Congressman Mark Kirk Wrong on Cap-and-Trade

Published July 16, 2009

Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk is expected to announce soon that he will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in the February 20, 2010 primary election. The seat currently is held by appointed Democrat Sen. Roland Burris, who has said he will not seek election.

The Waxman-Markey climate change bill to restrict carbon dioxide emissions will be a key campaign issue in the 2010 Illinois race and across the nation. The bill squeaked through the U.S. House 219-to-212 in June, thanks in part to support from Rep. Kirk.
After being confronted earlier this month at a townhall meeting with constituents who oppose the cap-and-trade scheme embodied in Waxman-Markey, Kirk wrote the following letter attempting to justify his support for the measure.

Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast, author or editor of several publications on climate change, most recently the 880-page Climate Change Reconsidered by S. Fred Singer and Craig Idso, points out the flaws in Kirk’s letter below.


Congressman Kirk’s letter to a constituent:

Dear ____________________ :

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), H.R. 2454.

For 2009, our top goal should be energy independence. I support exploring for energy off our coasts, expanding nuclear power and building a natural gas pipeline across Canada to lower heating costs in the Midwest–an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

As a Navy veteran, I think [it] is time to set America’s policy towards defunding Middle Eastern dictatorships by cutting our foreign oil bill, giving our troops less to worry about. That is why during the debate on the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill, I voted for the Republican Forbes (R-VA) Substitute, based on the text of the New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence, H.R. 513. Our “Manhattan” energy bill set a goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil by 50% in 10 years and 100% in 20 years. The bill cost $24 billion but would eliminate the $400 billion Americans currently spend on foreign oil. Our bill backs solar, wind, hydro, clean coal and nuclear power. It enhances research, especially in nuclear fusion, bio-fuels, carbon-capture systems and efficiency upgrades. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated by a vote of 172 to 255.

While less ideal than the Forbes Substitute, the underlying ACES bill would still lower our dependence on foreign oil by diversifying American energy production. It is time to break the boom and bust cycle of high gas prices and the need to deploy three separate armies to the Middle East (Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom). As you may know, I am a veteran of the Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom missions.

Bast’s Comments: Energy independence is the fool’s gold of politics. It’s impossible to achieve, would be economically devastating if achieved, and would not produce the foreign policy benefits Rep. Kirk imagines. America is “in” the Middle East for many reasons, not just oil. Islamic extremists don’t need billions of dollars in oil revenues to recruit and support suicide bombers, and international trade (even of oil) reduces rather than increases national tendencies toward war.

With regard to the main thrust of the ACES bill, I am also concerned about growing air pollution, both from our country and overseas. I do not think we should ignore this problem. While the ACES bill is overly complicated, I voted in favor of the legislation to address these problems, looking forward to major improvements in the Senate.

In 1998 and 1999, I served as part of the U.S. delegation to both the Kyoto and Buenos Aires UN Climate Change conferences. In those years, there was a significant debate about the amount and effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide. I was a skeptic and spent hundreds of hours on the subject of 1990s climate science. In the Congress, our job is to learn as much as possible from the latest peer-reviewed non-partisan scientists and then plot the best course for our nation.

Bast’s Comments: Rep. Kirk deserves credit if he was a global warming “skeptic” in the late 1990s, but he ought to recognize that the science has advanced considerably since then, and most of it points away from the alarmist position. We now know the warming of the twentieth century doesn’t carry the “fingerprint” of greenhouse-gas warming, that the warming trend effectively stopped around 1998, and that the severe weather, droughts, floods, extinctions, etc. widely predicted to happen in the late 1990s in fact did not occur.

There is now a growing scientific consensus that the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide affects average temperatures. According to the National Academy of Scientists, carbon dioxide levels rose to a high of 290 parts per million 130,000 years ago, causing a 20 degree increase in temperature. As carbon dioxide levels fell, so did average temperatures. Both Presidents Bush and their advisors recognized this long relationship and put forward their own plans to reduce the recent rapid growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, both here and abroad.

