EPA: Capping Dissent?

Under cap-and-trade legislation, coal plants could continue polluting and simply purchase offsets.© www.coal-is-dirty.com

Two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees have drawn agency fire after they posted a YouTube video criticizing the climate change legislation currently before Congress. The Waxman-Markey bill, which endorses a cap-and-trade system and has the support of the Obama administration, is not an effective solution to climate change, say wife-and-husband veteran EPA employees Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel. In fact, they argue in the video, it is not possible to tweak our existing fossil fuel system to achieve real emissions reductions, and the outcome of cap-and-trade will be an environmental disaster. EPA ethics officials ordered them to remove the video on November 5, though it is still currently available on YouTube.

The agency had initially given clearance for the employees to post the video, but changed their minds after the publication of an October 31 op-ed piece by the two in The Washington Post that criticized cap and trade as an ineffective climate change solution, according to a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"EPA is abusing ethics rules to gag two conscientious employees who have every right to speak out as citizens," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who has re-posted the original video.

The video is divided into three segments. In the first, "The Big Lie," the two discuss how cap and trade, in which facilities would cut their emissions each year to eventually achieve a required "cap," will still allow power plants to pollute by purchasing credits elsewhere. What’s more, it will keep the system as is, instead of instituting a real, competitive alternative energy system based on wind, solar, biofuels and the like. The video goes on to criticize the idea of carbon offsets, which can be purchased from abroad, and would allow coal-fired power plants to emit more, beyond the required caps, by purchasing, for example, an acre of forest land abroad—an acre that may not have been cut down anyway. These offsets are money-makers and create incentives, in some cases, to pollute in order to sell the cost of cleanup.

The real solution, say the couple, are carbon fees with rebates. Under this system, carbon fees would be added, slowly, to existing dirty fossil fuels, making them gradually more expensive. Monthly per-person rebates would ensure that everyone could afford the transition to clean energy. Eventually, clean energy, via significant investment, would become the cheaper energy. The problem, the couple notes, is that there are no "powerful special interests" behind this workable plan.

SOURCES: The EPA; The censored video; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility; The Washington Post.