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Cap 'n' trade nonsense

Both sides of Congress are at it again. The obfuscation is incredible. There is a rule in politics, when you want to do one thing, call it something else. Put what you don’t want in the title, that way the difficult part is out of the way and you can bury what you really want in the 1,000 pages to follow.

You want a complicated regulation bill to stop the excesses of the medical industry (lead by insurance companies’ monopolies)? Why not call it a Health Bill (one that never actually promotes health just regulates what happens when you are not healthy)?

 Now they are trying to tackle the environmental crisis by calling it a Cap ‘n’ Trade Bill. What they are really doing is setting up a barter system for polluters and less-polluters via exchanges run by the money boys (again). The concept is this: the polluters will have to pay money to the less-polluters in order to be able to stay in business.

The idea is simple: if you make something, like raw aluminum, you consume mega-watt-hours of electricity, you give off tons of noxious gases and all your equipment is mega-huge; consuming diesel, tires, and so on.

Now, if you are assessed as a polluter (which you are), you need “credits” to avoid a fine from the government; a fine levied for the good health of the nation. Next door, there is a manufacturer making bamboo picnic-ware. Bamboo is a sustainable product and all they do is wet it and press it into plates. Very enviro-friendly. They get assessed as less-polluters and are given credits. They can sell those credits.

You get the idea. America is good at setting up exchanges, barter systems (sometimes money hog futures, sometimes shares swapped in a buy-out, sometimes stock futures). You know the guys who are expert at this don’t you? Yep, Wall Street and the Mercantile Exchange. And what do they do? They take a cut. That raises the price of course, but environmental pollution could be big business for the money boys and, under Bush and now resurrected under Obama, they are not going to allow a good dollar deal to die.

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The Republicans are suddenly up in arms. Why? It was their plan first. Seems that Obama’s folks tweaked it a bit away from the all-out cash cow planned before into something that might, I say might, actually start to do some good.

So, what do the Republicans call their modified cap ‘n’ trade deal now? A tax. That worst of all words in America, the one that gets Palin and cohorts on the stump. A spokesperson, “A government policy that raises revenue by deliberately raising the cost of a particular good (i.e. energy) is a tax.” Well, no it’s not, but if you hate something slipping past you, call it a tax, doesn’t matter if it is not a tax, just call it that.

On the other hand, Democrats are being disingenuous here too. There will be government cost in assessing polluters and that will raise costs, so somewhere down the line there will be a cost to the taxpayer — more expensive aluminum for starters.

The Democrats argument is that cap ‘n trade will result in a cost saving (disease from pollution, better national health, actually not dying, and so forth) and that is undoubtedly true if  cap ‘n trade actually achieves anything other than robbing Peter to pay Paul.

But you see, that bamboo plate manufacturer is not making any changes to his plant and, in the end, neither is the aluminum manufacturer. They are sort of balancing out their activities already, with cap ‘n trade all they will be doing is bookkeeping (and making the handling agent of those credits richer).

And there is another issue. If you want to close American industry quickly and put hundreds of thousands out of work, put in a Cap ‘n’ Trade Bill without first closing the tax incentive to export factories and without putting import tariffs on all imported goods. China won’t be part of cap ‘n trade, nor will India, Germany or Mexico. It will be easier to ship that whole aluminum plant to Mexico than to pay for the credits needed. So, as long as we have tax incentives to export our manufacturing plants and no tariffs on imported goods, the Cap ‘n’ Trade Bill could destroy what industry we have left.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you want to stop pollution, tackle pollution head on. There is no easy fix with slight-of-hand bartering. Aluminum requires vast amounts of energy for manufacture. If we don’t like that, find a green alternative.

If we do like aluminum, then find the technology not to pollute as much, make a difference to the plant, not merely shifting “credits” around and leaving the country — and the planet — no better off than it was.

The writer lives in New Mexico and writes on regional, national and international issues.

‘Many public-school children seem to know only two dates: 1492 and 4th of July; and as a rule they don’t know what happened on either occasion.’

— Mark Twain

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