Senator Calls for National Low-Carbon Fuel Standards

Published April 1, 2007

Appearing in Long Beach, California with fellow Republican maverick Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on February 21 called for a mandatory 10 percent reduction in carbon emissions from automobiles.

The plan would force U.S. consumers to purchase more expensive ethanol fuel and hybrid vehicles until new technologies become technologically and economically feasible.

Following California

The proposed federal mandate emulates Schwarzenegger’s plan to mandate a 10 percent cut in automotive carbon emissions–one of numerous actions the governor has taken to please environmental activists in his state.

Schwarzenegger has similarly defied free-market environmentalist principles by expanding state regulation, spending $2.9 billion to subsidize a rooftop solar power plan, expanding state control of scenic lands, opposing offshore natural resource recovery, subsidizing unproven hydrogen transportation fuel, and committing the state to Kyoto-style carbon reduction mandates.

“I know that Senator McCain sees the value of bringing to Washington the same kind of programs that we have put into place right here in California,” Schwarzenegger told reporters at the joint news conference in Long Beach.

“We share common philosophy and goals for this country,” McCain agreed.

‘Great for Our Economy’

McCain said requiring a 10 percent cut in the carbon intensity of automotive transportation “is great for our economy and our taxpayers because the low carbon fuel standard will more than triple the size of our renewable fuels market in California and put more than 7 million alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles on the road by 2020 without any new government spending.”

Tom Tanton, senior fellow with the Institute for Energy Research, disagreed.

“There are many good reasons why petroleum has such a large market share–price, convenience, and performance driven in large measure by its quality per BTU,” Tanton said. “The alternatives required by McCain’s plan would be less efficient, more expensive, and have a very negligible effect on climate. Moreover, increasing use of alternative fuels such as ethanol has already driven up food prices, and would do so even more under McCain’s plan.

“Though research and development in new energy technologies must be encouraged, government should not try to engineer the results, nor select individual market sectors for solutions,” Tanton added.

Better Options Available

Jerry Taylor, senior fellow and director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute, noted that even if global warming were a legitimate concern, the McCain plan is an inefficient way to address it.

“If we decide that government must act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the most efficient way to go about this is to impose a simple tax on greenhouse gas emissions. Market actors will then decide how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or ambient greenhouse gas concentrations,” Taylor said.

“Reducing carbon emissions from automobiles might be one way we might reduce carbon emissions, but there are other possibilities,” Taylor noted. “Perhaps nuclear power is a more cost-effective means of reducing carbon. Perhaps sequestering carbon from coal-fired power plants makes more economic sense. Maybe conservation and energy efficiency hold more economic promise than investing in expensive alternative fuels. Or maybe geo-engineering is more cost-effective than emissions controls altogether.

“The point is that Sen. McCain presumes to know exactly how we can most efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Taylor. “Market actors, however, are in a better position to sort out alternative emission control plans than a politician. Regardless, most economists who specialize in the economics of climate change agree that the costs associated with embracing McCain’s preferences with regard to renewable energy are greater than the benefits they might deliver.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.