CBSs Declan McCullagh promotes another fossil-fuel-funded, falsehood-filled CEI attack on clean energy reform

You’d think the serious media (and politicians) would treat with some skepticism the disinformation issued regularly by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which runs fossil-fuel-funded, falsehood-filled ad campaigns aimed at destroying the climate for centuries. But as Brad Johnson shows in this Wonk Room piece, the pathological disinformers of CEI are still treated as if they had the credibility of, say, a CSI pathologist.

According to Declan McCullagh, a libertarian blogger who works for CBS Interactive, secret Obama administration documents reveal that the cost of clean energy cap-and-trade legislation would be $1,761 per household “” despite official estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Energy Information Administration of about a postage stamp a day [see summaries and links below]. Based on Treasury Department documents acquired by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), McCullagh claims that “a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent”:

The Obama administration has privately concluded that a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent. A previously unreleased analysis prepared by the U.S. Department of Treasury says the total in new taxes would be between $100 billion to $200 billion a year. At the upper end of the administration’s estimate, the cost per American household would be an extra $1,761 a year.

This is pure twaddle. McCullagh is confabulating a “disclosure” out of whole cloth:

Obama’s Plan Would Have Established Tax Cuts For Working Families. In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a green economy plan that would create a $100 to $200 billion carbon market and use the money raised from polluters for middle class tax cuts.

Congress Did Not Adopt President Obama’s Plan. The Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) is comprehensive clean energy legislation, coupling the carbon market with national renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Unlike Obama’s plan, the ACES Act would establish a more limited carbon market, distribute most permits for free to polluting industry, with provisions that compel utilities to pass along their value to ratepayers, and provide further assistance for low-income consumers. One can’t use an analysis of Obama’s proposal to calculate the economic benefits of the legislation now being considered.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act Builds A Clean Economy For A Postage Stamp A Day. The EPA estimates a net cost of about $100 per household per year, which would be fully offset for lower-income consumers. The Congressional Budget Office “” which did not consider the energy efficiency measures or the cost of inaction “” determined “that the net annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion””or about $175 per household.”

The American Clean Energy and Security Act Cuts Electricity Bills And Dependence On Foreign Oil. The EPA has found that Waxman-Markey cuts household electricity bills by seven percent by 2020. The EIA found the legislation would save Americans $5,600 per household in reduced dependence on foreign oil.

To come up with false claim that Obama’s plan was “the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent,” McCullagh ignored where the money would come from “” polluting industries with billions of dollars in annual profits “” and where the money would go “” tax cuts for working people.


In reality, President Obama’s proposal would have amounted to tax cuts worth hundreds of dollars for working families, with the added benefits of greatly reduced dependence on toxic oil and coal, billions of dollars of investment in clean energy, and the avoidance of catastrophic climate change.

McCullagh argues that his so-called “disclosures” will “probably not aid the political prospects of the Democrats’ cap and trade bill,” and quotes CEI’s Chris Horner: “It’s nice to see they’re not spinning each other behind closed doors.” Horner, who filed the FOIA request, runs global warming denial blogs for CEI and the National Review. In June, McCullagh breathlessly promoted CEI’s other “scandal” of a global warming denier economist who works for the EPA.

Opponents of clean energy reform are inflating the costs of action by 1,000 percent, while minimizing that the threat of climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels. Ironically, these lies may actually aid the political prospects of action, as the American public grow more disgusted with the unethical tactics of polluters and their right-wing allies.

Update: In a phone interview with the Wonk Room, CNet managing editor Jon Skillings explained that on the CNet site, “reporters self-edit” and “are generally expected to be their own fact-checkers.” Promising to follow up with McCullagh, he concluded, “We take our ethics very seriously.”

[JR: CEI is a master of pushing long-debunked denier talking points. You can read all about Horner at He is a master of pushing long-debunked denier talking points, stating as recently as April 2005, “the atmosphere inarguably shows no appreciable warming in the 25-year history of satellite and radiosonde measurements (initiated in response to the cooling panic).” Amazing how “inarguable” denier claims turn out not only to be arguable but scientifically disapprovable “” yet CEI still keeps the long-debunked statement on its website. You can read more debunking at NRDC’s Switchboard. In a correction from Politico’s Ben Smith quotes one expert: “Can you say ‘irrelevant analysis’? The rest of this post is a response from Clean Energy Works.]


