Ben Nelsons strange stance on cap and trade

A guest repost from the Wonk Room‘s Brad Johnson.

There seems to be something about climate policy that encourages senators to take positions that are logically impossible. In the latest instance, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has now managed to simultaneously oppose and support a carbon command-and-control regime. Nelson is one of three Democrats to co-sponsor Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) resolution overturning the EPA’s greenhouse gas endangerment finding, supposedly because “EPA regulations would be a government-directed command-and-control regime”:

I am very concerned about the impact on Nebraska if EPA moves to regulate carbon emissions. Many Nebraska agricultural, industrial and energy-related businesses and organizations have warned about the costs they would have to shoulder from EPA regulations. Because EPA regulations would be a government-directed command-and-control regime, they would raise the price of energy in Nebraska, add greatly to administrative costs, and create new layers of bureaucracy. The burden would fall squarely on Nebraska families, farmers and businesses.

The EPA’s rules will function as a soft cap on large emitters of global warming pollution, most of whom are already covered by Clean Air Act permits for traditional pollution. No new layers of bureaucracy will be created. However, the cost of fossil-based energy would slowly rise. Because it would be legally difficult for the EPA to establish an emissions trading system, companies could not use market means to mitigate those costs.

The ability of trading markets to reduce compliance costs for pollution reduction is the key selling point of a Congressionally established cap-and-trade market as opposed to a command-and-control regime. However, Nelson has also indicated he opposes a cap-and-trade system:

Nelson said he has not had detailed conversations yet with Kerry, Graham and Lieberman. But he said he is open to negotiations on setting a limit on greenhouse gas emissions. “I want to see what the legislation does,” he said. “I said I can support cap. I have trouble with cap and trade, the trade part of it. So if it’s cap and trade, watered down, and it’s only the trade watered down, that won’t satisfy me.”

A cap without “trade” is by definition a command-and-control regime “” which Nelson has said he opposes on economic grounds. But he claims to oppose a cap with “trade” on populist grounds. In short, he’s using logically inconsistent excuses to block both executive branch and legislative branch action on global warming.

Nelson may be trying to pander to polls, which show that the phrase “cap and trade” is unpopular by comparison to Americans’ desire for the government to regulate polluters and support clean energy investment. Or maybe he’s pandering to his corporate polluter donors, who need senators like Nelson to maintain the Bush-Cheney status quo.

JR:  Is it possible to have a cap without the trade that isn’t command-and-control? Maybe.  I’m working on just such an idea.  I”ll report when it is fully baked!

9 Responses to Ben Nelsons strange stance on cap and trade

  1. general Mackie says:

    Stop acting like a Democrat Nelson. You are one. You can contradict yourself and common sense.

  2. fj1 says:

    Somewhat on subject from Davos, Switzerland NYT columnist Thomas Friedman addresses the broken political environment in his Jan 30, 2010 piece “Never Heard Before”.

    “I heard of a phrase being bandied about here by non-Americans — about the United States — that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before: “political instability.”

  3. Leif says:

    They don’t like command & control. They don’t like carbon tax. They don’t like raising taxes to build mitigating infrastructure. They refuse to look at the science that describes deep do-do in near term without drastic mitigation response soon. Sigh!

    Well Senator Nelson, I guess we had just better learn to love the Door Step of Doom because you are blocking all exit roads for you and yours and me and mine. I sure hope I can do something nice for you someday.

  4. WAG says:

    I think this is a problem of messaging – most of the public doesn’t understand that cap and trade is actually a free market solution, because no one’s done a good job of explaining what it does. And Republicans have effectively filled the void with rhetoric of “cap and tax”. Maybe Nelson has been confused – he thinks the cap is good, but the “trade” part is the tax that Republicans talk about. So it’s been a problem of messaging.

    But it’s also an opportunity. I think the right way to talk about the issue is to frame it as the moderate solution to a given problem. “Look, we’ve got to do something about greenhouse gases and to create clean energy jobs. The Republican approach is to do nothing, but we all know the status quo is untenable. The traditional liberal approach is command-and-control regulation, but that’s costly for businesses because there’s no flexibility in how they reduce their emissions. But there’s a third way that relies on the power of free markets, and it’s called cap-and-trade. All the government does is set broad goals for how much CO2 we ought to emit, and then it’s up to businesses to figure out exactly how they’re going to reduce their CO2.”

  5. Leif says:

    Enter Robin Hood. Sen. Nelson. Just how can you justify the continued obscene profits generated from world natural resources going into the pockets of a select few at the expense of the many. Then when the “Many” want to clean up results of that pillage? You block all responses! One is left to conclude that you are a “bought and paid for” shill for said industry. So how about a “revenue neutral” carbon tax that is returned to the consumer in total to allow humanity to build infrastructure to ween ourselves off destructive energy production and on to green energy production. Those very same “BIG GUYS” will surely get a big piece of the pie given there standing with you and your cronies. The American economy will benefit with a influx of cash. The consumers will benefit with lower energy bills thru efficiency savings even though price per BTU might be higher. Money becomes available for “recycling” within the very communities you report to want to help but in reality doom to satisfy your personal greed. Admittedly there would be less for your pockets but hay, take a hit for humanity. It is not like you will starve to death. Unlike the out come for millions of others your actions guarantee.
    Humanity first, status quo, NO!

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    This stale “command and control” epithet is a leftover from the cold war. It is also hypocritical and applied using a double standard.

    It takes only a few seconds scrutiny of large corporations to see that they are sector-specific “command and control” economies, with all the benefits and warts accruing thereby. We are supposed to accept that it is good for us to permit massive, privatized “command and control” entities whose successes we enjoy along with the suffering their failures cause. At the same time, where profit incentives fail but necessary work is still required, we citizens working through our government are not permitted the same organizational tools.

    Why is that?

  7. mike roddy says:

    Great photo of Senator Nelson- that face and his $60 haircut make for a powerful combination.

    Seeing how our Senators peform confirms my notion that it’s the people who are going to have to awaken- it’s not as if we haven’t elected great leaders before in our history. How this is going to be accomplished is a mystery.

  8. Donald B says:

    Let’s just face it: Senator Nelson is neither a Democrat or a Republican; he is an extortionist and he is just setting up his next caper! Someone had better send him a message that if healthcare and climate change bils don’t pass, there will be NO money for Nebraska.

  9. Nebraskan says:

    Nelson’s contradictory comments may seem illogical. But once you realize that this “cap but no trade” idea comes directly from MidAmerican Energy which is controlled by Berkshire-Hathaway, it makes a little more sense. Relatively speaking.