Charlotte Hays
Perhaps you have never considered becoming a solar panel installer.

But passage of cap and trade legislation, now stalled but not dead, would mean that many working Americans, now productively employed in the manufacturing sector, could find themselves learning to install solar panels—at taxpayer expense.

Should the Democrats breathe new life into cap and trade, nobody knows exactly what form the legislation would take. Whatever form, however, good jobs will be lost. Families will be faced with the kind of demoralization that comes from underemployment or having the head of the household engaged in what essentially is paid busy work.

The Waxman-Markey bill, for example, the House version of cap and trade, accepts that layoffs are inevitable and simply tries to make them more palatable. A “climate change adjustment allowance” was included in the legislation. Any worker who is laid off because of cap and trade is eligible for the allowance. It will amount to 70 percent of what the worker was earning. And, if you think paying unemployment benefits for 99 weeks is bad, get ready for 156 weeks!

A family could find itself living for three years on 70 percent of what Mom or Dad was previously earning, with no guarantee that a real job would be available when the allowance expired. Think what this would mean for a family trying to save for college, to buy a house, or simply to get by. A three-year stint of being unemployed isn’t just hard on the family finances. Skills atrophy, and, perhaps most important, unemployment can change a family’s dynamics.

Most energy bills have some kind of provision to deal with the unemployment cap and trade will create. If, for example, somebody who loses a job doesn’t get an allowance (doesn’t the very notion of allowances for adults sound infantilizing?), he or she may be eligible instead for retraining—hence installing those solar panels!—or some form of busy work reminiscent of the WPA that provided income during the Great Depression. You might, for example, says Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming at the Competitive Energy Institute, get work caulking holes in federal buildings.

“I don’t see that as high paying or a genuine career,” said Ebell.

Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.