Hiltenburg: Drop cap and trade, push cooperation

September 24, 2009

Have you noticed that with the firestorm raging about health care, the news about cap-and-trade legislation seems to be relegated to the back burner? Well, maybe yes and no.

“It seems that thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007), the EPA (Lisa Jackson, administrator) has authority to issue its own regulations on carbon dioxide” (“Cap-and-Trade Is Dead. Long Live Cap-and-Trade,” by Patrick J. Michaels, posted at

So, while a fire is burning at the front door, is our federal government planning to raid our wallets through the back door? The cap-and-trade approach to global warming is the typical sledgehammer application of problem-solving used by Congress and now by our new president.

President Barack Obama speaks well when he says that we should be good stewards of our environment. But he is totally wrong to try accomplishing it by implementing an economically defeating tax on all Americans. He is honest to his campaigning words that he would send into bankruptcy any power company or association that would dare to build another coal-fired power plant.

Clean coal projects have been under way for decades. This includes great progress in cleaning up the output of smoke stacks, but to my knowledge, only marginal progress to the desired end of reducing CO2. Of course, the relative importance might depend on who is measuring it, and its true relation to global warming.

I worked in the gas and electric utility industry for almost 35 years, plus two summers and one Christmas vacation with our local electric cooperative. From the inside view, I always saw and experienced a desire of my utilities to be responsible citizens. To me, it seems logical that government and industry should work cooperatively together. Yet, it is possible that what cannot pass through Congress will be accomplished by the EPA, a forced equivalent of cap and trade.

It took my power company 10 years from the permitting phase, through construction, to operations in order to build a nuclear power plant. This process included dealing with regulatory agencies (EPA, nuclear, and state). Regulatory overreaction to Three Mile Island contributed to that. From what I have read, no human suffered any damage from that accident. The greatest impact of Three Mile Island was to the stockholders. Still, nuclear power plants are the world’s greatest power-producing technology to be in harmony with our planet.

France, Japan and others are blazing the path on nuclear plant progress. My memory is that Japan builds its plants in five years. Doesn’t it seem like government and industry, while setting challenging goals, should work together? The president should put away his sledgehammer.

Obama should tell Jackson to come up with a jointly developed plan that will serve all American interests, to devise a plan that will speed the development of new nuclear plants in the future, offer tax incentives to clean up the use of coal and use “green” energy where it is economical to do so.

Then bring the result back in the daylight to Congress for enactment.