New York Times Declares Cap and Trade Dead. So How Come It's Not?


I consider the New York Times to be the paper of record in the United States, as many people do. But its coverage of climate issues in particular has been frustrating lately. For evidence, look no further than this recent piece: Tracing the Demise of Cap and Trade, which purports to explain how what was just a year ago the Democrat's "energy policy of choice", is now dead. But the story leaves out one little detail: it's not.Which is the perplexing part--there's really no evidence that the cap and trade system is by any means "dead", despite the messages from conservative think tanks quoted in the piece who would love to take credit for killing it. And just because Lindsey Graham declared cap and trade dead a couple weeks back doesn't necessarily make it true.

So let me tackle this piece of what appears to me to be misleading reporting by saying this first: cap and trade is not dead. Yes, the economy-wide mechanism designed to price carbon across the board, like the one included as the centerpiece of the climate bill that passed the House of Reps last summer, seems increasingly unlikely to be a part of the new Senate bill. But according to details that have leaked out about that very bill (Kerry-Graham-Lieberman) reveal that it's simply made up of smaller, industry-specific cap and trade systems. One that requires utilities to pay for carbon pollution permits from the get go, and one that will likely target the manufacturing sector and be phased in later.

But the New York Times piece never addresses this fact--that a cap and trade system is still (probably) very much the core of comprehensive energy reform, along with an additional gas tax. Perhaps including that fact would disturb the more dramatic 'rise-and-fall' narrative the Times' John Broder paints in broad strokes. And it's a narrative that also gives credence to the same folks who shouted 'cap and tax!' at the top of their lungs, and quotes a conservative pundit who says, yup, that's what it was.

Just check out this passage:

Today, the concept is in wide disrepute, with opponents effectively branding it "cap and tax," and Tea Party followers using it as a symbol of much of what they say is wrong with Washington.

Mr. Obama dropped all mention of cap and trade from his current budget. And the sponsors of a Senate climate bill likely to be introduced in April, now that Congress is moving past health care, dare not speak its name.

But he never quotes anyone from the other side of the argument, except for the president of EDF, who again is talking about an economy wide cap and trade--a distinction the Times doesn't make. And he never cites the polls that reveal that a majority of Americans still support the sort of energy reform cap and trade institutes. He cites Kerry saying that he doesn't even know what cap and trade means, or something along those lines. I also haven't seen any evidence that a majority people buy into the 'cap and tax' nonsense, either.

Yes, a group of opponents to energy reform grew very loud, and very effective at branding cap and trade as an energy tax. But the story here isn't that the cap and trade policy idea for mitigating climate change has been discredited or has died--it's just that loud, catchphrase spouting opponents have driven energy reformers to ditch any association with those three words. If it were about semantics, the article would be right on. But since it presents itself as analyzing policy ideas, it's not. And yes, there's a difference.

More on Cap and Trade
Cap and Trade Works: Europe to Hit Kyoto Targets with Ease
Cap and Trade Explained - The Short Attention Span Version
Obama's Cap and Trade Would Generate $645 Billion in "Climate Revenue"

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