For Most Voters Cap And Trade Is Misunderstood And Unimportant

Yet Cap and Trade Is Central Issue in Senate Race

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Bridgeport Harbor Generating Station.
Photo:Roger Smith, Courtesy Clean Water Action
For Most Voters Cap And Trade Is Misunderstood And Unimportant
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For Most Voters Cap And Trade Is Misunderstood And Unimportant
Ask the average person what ‘cap and trade’ is and most people would have a tough time explaining it. But the policy to reduce global warming emissions has become a pivotal point in many political contests this fall, including the Senate race in Connecticut. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports.
 
Cap and trade is a market-based method used to control air pollution. Starting in 1990, under Republican President George H.W. Bush, cap and trade cut sulphur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain.
 
“It was hugely successful. It was able to reduce pollution far quicker than anyone anticipated at a far lower price than anyone had estimated.”
 
That’s Anthony Leiserowitz from the Yale Center on Climate Change Communication. He says that success led people to think about using the same approach to reduce global warming. The government would set an overall cap on greenhouse gas emissions and would lower the cap over time. Companies would pay for every ton of carbon dioxide they release into the atmosphere. Firms that pollute less could “trade” or sell the right to pollute to those that pollute more. The idea is to let the market drive the costs of reducing climate change
 
But conservative candidates from Delaware to Alaska have been attacking those who supported a 2009 cap and trade bill passed by the House.
 
“We don’t need a National Energy Tax”
 
That’s Connecticut’s Republican senate candidate, Linda McMahon in a radio ad. She refers to cap and trade as an energy tax.
 
“it will cost the average Connecticut family nearly $1000 more every year for electricity...”
 
McMahon’s nearly $1000 per family figure comes from a study by the conservative Heritage Foundation which calculated cap and trade would cost households $927 a year. The Congressional Budget Office came up with a different number: $175 dollars annually.
 
McMahon declined to be interviewed for this story. Here’s more of her radio advertisement:
 
“And where is Dick Blumenthal on the national energy tax? He lobbied for it."
 
At a recent press conference, a reporter asked Democratic challenger Richard Blumenthal about the truthfulness of McMahon’s ads.
 
“Has she been lying about you in her campaign advertising and what lies has she told?"
 
“Well to give you one example, to claim that I support national energy false is just plain false, it’s based on phony numbers from a right wing think tank designed to scare people and protect the special energy interest I have fought.”
 
But what about the Attorney General’s position on the cap and trade bill passed by the House in 2009?
 
“The cap and trade bill died in the last Congress. It’s not coming back. I supported, let me be very clear, a House bill that incorporated a concept known as cap and trade. I advocated changes and improvements for Connecticut's sake to make it better, but it is now dead.”
 
“This policy cap and trade has become a political litmus test in this election.
 
Anthony Leiserowitz from Yale says supporters of cap and trade legislation did a lousy job helping Americans understand the policy.
 
“That has left a vacuum whereby the opponents of the bill thereby rushed in and immediately branded it as a 'cap and tax bill' and have been now using it ever since to flog their political opponents.”
 
But capping and trading greenhouse gasses is nothing new in Connecticut and in nine other states in the region. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an agreement signed by Connecticut’s Republican Governor, requires electric power generators to pay for every ton of greenhouse gas they release into the atmosphere. The price is set at an auction. Since 2008, Connecticut has earned $42 million from the carbon auctions. Nearly $30 million of which went to programs to increase energy efficiency in the state. About $10 million went to renewable energy. Both investments create or maintain jobs.
 
But what is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative costing Connecticut households? According to RGGI Inc—on average $1.12 a month or about $13 a year. Richard Blumenthal says RGGI is good for the state.
 
“My opponent is apparently unaware of the RGGI cap and trade program, which actually has yielded some very important benefits for CT.”
 
Despite all the talk about cap and trade for most people it’s not a top priority, according to a study this year by the Pew Research Center. Concerns about jobs and economy top the list. Global warming is at the bottom.
 
For WNPR, I’m Nancy Cohen.