Bast’s Comments: There is no scientific consensus that CO2 concentrations cause rising temperature. It is a highly controversial issue, with new estimates of “climate sensitivity” to CO2in the peer-reviewed literature being an order of magnitude less than the level assumed by the IPCC and other purveyors of the so-called consensus. The historical record is very clear: temperatures rise before, not after, changes in atmospheric CO2 levels.

The 2009 report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) identifies  a half-dozen feedback processes that reduce CO2 warming, none of which are taken into account by the IPCC’s models.

According to NASA, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose from a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million in 1850 to 385 parts per million today. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the rate of increase is accelerating, from 376 parts per million in 2004 to 385 today. The National Academy of Sciences reports that the Earth’s average temperature already increased by 1.4° F, from 56.8° F in 1920 to 58.2° F in 2007. NOAA also reports that due to a 30% drop in winter ice covering the Great Lakes since 1972, evaporation may be the cause of Lake Michigan’s declining water level.

Bast’s Comments: Half of the 0.7° C warming of the twentieth century occurred before 1940, too soon to have been the result of human activity; some part of the warming during the second half of the century was due to solar variability, with record-high levels of solar radiation reaching the Earth in the final decade of the century; and recent surface-based temperature data are badly contaminated by urban heat island effects.

The amount of warming during the past half-century that could possibly be attributed to human activity is probably 0.1° or 0.2° C, too small to be noticeable by man or beast, and certainly not a crisis.

Great Lakes water levels are rising, and the May 1 draft report of the International Joint Commission, which addresses issues concerning waters that border the U.S. and Canada, attributes recent short-term declines in water levels to factors other than climate change.

If we examine the lowest-case NASA projection, they expect the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide to rise to 440 parts per million by 2020. I am a strong supporter of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. When they reported the Democratic health care bill cost $1.6 Trillion, we should take notice and rewrite that bill. That is why I have become one of the leading Republican authors of an alternative health care bill that will be the Congress’s least expensive bill, costing our Treasury very little. I read their report on ACES carefully too. CBO reports that peer-reviewed scientists expect the world’s average temperature to increase by 9 degrees by 2100, lowering U.S. economic output by 3% annually. In sum, they estimated the costs of the bill per household at $140 annually.

Bast’s Comments: The CBO report on the cost of the cap-and-trade bill estimated the cost per household of implementing some of the program’s provisions, not the effects of higher energy prices on consumers or employers. Costs to the average American household are estimated at between $1,400 and $3,100 per year. The loss of manufacturing jobs could be huge: The Heritage Foundation estimates more than 1.1 million jobs would be lost. Major manufacturers are planning to use the credits and phase-in period to buy time to shift their manufacturing overseas.

The main section of the ACES bill affects entities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon annually, roughly 7,400 sites across the U.S. (e.g. the current Clean Air Act already covers 22,000 sites). The best way to understand this bill is to look at its effect on our district’s main source of electricity, the Midwest Generation electrical plant in Waukegan. If you go to any beach in our district, you will see it on the northern Lake Michigan shoreline. In sum, Midwest Generation burns coal to produce four million megawatt hours of electricity, serving 330,000 households annually in northern Illinois. Under ACES, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would issue permits for the four million tons of carbon this plant plans to emit in 2012. Half of the permits would be issued for free, half at a cost of $15 per ton, totaling $33 million in new costs (electricity generators using solar, wind, hydro and nuclear technologies do not emit carbon and would not pay such costs).

Midwest sells its electricity to Commonwealth Edison. Under ACES, EPA would refund to ComEd $30 million of the $33 million Midwest paid to EPA. The Act requires that this funding be used to reduce the cost of electricity to lower and middle income families. In the end, Commonwealth Edison would pass about $3 million in new costs on to northern Illinois consumers, or roughly $14 annually per home. As you can see, the costs of this bill are modest, mainly intended to move energy production in the United States to renewable technology. Midwest Generation also advised me they strongly supported the bill, as did Commonwealth Edison.

