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Cap-and-trade legislation gets cold shoulder

For half of Nevadans, the debate over legislation designed to control the climate is just so much hot air.

A new Review-Journal poll found that 50 percent of the state’s residents oppose federal cap-and-trade legislation that would allow the government to limit companies’ abilities to emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that some say is warming the planet. Another 42 percent of Nevadans support the legislation, while 8 percent say they’re undecided.

The poll revealed major variations in partisan support of cap-and-trade. Just 21 percent of Democrats oppose carbon caps, while 81 percent of Republicans are against such limits. Among independents, 57 percent call cap-and-trade bad policy.

An unscientific survey of locals tanking up Friday at a Terrible’s gasoline station on Sahara Avenue found an even split between local supporters and detractors.

Steven Yague, a regional manager with a financial-services company, said he’s for carbon cap-and-trade because limiting fuel emissions would benefit the health of both people and the environment.

Congress should consider ways to pay for the cap that wouldn’t affect the price of energy or consumer goods, Yague said. The nation is spending billions of dollars a month on wars in the Middle East, for starters, so perhaps lawmakers could redirect some of that cash to buy down carbon emissions, Yague suggested.

But Lonnie Gandy isn’t having any of it. The jewelry-industry retiree said he worries that cap-and-trade would have a ripple effect on the prices of virtually all consumer goods. What’s more, he sees enough scientists arguing against global warming to make him question whether government efforts to control Earth’s temperatures are worth it or would work. Worse still, capping U.S. emissions would be pointless when major global polluters such as China and India have no plans to curb carbon output.

"It’ll just raise all my energy bills, and I’m not convinced yet that it would really do what they say it’s going to do," Gandy said.

Local utility executives say the jury’s still out on how cap-and-trade would affect consumers’ power bills.

Chelsie Campbell, a spokeswoman for local power utility NV Energy, said it’s too early to determine how cap-and-trade laws would affect the cost of energy because the Senate still has to write its own version.

But Campbell did say NV Energy supported the House proposal because it allowed utilities free carbon-emissions allowances for a period of years. The Senate version includes a price cap on carbon, and it’s still unknown how that bill would call for issuing free allowances.

Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said he wasn’t sure why more voters oppose cap-and-trade than support it, but he did note that consumers in the midst of a recession typically have heightened concern about their economic well-being.

A springtime Gallup poll backed up Schwer’s conjecture. The survey found that, for the first time in 25 years of polling, more Americans care about economic growth than the environment. Just 42 percent of people questioned said the environment should take precedence over growth, while 51 percent said economic expansion is more important.

Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, called the economy the "overriding concern" for voters, and he said he believes that’s the major reason people are turning against cap-and-trade legislation.

"I don’t think they (lawmakers) have made a compelling case that this bill is going to help the economy, and some could argue pretty strongly that it could hurt the economy," Coker said.

An Aug. 5 report from the federal Energy Information Administration backs up doubts about the bill’s impact on the economy.

The administration’s study found that the House’s bill would increase the cost of energy, slash economic output, hurt purchasing power and cut $432 billion to $1.9 trillion from the nation’s gross domestic product by 2030.

Coker said he thinks legislation fatigue could also be pushing voters away from cap-and-trade. From the $787 billion stimulus to the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to $1 trillion in health-care reforms, Americans are growing leery of big-ticket policy proposals.

"Cap-and-trade is like health care in that it’s just another in this quick series of major policy changes. Nobody is quite sure what the details are, and people’s heads are kind of spinning from all these proposed regulations," Coker said.

It’s cost issues that give Nevadans like Ray Bacon pause.

Bacon, executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association in Carson City, said some of the state’s — and country’s — biggest and best-paying manufacturing sectors would suffer most from cap-and-trade. Cement plants, wallboard makers, manufacturers of wood products, plastics factories and chemical operations are all energy-intensive businesses that would see marked gains in expenses if cap-and-trade passes the Senate in the fall, Bacon said. Bacon said he recently toured a Northern Nevada cement factory whose operating costs would jump an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent.

Bacon also noted that Mexico’s state-run cement maker is quietly opening distribution centers in California to ship cheaper, Mexican-made, cap-and-trade-free concrete products to the United States.

Bacon said consumers will pay substantially more for gasoline two to three years after the bill’s passage.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. conducted the poll on Monday and Tuesday. The company surveyed 400 registered voters in the state and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.

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