How is Cap’n Trade’s brand faring? The Jon Stewart barometer

Cap'n TradeThere’s been some good discussion of the pros and cons of the Waxman-Markey ACES bill at Ethan’s recent post criticizing cap-and-trade.  One commenter worries that , whether or not the bill would ultimately succeed in reducing greenhouse emissions, the public perception of ACES is that it’s a corporate giveaway, which harms all efforts for environmental regulation.  Red Desert writes, “Voters they see a bill like W-M handing out billions to industries–like finance–with powerful lobbies. All this after the big bank bailouts. Deal making may make sense politically in DC to pass legislation, but I think it increasingly disillusions the public at large. Ultimately, this could be a political setback for the environmental movement.”

For a very funny (warning: & very ribald) look at how the Jon Stewart crowd views Waxman-Markey, see this 2-minute clip on “Cap’n Trade”‘s painful journey through the House, aired Tuesday on The Daily Show.  I’d say it supports Red Desert’s fears about public perception.  But Energy Secretary Chu, Stewart’s guest that night, then went on to give an eloquent defense of why the bill is important, even if imperfect.  Here’s a clip of his interview; the ACES discussion runs from about 1:25 to 2:35.  (See also a terrific discussion of cool roofs (which I wrote about here) from 6:40 onward.  Note that Hulu requires you to watch a 15-second ad before this clip plays.)

One of the charges Stewart makes against the bill, and one that is frequently made, criticizes its inclusion of a large (but declining) number of free allowances to industry, rather than a 100% auction.  The best analysis I’ve yet read of why this should neither be seen as a massive corporate giveaway nor as a serious threat to the environmental aims of the bill is here, by Harvard’s sometimes controversial Robert Stavins.  Dan Farber also has a great discussion on this topic here, with insightful comments.  The regulatory watering-down bothers me much more than the free allowances–but then I watch Secretary Chu, cross my fingers, and think how much worse waiting would be.  “Strengthen and pass” is still my go-to phrase.

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Reader Comments

One Reply to “How is Cap’n Trade’s brand faring? The Jon Stewart barometer”

  1. Excellent post Cara (you had me at “Ethan”). My biggest concern with W-M at this point is less the weakness of cap-and-trade as a policy solution and more the express preemption of EPA regulatory efforts. Ann’s post on this topic ( highlighted the excellent policy options for reducing GHG emissions that exist without federal action on W-M. Unfortunately, at least two of these (EPA and state cap-and-trade efforts), are preempted by W-M (albeit temporarily in the case of state cap-and-trade). Holly’s paper on this topic that Ann linked to ( for those who can acccess it) highlights the critical role that EPA can play in forcing states to reduce GHG emissions. Losing this weapon will be a huge blow. Meanwhile, Sec Chu commented on the Daily Show that cap-and-trade is great because it sets a price signal on carbon. But this can be effectively accomplished through command-and-control regulation, or even better through a carbon tax. Forget worrying that W-M could be a setback to the environmental movement — in its current form, it is likely to be a setback in the fight to reduce GHG emissions. Congress is simply ill-equipped to tackle this problem.

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About Cara

Cara Horowitz is the co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law. The Emmett Institute was founded as the f…

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