The Collin Peterson Climate Change Compromise

So it looks like the Waxman-Markey climate change bill will pass in the House this week: The sponsors hammered out an agreement last night with Collin Peterson, the chair of the Agriculture Committee. The main sticking point was over whether the EPA or the Department of Agriculture would administer a carbon offset program intended for farmers. (The offset program will pay farmers to do environmentally friendly things like plant trees.) Peterson got his way: The (more sympathetic) Department of Agriculture will do the work.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the compromise -- the bill now weighs in at a morbidly obese 1,201 pages, and much like every member of Congress I sure haven't read it -- except that I can feel my enthusiasm for the whole project slipping away. In the ideal world we'd want a carbon tax, with the revenue used to fund a payroll tax cut. In the campaign world we were promised a cap and trade bill with 100% of the emission permits auctioned off. In the real world we were offered a cap and trade bill with some portion of the permits auctioned off and some portion of the permits handed out to please various important constituencies who would otherwise scuttle the effort. And in the world of Collin Peterson we will also have a special offset program for agricultural interests.

I know that politics is the art of the possible and we must cling tightly to our copies of Machiavelli and blah blah blah. Whether an imperfect bill is better than no bill at all is a question we will all have fun answering in hindsight. But I don't see any reason not to point out that bill is imperfect, and I don't totally understand why so few people are doing that. A friend mentioned that Barack Obama got exactly zero questions about energy or the environment during yesterday's presser, despite mentioning the bill in his opening comments. Maybe ignoring the bill is better than swallowing it?

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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