection Agency can.
The EPA’s Lisa Jackson has denied 10 petitions filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republican attorneys general from Texas and Virginia, and other conservative groups. The petitioners asked the EPA to reconsider its finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and, therefore, must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The EPA has refused to reconsider, and plans to regulate emissions from new cars and trucks this year, and emissions from power plants next year. The state of Texas is now threatening not to conform to the new regulations.
Christians believe that when God created the world and created people in His image, He gave mankind a mandate to be stewards of the creation. Therefore, Christians should be especially concerned about treating the natural world with care and respect. At the same time, the stewardship responsibility includes all of the resources we have – nature, the ecosystem, and technology; as well as our bodies, talents, and relationships with other people.
People of faith have no intention or desire to pit these responsibilities against one another. When a proposal to improve the environment has negative consequences for our economic and technological ability to steward our resources and care for people created in God’s image, Christianity teaches that we should investigate whether the environmental policy is truly necessary to accomplish its stated goal, and whether it is possible to care for the environment in a way that also enhances human life and productivity.
To restrict energy usage is to restrict human ability to productively steward God’s creation. God ordained work as a good thing for Adam and Eve to do in the garden of Eden before sin came into the world. For this reason, Christians believe that productive cultivation of natural resources can improve, rather than damage, the health of God’s creation.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency generally treats human economic activity as climate enemy number one. Unfortunately, discussing climate issues through the EPA bureaucracy does not lend itself to a full and open investigation of the options and issues at stake. The legislative branch set up the bureaucracy in such a way that it can make difficult policy choices without facing electoral accountability. Joe Postell of the Heritage Foundation has explained why the progressive movement began setting this system in place several decades ago:
The progressives sought to circumvent representative government by transferring power from Congress to a newly created fourth branch of government, our modern bureaucracy. Congress would no longer make laws but merely pass bills that consist of assignments to agencies. The actual laws then would be passed by agencies in the form of "rules" carrying the full force of law.
If the EPA believes it knows the best way to promote “public health and welfare,” it will not easily admit that it might be. EPA officials may have the best of intentions for crafting the best policy, but there’s no guarantee that they are safe from the lure of self-interest, much less from their own fallibility.
For instance, the EPA believes that regulating emissions will improve the American economy by creating “green” jobs. The evidence, however, does not support this line of reasoning. The government simply cannot create jobs in one industry without destroying jobs elsewhere. For every “green” job Spain has created by subsidizing wind and solar energy, it has destroyed 2.2 jobs created by the private sector. Green jobs have done nothing to improve Spain’s 19 percent unemployment rate. Denmark actually spends more money on creating jobs in the wind energy industry than the jobs actually pay.
Politicians in the United States have already tried unsuccessfully for years to create technological innovation by legislative mandate, and there’s no logical reason to expect that more government mandates will produce efficient energy technology.
Rather than stimulating the American economy, full regulation of carbon emissions will damage it severely. Essentially, a cap or a regulatory burden on carbon emissions would create energy scarcity, making it just as expensive to purchase energy from fossil fuels as it is to purchase energy from “renewable” sources. The supply of efficient energy would drop in order to encourage production and consumption of inefficient energy, and prices would skyrocket as a result. Politicians themselves, including Barack Obama as a presidential candidate, have admitted that skyrocketing prices are a crucial component of the carbon regulation strategy.
Under the cap-and-trade bill considered by the House of Representatives, the average American family would likely face a 90 percent increase in electricity prices, according to research done by the Heritage Foundation. Gasoline and natural gas prices would also rise by more than 50 percent. The economic impact of EPA regulation would be even worse than the impact of cap-and-trade legislation, because regulation would involve more compliance, administrative, and legal costs.
Skyrocketing energy prices would cause the prices of most other goods and services to rise as well, because energy is the lifeblood of the economy. Almost nothing happens – no manufacturing, no transportation, and no sales – without energy.
For people who already have plenty of money – think John Kerry and Bill Gates – this is not much of a problem. But economically vulnerable groups already spend much larger portions of their budgets on basic necessities than do those who are better off. The poor have less discretionary income to spend on things they don’t absolutely need, and therefore less room to breathe when expenses rise.
This economic burden would come in addition to other financial woes caused by carbon regulation. An economy struggling under dramatic decreases in employment, household income, and national GDP would make it even more difficult for low-income families to cover expenses, especially utilities. Families who could not afford to heat or cool their homes, especially the elderly, would risk their health and could end up homeless. After inability to pay rent, inability to pay utilities is the most common cause of homelessness.
The Environmental Protection Agency justifies this onerous economic burden with its finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. However, its proposed regulation of emissions could endanger public health and welfare even more. Christian doctrine teaches that it is not acceptable to treat the poor unjustly, or take from them the ability to earn their own living and to productively steward the resources God has given them. Rather, we should investigate whether human economic productivity could be an ally rather than the enemy of our natural resources.