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Is Cap and Trade Needed?

Cap-and-trade has derailed political discussions and political action regarding environmental and energy policy, and as a result, the necessity of a cap-and-trade policy has been questioned.

Simply stated, the answer is fairly straight-forward: cap-and-trade is ineffective in the short-term, at least in the United States, yet critical for long-term emission reduction and responsible energy policy. Negotiations over a cap-and-trade bill in the Senate collapsed in April 2010, leaving a void in environmental policy with responsible energy management legislation.

Interestingly enough, even without a cap-and-trade policy established, U.S. carbon emissions continued to drop. Since 2006, the United States has cut its carbon-dioxide emissions by 7.7 percent, which is comparable to what Europe is achieving under its cap-and-trade system.

Further, a new report from Resources for the Future (RFF) suggests the United States is on pace to cut greenhouse-gas emissions even more by 2020 than would have been the case if Congress’ climate bill had passed into law. Additionally, the analysis shows the pledge made by President Obama to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is on track, with the RFF estimate for emission cuts at 16.3 percent. This analysis shows short-term measures to cut emissions which have been implemented without a climate bill from Congress have worked, yet it is difficult to see how those cuts will continue over the long run.

Had Congress passed the climate bill on the table in 2010, many of the initiatives and subsequent successful results would not have happened, primarily due to the proposed plan to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act. Also, the bill would have preempted California’s cap-and-trade program, along with negating the fuel-economy standards implemented by President Obama.

Ultimately, the United States is on pace to meet its short-term 2020 emissions goals, despite no federal cap-and-trade policy.

However, without a strong cap on emissions, those cuts aren’t assured.

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