AEI scholar celebrates the success of the Clean Air Act’s acid rain cap-and-trade program — without acknowledging its existence

Here’s an emerging conservative disinformation strategy:   Tout the pollution reduced by science-based EPA cap-and-trade programs, but don’t give any credit to science, EPA, or cap-and-trade.

The latest right-winger to push this meme is Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute.  Back in 2009, he wrote “The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.”  Hayward’s brain isn’t flat-lining here — it’s working over-time in some Bizarro universe.

NRDC’s David Doniger has the amazing story in this Switchboard repost:

For Earth Day, Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute posted this shocker:  “Energy Fact of the Week: Sulfur Dioxide Emissions from Coal Have Declined 54 Percent.”  He includes some nice government charts, which I’m sure he won’t mind my reproducing below.

But from Hayward’s blog, you’d think this happened by itself!

The chief causes of this decline are technology””cost-effective “scrubbers” to remove sulfur dioxide from the waste stream””and resource substitution: we started using much more low-sulfur coal from the western United States.

No mention of the Clean Air Act’s acid rain program – the limits on sulfur dioxide emissions established in the 1990 Clean Air Act.  Without the Clean Air Act’s pollution limits, this scrubber technology and switch to lower-sulfur coal would never have happened.  Why install pollution controls or use cleaner fuels if you can dump all your pollution in the atmosphere for free?

Who could doubt this?  Well, Hayward just slyly omits to mention the role of the Clean Air Act.  But the good folks at the Heritage Foundation go farther, suggesting that the magic happens despite the Clean Air Act.  See my colleague Laurie Johnson’s take-down of this nonsense here.

Let’s not forget, on this hyper-partisan Earth Day 2011, that the acid rain curbs were proposed in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush and adopted by Congress the next year with broad bipartisan support.

And this was – dare I say it – the world-premiere “cap and trade” program!  Proposed by Republicans!  Enacted by both parties!  Carried out without a hitch by Republican and Democratic presidents, at a fraction of the predicted cost!

Hey, maybe we could use this cool idea to curb the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving global warming!

Oh, never mind.



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6 Responses to AEI scholar celebrates the success of the Clean Air Act’s acid rain cap-and-trade program — without acknowledging its existence

  1. John Hollenberg says:


    Looks like a wrong word here:

    “Tout the pollution produced by science-based EPA cap-and-trade programs”

    Shouldn’t that be “pollution reduced”?

  2. caerbannog says:

    “AEI Scholar”?

    Is that like “jumbo shrimp”? Or “plastic glasses”? Or “military intelligence”? How about “academic fraternity”? Or “clean coal”?

  3. Nick says:

    He’s also claiming this over at NYTimes:

    “…increasing partisanship and bad faith of the environmental movement is now the chief obstacle to sensible reform of the Endangered Species Act and other antique environmental statutes.”

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    As Paul Krugman recently observed, there’s not much thinking going on at those tanks. The extent to which these propaganda outlets continue to received deference from the press is unfortunate.

  5. Anne says:

    Revisionist history is in vogue now. What worries me is that one large faction of our culture has given unspoken license to others to engage in revisionist history, to simply alter the facts, distort them, lie by omission, and then, get away with it. This practice is nothing less than petty fact theft, which, taken together, amounts to grand larceny. The problem is, so few of us are there to call out these cheats and expose them: we have actual full – time paying jobs that don’t allow such “luxuries.” And yet, we manage to make the time to point our collective fingers at the total jerks who take it upon themselves to spread lies and deceit, thinking they can pull one over on the rest of us. I for one, have no tolerance for this BS and will do my best, in spare moments, to call them on their sh#t, because, that’s what it is: one huge dung pile.

  6. I think it is important here to understand that there are important differences between the cap and trade used to drive down acid rain and some of the other cap and trade systems. Firstly, the acid rain system was a cap and trade system. Wikapedia ( says: “As an incentive for reducing emissions, for each ton of sulfur dioxide reduced below the applicable emissions limit, owners of a generating unit received an emissions allowance they could use at another unit, keep for future use, or sell. This legitimized a market for sulfur dioxide emissions allowances, administered by the Chicago Board of Trade.[5] Units that installed flue gas desulfurization equipment (e.g., scrubbers) or other “qualifying Phase I technology” which reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 90%, qualified for a two-year extension of the 1995 deadline, provided they owned allowances to cover their total actual emissions for each year of the extension period.” This system generates no revenue for governments.
    This is very different than some other programs where governments SELL permits. These systems are defacto taxes. The price increases associated with this type of system have to be much higher because the price increases have to take account of the tax in addition to the actual cost of clean-up.
    Secondly, there was always plenty of low sulfur coal available so the target could always be met. The cap and trade simply allowed various generators to use different strategies. It also encouraged generators installing scrubbers to scrub more then the minimum required to meet target for the sake of trade-able allowances.
    It is a bit more tricky where investment is required to meet targets. The value of trade-able allowances will vary enormously depending whether investors have over or under estimated demand. Not desirable when investors in things like clean energy take years years to recover capital expenditure.
    Might be useful Joe to run an article comparing the acid rain cap and trade with proposals for reducing greenhouse gases.