The Hill’s blog has a post, “Why kill cap-and-trade? Because it’s there.”

The NYT’s John Broder had a piece, ” ‘Cap and Trade’ Loses Its Standing as Energy Policy of Choice.”

CBS reports of the forthcoming Graham, Kerry and Lieberman bill, “notably missing from it will likely be the cap-and-trade system that had not long ago been expected to be the centerpiece of any legislation.”

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Peter Barnes comments on my blog, “If cap-and-trade is politically dead, why not try some version of cap-and-dividend?”

Two points.  First, the bipartisan bill will have a cap. And it appears almost certain it will have a trading system.  But such is the world we live in that this isn’t cap-and-trade.

I’ve said many times it is crazy from a communications perspective to build your core message around a process — “cap-and-trade” [or health care reform] — rather than an outcome, like clean air or clean energy jobs.  If it needs a name, let’s call it “puppy.”  We can call cap-and-dividend “baby seal,” since it has a cap and a trading system, too.

Second, conventional wisdom says we probably won’t get a climate bill this year, whatever it is called.  But that’s not because of “cap-and-trade.”  As Harvard economist Robert Stavins explains in “Who Killed Cap-and-Trade?“:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.


A Rapid Descent From Politically Correct to Politically Anathema

Among factors causing this change were:  the economic recession; the financial crisis (linked, in part, with real and perceived abuses in financial markets) which thereby caused great suspicion about markets in general and in particular about trading in intangible assets such as emission allowances; and the complex nature of the Waxman-Markey legislation (which is mainly not about cap-and-trade, butvarious regulatory approaches).

But the most important factor — by far — which led to the change from politically correct to politically anathema was the simple fact that cap-and-trade was the approach that was receiving the most serious consideration, indeed the approach that had been passed by one of the houses of Congress.  This brought not only great scrutiny of the approach, but — more important — it meant that all of the hostility to action on climate change, mainly but not exclusively from Republicans and coal-state Democrats, was targeted at the policy du jour — cap-and-trade.

The same fate would have befallen any front-running climate policy.

Does anyone really believe that if a carbon tax had been the major policy being considered in the House and Senate that it would have received a more favorable rating from climate-action skeptics on the right?  If there’s any doubt about that, take note that Republicans in the Congress were unified and successful in demonizing cap-and-trade as “cap-and-tax.”

Likewise, if a multi-faceted regulatory approach (that would have been vastly more costly for what would be achieved) had been the policy under consideration, would it have garnered greater political support?  Of course not.  If there is doubt about that, just observe the solid Republican Congressional hostility (and some announced Democratic opposition) to the CO2 regulatory pathway that EPA has announced under its endangerment finding in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA….

In general, any climate policy approach — if it was meaningful in its objectives and had any chance of being enacted — would have become the prime target of political skepticism and scorn.  This has been the fate of cap-and-trade over the past nine months.


The notion that cap-and-dividend … I mean, baby seal … is somehow intrinsically more palatable to the opposition than, say, puppies is nonsense.  The point is they are both cute animals, and conservatives don’t like cute animals because they stand in the way of unrestricted pollution and our continued addiction to fossil fuels.  Why do you think they want to off the polar bears?  (see “Palin’s axis of evil animals: Beluga whales join polar bears and wolf cubs“).

I mean, look at the Tea Partiers, the source of the sign above.  Obama is being attack as an anarchist and/or socialist for supporting a market-based approach to reducing pollution first advanced and signed into law by President George W. Bush’s father!

What’s most pathetic — and, I think, missing from some of the analysis on the death of “cap-and-trade” — is that most everybody in the media and political establishment is quite convinced the issue is a political loser when the recent polls say otherwise:

That’s true even if you ask them directly about the dreaded “cap-and-trade” (from January):

poll 2010

The public still supports strong action to regulate greenhouse gas pollutions and promote clean energy jobs.  They love puppies and kittens:

From what you've read and heard, in general, do you favor or  oppose setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions and making companies  pay for their emissions, even if it may mean higher energy prices?

I’m not saying the messaging failure is the sole reason the conventional wisdom has declared a climate bill all but dead.  But when the high level messaging by leading politicians is so bad, it simply becomes impossible to disentangle the contribution of bad messaging from other factors, like the bad economy or, say, different policy choices.

Related Posts:

See also Kate Sheppard’s MJ post, “Cap and Trade is Dead. Long Live Cap and Trade!”


Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.