Industry Analysts Who Got Acid Rain Cap & Trade Wrong Now Attacking Obama’s Green Economy Legislation

When the first President Bush tackled acid rain with the Clean Air Act, industry-backed studies got the economic effects of an acid rain cap and trade system totally wrong. Industry analysts insisted electricity prices would skyrocket. Instead, electricity prices dropped. Now, they’re saying the same things about President Obama’s cap & trade program for powering a clean energy recovery:

After an estimated 48 cents per gallon increase in 2020, motor fuels are estimated to increase by 19% (74 cents per gallon) relative to baseline levels. Electricity costs are estimated to increase by 27% (3.6 cents per kWh) relative to baseline level in 2020, rising by 44% (5.8 cents per kWh) in 2025.

In 1989, coal companies and the Edison Electric Institute hired Temple Barker and Sloane, a pro-industry research organization, to conduct an economic analysis of the effects of a cap & trade system on sulphur dioxide (SO2), the main pollutant that causes acid rain.

Their projections proved to be wildly inaccurate. They estimated the acid rain cap & trade program would “cost electric utility ratepayers $5.5 billion annually between enactment and the year 2000, increasing to $7.1 billion per year from 2000–2010.” In fact, electricity prices actually dropped:

Average electric rates dropped from 8.05 cents per kilowatt hour when the Clean Air Act was passed in 1990 (calculated in 2000 dollars) to 7.48 cents per kwh . . . in 1995, to 6.81 cents per kwh . . . in 2000. By 2006, electricity was up slightly to 7.63 cents per kwh (2000 dollars) but still 5 percent less than before the acid rain program began.

What’s more, by 2003, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the acid rain cap & trade program had “the largest quantified human health benefits — over $70 billion annually — of any major federal regulatory program implemented in the last 10 years, with benefits exceeding costs by more than 40:1.” In 2002, The Economist magazine called it “the greatest green success story of the last decade.”


Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has hired CRA International, who has Howard W. Pifer III, founding director of the Energy & Environment Group at Temple, Barker & Sloane, as a senior adviser, to analyze the effects of a cap & trade system for carbon dioxide (CO2). Their analysis makes similar dire projections about the price of electricity. The faulty logic is similar. As Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress explained, these studies “base their cost assumptions on existing technologies and practices, which means that they do not account for the vast potential for innovation once binding reductions and deadlines are set.”

According to Laurie Johnson, chief economist of the Natural Resources Defense Council, their analysis does not consider any efficiency or technological improvements, actually finds the economy would grow 72% by 2030 even with a cap and trade program, and “does not even pretend to model” the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act. Read more of her analysis here.