Opinion

‘Cap and tax’ a terrible idea — in both Washingtons

The 2009 legislative session was a rough one. Balancing the state budget got most of the attention, and for good reason - dealing with the shortfall was the biggest task the Legislature faced this year.

But one major issue flew under the radar that could have a tremendous effect on all of us: a scheme known as “cap and trade,” or, as some of us call it, “cap and tax“ or even “cap and extort.”

The Legislature considered a proposal this year to implement cap-and-tax in Washington as part of a regional system throughout the Western U.S. and Canada.

Although the bill did not pass, Gov. Gregoire issued an executive order in late May directing state agencies to carry out many parts of the bill anyway.

Now we’re seeing a similar proposal — what amounts to a national energy tax — rushed through Congress.

The basic idea behind cap and tax is to impose carbon emission limits on energy companies, manufacturers and other entities deemed “carbon offenders.” Companies that couldn’t meet the strict limits would be required to buy carbon credits to offset their excess emissions.

Those costs would then be passed along to consumers, resulting in dramatically higher prices for electricity, gasoline, diesel, natural gas and other sources of energy we use to power our homes, businesses and cars.

We’d also pay higher prices for products that are transported anywhere - such as food shipped to our local grocery stores.

According to a Beacon Hill Institute report, implementing a regional cap-and-tax scheme would cut personal income by more than $5.7 billion and cost more than 18,000 Washington residents their jobs.

The Heritage Foundation estimates that by 2035, a national cap-and-tax program would raise electricity costs by as much as 90 percent, gasoline by 58 percent and natural gas by 55 percent, costing a family of four more than $4,600 a year.

This will hurt low-income citizens the most, because they pay a higher percentage of their monthly income on things like gas to drive to work, groceries and home heating.

Not only is cap and tax a bad idea, but the timing also could not be worse.

Why would we want to drive up the costs of energy and other necessities at a time when families are seriously hurting? Why would we want to risk further business closures, job losses and damage to our economy?

And why would we want to set up an elaborate, complicated new government system that has been proven in Europe to be open to fraud and abuse, with insiders reaping huge profits from Enron-style trading schemes?

Rather than imposing an expensive, job-killing cap-and-tax scheme, we should be getting serious about alternative power sources, such as emissions-free nuclear energy, renewable hydropower and other clean-energy technologies.

We should also be giving employers and citizens incentives to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gases while still doing everything we can to maintain the jobs we have and attract new ones.

Cap and tax is a bad idea - whether on a state, regional or federal level - and it will cost all of us dearly, both in terms of our pocketbooks and our freedoms.

There’s a better way. Let’s reject this idea and pursue other, less damaging ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sen. Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla) represents Washington’s 16th legislative district.

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