R.I.P., Cap-and-Trade?

Prospects for the revival of cap-and-trade legislation in the upcoming Congress as a tonic for global climate change appear to be going up in smoke.

Democrats anticipate that some package addressing greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s coal-fueled power plants will likely emerge next session. But getting any proposal through the Republican-controlled House is dubious and it’s extremely unlikely that lawmakers will specifically reconsider cap-and-trade.

“Cap-and-trade may reappear in the House of Representatives but it has no chance of passing,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), prime sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2010, which came within an eyelash of being enacted, acknowledged that the form of any legislation looking to tackle climate change remains unclear.

“We have an obligation to our children and future generations to cut our carbon pollution to address this serious issue,” Waxman said. “I am receptive to any approach that can get the job done although I think market-based approaches can be the most effective. I will continue to offer to work with Republicans and Democrats in 2013 in hope that we might still be able to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Cap-and-trade, which carries the support of President Obama, represents an effort to limit the emissions of the greenhouse gases from power plants. More than 97 percent of the world’s climate researchers believe global warming is both real and man-made, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Under the plan, the federal government determines an appropriate amount of emissions that can be released and issues permits – also known as carbon credits -- to each plant setting a cap on the amount of pollutants they can emit.

In some instances it’s anticipated that some plants won’t be able to meet the government-established pollution limits. Those power generators would then have to purchase – or trade for -- permits from other plants that come in under their caps.

In effect, under cap-and-trade, those plants that exceed their allowances are punished financially while those who successfully reduce their emissions are rewarded through the sale of its permits.

Obama proposed funding a cap-and-trade initiative in his 2010 budget. The legislation creating such a system, sponsored by Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), passed the House in 2009 while the chamber was still under Democratic control. But it stalled in a Senate that, despite a Democratic majority, couldn’t withstand a Republican filibuster. Led by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose state, it often is said, runs on coal, the GOP successfully resisted.

Now, the Democratic margin in the Senate has shrunk and Republicans have assumed control in the lower chamber. What’s more, the chairmen of the two House panels that would have jurisdiction over cap-and-trade – Rep. Fred Upton, (R-Mich.) of the Energy & Commerce Committee, and Rep. Doc Hastings, (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee -- are vocal opponents.