Bast’s Comments: The idea that the act would cause the Commonwealth Edison electric utility to pay $33 million more to buy energy but then be reimbursed $30 million by EPA, with electricity consumers paying “only” $3 million, demonstrates the absurdity of this bill. The fact that Commonwealth Edison “strongly supported” the bill is no surprise, because it simply passes through to its captive customers any price increases. And of course its parent company, Exelon, is the largest nuclear power generator in the country.

Major emitters can also invest in plants and trees that remove carbon from the atmosphere. By planting nine acres of trees, an emitter can offset a ton of carbon emissions annually. Many of these investments will help farmers and may be arranged by the Chicago Climate Exchange, using our city’s expertise in trading credits for agricultural products.

Bast’s Comments: Farmers don’t plant trees; they plant crops. Trees are 33 times as effective per acre at sequestering carbon as are crops, and new evidence suggests no-till or low-till agriculture (the most environmentally friendly type) does not capture much carbon at all. Manufacturers and energy producers may pay people to plant trees, but this will primarily benefit forestry companies in Third World countries and may harm farmers in the United States by increasing the price of land.

A cap-and-trade system would primarily benefit the traders and investors at the Chicago Climate Exchange: Enron was counting on carbon cap and trade to be its biggest profit generator before the company went bust. Traders will make billions of dollars from cap and trade–dollars taken from the pockets of consumers.

Under this legislation, we also expect total wind power generation to expand at an annual rate of 16%, doubling wind production from its current 3% of U.S. totals [sic] power to 6% over the next 10 years. Because the U.S. solar and wind production is still so small, the legislation also contains provisions to encourage the construction of new nuclear plants to power our economic growth. Recently, our country started building new nuclear power plants, with 17 applications for 26 new plants.

Bast’s Comments: Wind power costs nearly twice as much, before subsidies, as coal-generated power. It is a myth and a lie that wind can take the place of coal (or nuclear) power generators to meet baseline power demands. Subsidizing wind power is all about paying off special-interest groups and mandating feel-good environmentalism. It has nothing to do with global warming or energy security.

ACES also increases energy efficiency standards for homes and commercial buildings – but recently passed Illinois standards are already as stringent as the new federal standards. The effect of this bill will be to increase other states to the Illinois standards. By one estimate, such efficiency standards will lower household energy costs by $3,900 annually. This would cut our foreign oil bills substantially.

Bast’s Comments: If higher energy efficiency for homes and commercial buildings actually paid for itself over a reasonable timeframe, there would be no need for laws mandating it. The truth is that energy savings are routinely overestimated and the costs of improvements and the value people put on their money and their time today versus future years are routinely underestimated.

There are no twenty-dollar bills lying on sidewalks because people have an incentive to pick them up. Similarly, there are few unused energy conservation options just sitting there because free individuals are neither too stupid nor too lazy to take advantage of them.

In sum, I would have preferred a bill that focused more on energy independence and less on some of the complications in this bill. Nevertheless, the 1990 Clean Air Act signed by President Bush established a cap and trade system to reduce acid rain that proved to be a great low-cost success. Much of the poisoned lakes in the east and New England have recovered from acid rain. In the coming Senate debate, I hope we can repeat this environmental success and aggressively back a national program to defund Iran and Venezuela by reducing America’s need for foreign oil.

Bast’s Comments: The cap-and-trade provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act for reducing sulfur emissions were designed for a dramatically different situation involving fewer emitters and easily traced emissions, and the plan played only a small role in reducing sulfur emissions. (The availability of low-sulfur coal from western states was a much greater factor.)

The most comprehensive study of acid rain ever conducted–the U.S. National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program–found no relationship between sulfur emissions and the acidification of lakes in the Northeast.

Rep. Kirk made a mistake by voting for this enormous tax hike.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this issue. Please feel free to visit my website,, or contact me again should other issues of concern to you come before the Congress. To stay better connected to current legislation please sign up for my e-newsletter at


Mark Steven Kirk
Member of Congress