Don’t lose hope, cap-and-traders!

Rep. Rob Bishop Contributor
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After the past few weeks, supporters of cap-and-trade must feel like someone dumped a cold bucket of carbon on their heads.  As soon as the Senate pulled the plug on climate change legislation, a loud wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced.  Already, fingers are being pointed, excuses are being proposed, and believers in climate legislation can be seen wandering around Washington scratching their heads trying to figure out just what went wrong.  “We control the White House. We control the Senate. We control the House. We control the media. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

This stands in stark contrast to last year.

After the House passed the Waxman-Markey legislation last June, cap-and-traders seemed to have their dream within reach.  Remember the bold claims at the time?  Rapturous-sounding rhetoric such as “this legislation will create jobs by the millions, save money by the billions and unleash investment in clean energy by the trillions,” was touted from the highest mountains.  The long-awaited green-job nirvana was just around the corner.

And then it wasn’t.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, and even though I am a cap-and-trade skeptic, I want to offer a message of optimism to cap-and-trade supporters:  Don’t give up.  There is still hope!  While national cap-and-trade may have failed, the cause is not yet lost!

While I’m a little reluctant to share advice with the other side, I’m willing to let them in on a little secret.

The secret is this: not everything is done in Washington.  No, really, it’s true.  Decisions can be made and policies can be implemented in locations outside of D.C.  You see, there are these little things called states.  There are fifty of them.  They have governments.  They have politicians.  They have decision-making power and ability.

In some of these states, people actually like the idea of cap-and-trade.  In fact, there are individuals out there who, like you, believe that intentionally increasing energy costs during a recession is necessary. There are people who are genuinely convinced that imposing a complicated web of new mandates and “green” regulations will lead to an economic renaissance.  There actually are some states willing to try this grand experiment.

What this means is that you can still have your cap and eat your trade too!  The simple secret is to implement cap-and-trade in your state.  Go ahead, impose stringent regulations and fees and increase energy costs to your heart’s delight.  Try it.  Take the new carbon regs for a test drive. Then let’s wait a few years and see what happens.

I’m perfectly willing to let cap-and-traders reap all the “benefits” of climate change legislation — all the jobs and economic prosperity it might bring.  States eager to impose carbon caps should be allowed to do so.  I would honestly be delighted to see you succeed.  If your states create jobs and new energy sources, we will all be better off.  On the other hand, if your states suffer and jobs flee to other states (which I think is much more likely), at least my constituents won’t have to suffer the consequences of your “good” idea.

The beauty of this secret (it has a name, by the way — federalism) is that the people who like cap-and-trade can experiment with it, while the people who don’t like it aren’t forced to.  Amazing idea: Choice. Preference. Diversity.  I realize these are some mind-blowing concepts to some, but they are indeed possible.

And that’s how it should be.

Federalism provides a political solution that enables both sides in this debate to get what they want. Instead of imposing a top-down carbon-focused reorganization of our $14 trillion economy on a divided public, let cap-and-trade supporters implement their policies in the states and regions where they are popular.  All I ask is that proponents not impose cap-and-trade on states choosing to address climate change in a different fashion.

State policy experimentation is not a new or untested idea.  Some states have already voluntarily proposed or adopted region-wide climate policies. Today there are more than 200 compacts that allow groups of states to cooperate on environmental, economic, transportation and other problems.

There was a time when the states were routinely viewed as “laboratories of democracy.”  The Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once wrote “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

It’s time those of us in Washington realized that the United States is a diverse, vibrant nation with varying demographics, needs, and concerns. Just because the Senate rejected cap-and-trade doesn’t mean the green dream has to die.  With cap-and-trade legislation, as in many other policy areas, that forgotten concept of federalism just might work.

Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-01) is a founder of the 10th Amendment Task Force.