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Celebrity Cap and Trade PSA: Proof Sound Bytes Trump Sound Policy

Nothing makes a public service announcement like a star-studded cast. Yet, good acting can mask lack of understanding, turning some into public disservice ads. Just consider this new one featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Felicity Huffman, Jason Bateman, Ed Norton, Chace Crawford and a number of other celebrities:

Boy, are they right! There is legislation that we need to pay attention to. It’s important. And it has been a long time coming. However, it’s not the Senate’s cap and trade proposal – a scheme that would take America in the opposite direction from where these A-listers say we should go.

Special interests in Congress have managed to sink the emissions trading bill under the weight of its own titanicpork giveaways. (DiCaprio should already know what it’s like to go down with a sinking ship; this time the iceberg comes in the form of special interests, like Wall Street traders, who aim to get rich at the expense of consumers.) Thankfully, voters still have the option to tell their Senators to strive for a better bill -- one that will generate long-lasting changes in greenhouse gas emissions without killing our economy.

Let’s move to Plan B: a bi-partisan effort to address the climate issue honesty and objectively. Better yet, email your Senators directly and remind them the stakes are too high for our energy future to settle for second rate policy solutions. America need a measure that’s straightforward and powerful enough to coordinated activity at every level of the society: from individuals to activists to government to industry.

Yet, special interest deal making seems to be the only activity coordinated by the current cap and trade bill. A superior climate policy would remove opportunities for politicians to carve out massive exceptions protecting their own interests at the expense of consumers and our environment. Emissions legislation should solve our problems, without bankrupting already desperate housewives. (Isn’t that right, Mrs. Huffman?)

The question isn’t whether we need to address emissions or not. The question is how. Considering all available options, what gives us the best chance at achieving meaningful action? Mr. Bateman should be well positioned to determine if we have what it takes to move beyond a state of arrested (policy) development and pass a workable solution.

Though many cap and trade advocates -- the cast of this PSA included -- may be well meaning, good intentions don’t preclude serious problems. The legislation they’re pushing would have a devastating impact on millions of middle to low-income families who care about the environment but are also struggling to pay for housing, food, and other basic energy-related bills. The truly disquieting aspect of this so-called “public service” pitch is that the jet-setting glamorous lifestyles led by DiCaprio and Co. generate far more greenhouse gas emissions than most of the “public” they’re lecturing.

With stakes so high, America should and can do better than cap and trade. Much better. For instance, a simple carbon tax would be five times more cost-effective than an emissions trading approach, according to research by well-respected think tank Resources for the Future. This revenue-neutral approach would set an effective price on carbon and curb greenhouse gas emissions, all while putting rebates back into the pockets of American consumers.

Though celebrity makes for entertaining sound bytes, it takes much more to make sound policy. We must engage in a healthy dialogue, figuring out the best way to address environmental concerns without seriously constrain energy use and imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and consumers. As the PSA says, this may be our moment. But when it comes to major policy, we need to think long-term.

William O’Keefe, chief executive officer of the George C. Marshall Institute, is president of Solutions Consulting Inc.


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