FLASHBACK: The Wall Street Journal Wanted Cap-And-Trade

In recent years the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board has led the charge against cap-and-trade proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. But a Media Matters analysis of past editorials shows that this marks a major reversal since 2001, when the Journal said “the Bush Administration should propose a domestic cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide.”

Once upon a time, cap-and-trade was the conservative alternative to “command and control” regulatory action. It was first proposed by George H.W. Bush's administration to address sulfur dioxide emissions that were causing acid rain, threatening U.S. lakes and ponds. Ten years after the Clean Air Amendments were signed by Bush, the Journal editorial board concluded that the acid rain program was “fabulously successful,” adding that it cost much less than expected:

The program, which was started in the U.S. in 1995 as part of the effort to cut the emissions that cause acid rain, saves about $700 million annually compared with the cost of traditional regulation and has been reducing emissions by four million tons annually. When the program is fully implemented, sometime over the next couple of years, cost savings should be as much as $2 billion a year -- that's twice as much as originally estimated by the EPA. [Emissions Impossible?, 7/23/01, via Factiva]

The Journal went on to urge George W. Bush's administration to replicate the program to address carbon emissions:

[I]f new and more sophisticated research proves that human-generated greenhouse gases are a menace to civilization as we know it, then it is better to start now to control them and far better to do so in the most cost effective fashion. And that's why we harbor a certain fondness for one part of the Kyoto treaty -- emissions trading.

Emissions trading -- part of a package called “cap-and-trade” -- is one of the incentive-based market strategies that has been developed as an alternative to traditional fiat-based, nanny-sez-so regulation.


President Bush got it exactly right when he dissed Kyoto. And after Kyoto is pronounced dead in Bonn, the Bush Administration should propose a domestic cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide that could, of course, be easily expanded to Canada and Mexico. And then to Latin America. And then the world. [Emissions Impossible?, 7/23/01, via Factiva, emphasis added]

For many years, cap-and-trade proposals for CO2 enjoyed broad support among Republican legislators. As recently as 2008, then Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain touted cap-and-trade as a “market-based approach” to “address the problem of climate change and stimulate the development and use of advanced technologies.”

But when President Obama and the Democratic Congress incorporated cap-and-trade as the cornerstone of their climate proposal, Republicans promptly jumped ship, dubbing the policy a "national energy tax." The Wall Street Journal quickly followed suit, and has dutifully toed the party line ever since. Echoing GOP talking points, the Journal claimed that the cap-and-trade proposal would have an "enormous economic cost" and destroy "millions of jobs." By contrast, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined that the cap-and-trade legislation passed by the House in 2009 would have a “modest” impact on GDP and “only a small effect on total employment in the long run.”

The Journal's current approach to climate change is to employ the same rhetoric that it used for decades to undermine action on acid rain and ozone depletion. In addition to casting doubt on the science and framing environmental concerns as a political ploy, the Journal exaggerates the costs of mitigating these risks.