Friday, March 18, 2005

Hell in a Handbasket

Friday, March 18, 2005

The past few months have been fast and furious in the world of national domestic politics. Having graduated and found a job I've had a lot more time to actually pay attention to it all. Thus I expect BISR to take on a more political bent, at least until opening day. I started writing about Social Security some three odd weeks ago, but the more I learn about it the more I want to say. Thus you'll have to wait for that one. Besides, Social Security will be a long-standing issue so it can wait few more days. So instead I bring you two stupid government decisions from the past week.

The first, and most recent, is the narrow approval given by congress to allow for oil drilling in the Alaskan wild life refuge. The idea behind this is that the US has become too dependant on foreign oil and this drilling will relax crude prices in US markets. Hogwash. The fact of the matter is that we Americans love our cars. While driving along yesterday the radio asked me if the AAA forecast of perpetual high gas prices would change my driving habits. The answer was no. The fact is that we'll get used to it. By the time any oil is found in the refuge and is able to be pumped and barreled we'll all have gotten used to paying 2.50 per gallon. The new oil entering the market won't necessarily cause a downturn in prices. Why should it? If people are willing to pay the price, why lower it when you can make gobs of money by keeping prices where they are? The drilling is based on two factors, and lower gas prices isn't one of them. The first is that Bush is an oil man who favors opening up economic opportunities for the rich (i.e. tax cuts for the top one percent). Second, caribou don't contribute much to the economy.

The second decision was made by the EPA and pertains to mercury emissions. At first glance it looks like a nice little rule that will reduce the amount of mercury emissions allowed by coal-fueled power plants. But there's a catch. With this administration there's always a catch. The catch is this, plants will be allowed to trade on their emission caps. This policy mirrors a similar provision on international emission trading allowed in the Kyoto agreement. So, suppose plant A doesn't want spend the money to upgrade its technology to meet the new standard, but plant B is already under the new emission cap. Plant A can by cap room from plant B and thus continue to release more mercury into the environment than is allowed by the new guidelines. The up shoot is that while nationwide emissions may drop, local emissions could stay the same or even rise. Flipper babies anyone?

The second thing about allowing plants to trade or sell emissions is that it creates a new market for Wall Street. European markets are starting to open up speculation in emission trading and it won't be long before it becomes a significant player in the US as well. The fact is that pollution, or the permission to pollute is becoming a commodity. It's a scary thought in and of itself, but scarier still to think that emissions which have been shown to cause cognitive defects in children will be making someone rich. It isn't hard to imagine a failing plant simply closing down and then selling it's long term pollution rights for the rest of time. The one positive I can see in the emission trading game would be this; if emissions become publicly traded environmental groups could by emissions rights and then refuse to sell them thereby pulling the right to pollute off the market. Of course this strategy could backfire if it becomes successful and drives the prices up to the point where only super rich companies can afford them. Still every little bit counts.

Everything this administration does seems geared towards making money for the rich and killing everyone else. Right now congress is debating cutting Medicaid for the poorest Americans while considering making the tax cuts for the richest permanent. The good people of the world have to take a stand. So I urge you loyal BISR readers, do something, write something, talk to someone, anyone, incite outrage, this crap must end. If it doesn't most of us are doomed.

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