For decades, conservative think tanks and many GOP lawmakers have urged the federal government to address environmental problems by unleashing the power of the market, instead of relying on "command-and-control" regulation.
"Environmental policy will be transformed by the beginning of the new century," wrote Jonathan Adler, an analyst with the business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute, in 1995. "Those who aspire to be leaders will have to acknowledge a new dynamic of information, institutions, politics and markets."
Adler was right. In 1995, environmental leaders needed to move beyond their aversion to markets. Since then, many of them have. An example is the climate change bill that the Senate was close to passing a few months ago, but has now killed. It attempted to use a market-based system — cap and trade — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
So why did it fail?
Clearly, Democrats in coal and oil-producing state helped bottle it up. But the most strident opposition came from Republicans and conservative think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Apparently, the lip service these groups pay to "market-based solutions" doesn't extend to policies that conflict with the profit making of fossil fuel industries, which are major benefactors of the Republican Party and conservative think tanks.
These industry allies have successfully attempted to portray cap and trade as radical surgery for a non-existent problem — a claim that is false on two fronts.
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