Robert Bluey

Exactly one year after angering conservatives with an amnesty bill for illegal aliens, Sen. John McCain managed to fire up the right again last week—only this time he’s proposing a massive plan to combat global warming that would have severe consequences for the U.S. economy.

During a West Coast trip to Oregon and Washington state, McCain outlined his global warming strategy, which in many ways resembles legislation offered by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.). Their plan will be debated on Capitol Hill next month.

Although he’s spent the past several months trying to mend his rocky relationship with conservatives by putting forward a market-based health care plan and vowing to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court, critics wasted little time going after McCain’s global warming proposal.

It’s not that conservatives don’t care about the environment—they do. But in the case of McCain’s proposal, the benefits—lowering Earth’s temperature by no more than the Kyoto projection of 0.007 degrees Celsius—would come at a great cost to America’s economy.

What’s in McCain’s Plan?

McCain, who previously teamed with Lieberman to draft global warming legislation, supports a cap-and-trade proposal designed to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050. He argued that such a system “harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels.”

McCain’s two Democratic rivals, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, support an 80% reduction by mid-century, a recommendation in line with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Lieberman-Warner bill supposedly would cut emissions by 70% by 2050.

A closer examination of cap and trade reveals the pitfalls of such a system. Even if it works perfectly, which is unlikely, it essentially amounts to a new tax on energy. In its analysis of the Lieberman-Warner bill, the Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would increase federal revenue by $1.21 trillion from 2009 to 2018—money that can best be described as a tax increase.

Several studies of the cap-and-trade proposal reveal its high costs. The Heritage Foundation last week released its analysis of Lieberman-Warner, showing skyrocketing energy costs, millions of jobs lost and falling middle-class income.

“The burden would be shouldered by the average American,” the study’s authors conclude. “The bill would have the same effect as a major new energy tax—only worse. Increases are set by forces beyond legislative control.”

Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at