In the mid-80s, several of our favorite Blue Ridge mountain hiking trails were cluttered with obstructions: diseased trees had fallen across them and Reaganomics left the public lands agencies lacking funds to clear them away.
Forestry experts said the villain was acid rain; it was literally decimating the forests under their care. Drawing on a 1960s paper by a University of Wisconsin graduate student, federal lawmakers came up with a plan to curb the SO2 emissions that were killing the trees and wrote it into Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act. By 2007 acid rain levels had dropped nearly 70% and the forests were healthier.
The allowance market method that won this critical environmental battle came to be called "cap and trade."
Today, thanks to the Republicans' mastery of the art of obfuspeak, cap and trade has been transmogrified into something nasty, like "liberal" and "welfare." In the op-ed columns of the Wall Street Urinal and most of the right-wing corporate media outlets that pose as "mainstream," the term has mobilized wild-eyed opposition to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2007.
Ignoring the two-thirds of the proposed legislation that would create jobs by promoting renewable sources of energy and create more efficient energy across all sectors of the economy, the obfuspeakers have made "cap and trade" a bogey man symbol for the entire bill.
Title III of the bill addresses global warming and proposes an allowance market system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most proponents of government action to curb global warming favor a straight-out "carbon tax" on bad emissions. But in yet another of the concessions to bipartisanship that have come to exemplify the Dr. Kidglove approach to everything, the bill's authors accepted the recommendations of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of electric utilities, oil companies, chemical companies, automobile manufacturers and other foxes who like to "guard" our henhouses. These concessions to Republican big business interests are the Title III "cap and trade" provisions that Republicans now revile.
Even Thomas Crocker, the graduate student whose paper gave us the allowance market method, has been widely quoted as saying that cap-and-trade is not the best way to cope with today's global warming emissions.
Cap and trade, he said, is better suited to dealing with discrete, regional problems like acid rain. "It is not clear to me how you would enforce a permit system internationally," Mr. Crocker, now 73, said recently. "There are no institutions right now that have that power." He favors persuading nations to impose straight-out taxes on their own carbon polluting industries.
If Republicans really cared about solutions, rather than obstructionism, they would join a bipartisan effort to replace Title III of the new Clean Energy Act with a carefully crafted carbon tax provision.
But they don't really want that, nor do their big buck campaign contributors in the energy and extraction industries.
They'd rather continue their witless sloganeering against the bogeyman of cap and trade.
"Obfuspeak" is a neologism manufactured from "obfuscate" and "speak" to denote the manner in which Republicans have changed the meanings of words to dominate the vocabulary of political debate in the United States.