(Washington, D.C., June 25, 2007) -- Should big polluters own the sky?
That’s one of the key questions as we consider how to limit and reduce global warming pollution. A U.S. Senate committee is set to examine this and related issues on June 28.
Many of the biggest coal-burning power companies claim they own the sky – and should be paid billions of dollars to reduce their emissions.
A new Clean Air Watch white paper concludes that the 10 most polluting electric power companies collectively could pocket $9 billion annually under the wrong kind of cap-and-trade program.
One company alone – Ohio-based American Electric Power – could rake in more than a billion and a half dollars every year. AEP has been among the polluters that have argued in favor of handing out global warming emission credits free to companies based on past pollution levels.
“The very companies that have polluted the upper atmosphere now want to be rewarded,” noted Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
“It would be unconscionable to reward their destructive behavior by simply giving them free credits – and windfall profits,” O’Donnell said. “The polluters should have to pay to clean up the mess they’ve made for us, and for future generations.”
The white paper argues that rather than subsidizing big polluters by handing out free emission credits or “allowances” based on past pollution levels – as Congress did with the 1990 acid rain program – the government should embrace the “polluter pays” principle used in other federal environmental laws including Superfund.
Specifically, it recommends that the federal government auction off allowances. Polluting companies would have to bid against each other for a portion of the atmosphere they intend to use — within overall limits that reduce carbon dioxide levels. Auction proceeds could be used for socially beneficial programs, which could include help for low-income residents, worker transition assistance or protecting wildlife.
In a foreword to the white paper, Larry J. Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said “it’s time these companies started getting the bill.”
Schweiger added that “a cap-and-trade program that does not require companies to pay for carbon permits, and instead gives them away for free in perpetuity, would be fundamentally unjust. No-cost licenses to pollute would deprive the public of the resources and revenues with which to aid the economic transition to a low-pollution world, and with which to address the impacts of global warming.”
The white paper echoes a call made last week on public radio’s Marketplace by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich:
“I mean, it's our atmosphere, right?” Reich said.
“Think of a national park or a national forest. No company is simply allowed to take what they want from it, free of charge. Why should the atmosphere be any different?” he added. http://marketplace.publicradio.org/shows/2007/06/20/AM200706202.html
The white paper is online at Clean Air Watch’s web site, www.cleanairwatch.org