There has been a lot of traffic today surrounding an erroneous and completely misleading CBS News report alleging that the administration “privately” concluded that pending Congressional clean energy and climate legislation would cost the average family more than $1,700 per year. I cannot underscore enough how completely incorrect this is. A few points to consider:

  • What this Treasury document actually analyzes: Potential revenues from a hypothetical climate plan that auctions 100 percent of the pollution permits and returns none of the proceeds to consumers or to another public purpose. As a colleague from the Environmental Defense Fund pointed out, the claims repeated by CBS News would only be true if all revenues from a climate plan were simply piled up on the White House lawn and set on fire.
  • What this Treasury document doesn’t analyze: Anything even vaguely resembling the American Clean Energy & Security Act passed by the House or any live clean energy and climate proposals now under discussion in the Senate. Applying this so-called analysis to the climate plans now being debated in Congress would be like applying an analysis of a hypothetical single payer health care bill to the health reform plan now being devised by the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Consider the messenger — Big Oil: This story is being pushed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the organization at the center of global warming denial machine. CEI has received funding from ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and foundations controlled by the Koch brothers. You may recognize Koch Industries and its founders as the money behind Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, and much of the right-wing attack machine that continues to attack clean energy legislation, health care reform, and the rest of President Obama’s agenda. Another group pushing this story, the American Energy Alliance, is also a front group for Big Oil.
  • John Boehner’s Fuzzy Math Machine: Opponents of climate change legislation are now firing up the fuzzy math machine again, dividing a figure representing potential revenues from a hypothetical climate plan by the number of people in the country and concluding that climate legislation will mean high costs for households. Sound familiar? That’s how House Minority Leader John Boehner arrived at his roundly dismissed $3,100 figure. That same $3,100 figure that Boehner and other Republicans continue to cite, despite being repeatedly told it is incorrect and asked to stop using by the very MIT professor who authored the study they purport to cite.

Fortunately, instead of relying on misleading analyses of non-existent proposals pushed by Big Oil and its allies in Congress, we can rely on independent, non-partisan analyses of actual climate proposals before the Congress. All of these actual analyses demonstrate that comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation is affordable. And even more wide-ranging examinations that also consider the benefits of potential legislation show that the potential benefits of clean energy legislation far outweigh the modest costs. Here’s a summary from Progressive Media USA outlining what these independent, non-partisan analyses have concluded:

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that the benefits of Waxman-Markey greatly outweigh the costs. The Journal highlights a new cost-benefit analysis of the House bill by the New York University Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity.

  • The NYU study finds that finds that the benefits outweigh the costs by 9:1 .
  • Based on a middle-of-the road estimate, potential benefits add up to about $1.5 trillion over the next 40 years.

Conservative attacks on the high costs of a clean energy bill are off-base. Analyses of Waxman-Markey consistently show modest costs.

  • The Congressional Budget Office estimates that on average, consumers will face the cost of about the same as a postage stamp per day.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates even lower average costs between $98 and $140 from 2010 through 2050.
  • The Energy Information Administration predicts families could spend up to $114 annually by 2020, or less than $10 per month per household.
  • Low-income consumers would receive $40 per year in 2020.

As the Wall Street Journal points out, the NYU study “doesn’t include extra benefits””cleaner air from a cleaned-up power sector.” Indeed, the analyses above also ignore benefits of climate change legislation, such as savings from reduced energy demand and the creation of clean energy jobs.

  • The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy projects that Americans could save $750 per household by 2020 and $3,900 by 2030.
  • The Alliance to Save Energy estimates that energy efficiency measures alone can create over 100,000 jobs over the next two years and reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 200 million metro tons.
  • Investing $150 billion in clean energy would create around 1.7 million new jobs, which is why the clean energy bill being debated has the support of labor unions .
  • A University of Massachusetts study found that investing in clean energy projects creates three-to-four times more jobs than the same expenditure on the oil industry.