Guest Column: Cap and trade promotes environment’s protection

Jan. 28, 2013 @ 01:29 AM


Who says “cap and trade” isn’t necessary or wise? Remember air quality before Congress passed the Clean Air Act? I do. Driving into the industrial northeast along the New Jersey Turnpike in the 1960s you had to roll up the windows of your non-air-conditioned car in order not to breathe the polluted air and smell the stench that went with it. There was smog everywhere in northern New Jersey and metro New York then, but it’s gone today because of that Clean Air Act enacted during the Nixon administration.
In 1970, I graduated from college and was driving around Atlanta looking for an apartment after getting my first real job. I noticed my eyes burning and wondered what was going on, and then I realized that air pollution was causing it. Well, later that year the Clean Air Act did come along, and soon we no longer had such poor air quality. But that air quality needs to be improved further.
After I moved to North Carolina in late 1971, I used to travel to the mountains to view the beautiful scenery. Today when you travel through the mountains the scenes are still beautiful, but in too many places you see the effects of acid rain. Many evergreen trees are denuded and instead of the sea of forest green, you see large areas of brown where the effects of the air pollutants from industries in the Ohio River Valley are clearly evident. These pollutants are carried by prevailing winds and fall to Earth in rainfall on our North Carolina mountains and cause considerable damage to our environment.
Air pollution today causes many of those with pulmonary diseases to die prematurely and causes others to become ill and have to spend money on health care unnecessarily. The EPA estimates that thousands of lives would be saved with further improvements to air quality such as would come through passage of cap and trade.  But some worry that further regulations protecting our environment will hamper the growth of an already weak economy.
There will always be a need to balance protecting the environment and encouraging economic growth. We have already proven that we can encourage that growth without trampling on our environment as we unfortunately have sometimes done. The improvements in our environment starting in the 1970s that resulted directly from congressional action by both Democrats and Republicans on the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and from EPA enforcement, can be continued with similar actions today. (And despite those Acts, the economy still continued to grow.). They are steps we need to take to continue to protect our air, our waters, and our world. One of them is in the form of cap and trade, first introduced by President George H. W. Bush, and in Congress by Sen. John McCain who now calls it “cap and tax.”
Cap and trade, simply put, is setting limits on emissions of pollutants into the air by industry. Those that can meet the limits get credits that they can then sell to industries that can’t meet those limits. These non-attainment industries can continue to operate by buying the credits and paying for the cost of their pollution, while the cleaner industries sell some of the benefits of their clean technology. The law becomes an incentive to all industries to operate in a cleaner manner, and the result is a healthier environment for all of us.

Gary Parker lives in Archdale.