05/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recycling Scary Numbers to Protect the Status Quo

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Yesterday Congressmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey released a "discussion draft" of the American Clean Energy and Security Act -- a comprehensive energy and climate proposal that would create good jobs, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change by repowering our economy with clean energy. My colleague David Doniger provided a first read of the bill on Switchboard.

Opponents apparently didn't bother to look at the draft before firing off their prepared talking points. They are trying the same old tactics polluters used to argue against the Clean Air and Water Acts: throwing around a lot of scary numbers about energy prices. But history shows such forecasts have little to do with reality -- a survey by the Economic Policy Institute showed that past industry claims about environmental compliance costs have been overblown by anywhere from 30%- 2,900%.

Dig a little deeper and it's clear that the numbers now being hurled into the climate policy debate have nothing to do with the legislation that this Congress is beginning to consider. 

Opponent tactics include:

  • Tossing around wild estimates of the cost of emission permits that are four or five times higher than the best government estimates.
  • Assuming that the value of carbon emission permits just disappears from the economy when, in fact, it goes back into consumers' pockets through energy efficiency and clean energy investments and rebates.
  • Ignoring the economic benefits from reducing air pollution and avoiding the damages from global warming, including stronger storms, floods, and droughts.
  • Excluding from their analyses important parts of the proposed policies designed to limit the costs.
  • Hiding the fact that even their worst-case scenarios actually show robust economic growth for the US economy under a carbon cap, with most analyses showing imperceptible shifts from business as usual trends over the long term. 

What's a more realistic picture?  Limits on global warming pollution won't go into effect until 2012. That means there will be no impact on energy prices while we're in the depths of the recession -- zero impact in 2009; zero impact in 2010; zero impact in 2011. In 2012 energy price increases would average less than 5 percent and total household energy costs -- including heating fuels, electricity, and gasoline -- would increase by about the cost of a small pack of gum per day according to the most credible and up-to-date government analysis of a similar proposal offered last year. That analysis did not fully account for the opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of our homes, businesses and transportation system. With smart incentives to invest in energy efficiency upgrades, such as those in the Waxman-Markey proposal (which no one has had time to directly analyze yet), consumers can quickly cut their energy use by at least 10 percent, resulting in a net reduction in their energy bills.  Even bigger savings -- 30 percent or more -- can be made as they replace obsolete appliances and inefficient vehicles with state-of-the-art models. So efficiency investments can lower energy bills in the short run and translate into big savings down the road. 

Energy and Transportation Costs figure

Even in the worst-case scenarios peddled by opponents of limits on global warming pollution the economy, personal income, jobs, and other key economic indicators all grow robustly under a cap and trade bill. In fact, the economist behind a study sponsored by National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) acknowledged that climate legislation would delay the GDP increase we can otherwise expect by 2050 by a mere three months. 

What's even better news is that comprehensive energy and climate legislation will create and protect millions of good paying "green" jobs across the nation -- insulating homes, installing solar energy systems, manufacturing batteries for hybrid cars, and building wind farms, among other occupations -- helping restore our economy to full employment more rapidly than would traditional energy investments. That's because for every million dollars spent on clean energy three to four times as many jobs are created than if the same amount of money was spent on fossil fuels. Clean energy development employs more people to build, deliver and install equipment, and these paychecks go into their pockets instead of coal and oil company coffers. 

The long-term benefits will also be profound: sustainable growth, greater security, and a cleaner, more stable environment for all of us and our children to enjoy.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.