Lieberman-Warner & The Young Amendment

Congress is currently debating two legislative initiatives, the Lieberman-Warner bill and the Young Amendment, that relate to the question of U.S. energy independence. But despite the media's tendency to lump these bills together under the topic of environmental issues, at their core both bills deal with separate issues.

Lieberman-Warner is a 500-page bill in the Senate (not yet in consideration in the House) meant to address carbon footprints (the amount of CO2 any given activity releases into the atmosphere). The bill lays out a formal Cap & Trade system, similar to what is commonplace in Europe. Under this structure, the government assigns a carbon footprint to various activities, business and industries, which they may not exceed. However, some businesses and industries may not use all of their assigned carbon credits; under the proposed system, these low-polluting operations would be able to sell their excess credits to operations that need additional carbon credits in an exchange that works much like the stock market.

Opponents of the Lieberman-Warner bill argue that it allows too much government regulation of the marketplace and would result in what The Wall Street Journal calls "the most extensive reorganization of the American economy since the 1930's."1 The article continues by projecting that the bill would have the effect of a $6.7 trillion tax increase and add 53 cents to the price of a gallon of gas. Supporters argue that this bill represents a free-market alternative to a massive wave of government regulations that would surely follow a recognition of the dangers of global warming.

The Young Amendment focuses exclusively on oil production in the U.S.; this amendment in the U.S. House would specifically authorize drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Drilling is currently prohibited under existing laws and regulations. The debate over the Young Amendment focuses on the relative merits of domestic oil production vs. wilderness preservation; unlike the Lieberman-Warner bill, the primary debate concerns environmental issues rather than economic ones.

Both bills affect U.S. energy independence. The Young Amendment clearly opens the way to increased American oil production, and thus decreased dependence on foreign oil. The Lieberman-Warner bill would have a more complex effect on energy independence, perhaps encouraging it by urging reduction of wasteful energy use, perhaps discouraging it by limiting the production of new energy - particularly fossil fuel-based energy - in the U.S. Both bills force us to consider links between energy policy and environmental conservation, but each approaches this link in a different way. And the question we at USE PAC must ultimately ask of each piece of legislation is: Does it lead toward or away from American energy independence?

1 "Climate Reality Bites; The Time Has Come for the U.S. Congress to Open the Global Warming Debate." The Wall Street Journal 28 May 2008, p. FP19

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