Thursday, November 1, 2007

And You Can Quote Me On That

A few weeks ago, I added a list of suggestions for writing a Letter to the Editor, so this weekend I took the advice and wrote one to the Houston Chronicle. Lo and behold, they printed it on Tuesday. You can read it here.

They suggested a 250-word limit, so I limited my e-mail to around 160 words, but a few of my sentences were still removed by the editors. I am including those sentences in bold.

I have always thought that Mayor White had the right priorities. However, his sudden enlightenment on the need for emergency legislation to prevent the Ashby high-rise reveals that he is as much a sycophant to the wealthy as the worst hypocrites in office. The Chronicle has written dozens of articles detailing community groups trying to stop higher density development where city officials just shrugged and repeated, “They are within the law.” I guess things change when you can afford Rusty Hardin to represent you. White also supports the Metro plan to spend hundred of millions on new light rail lines hoping to bring density and urban living to Houston, but then sends a cold message of warning to the very developers who will build that density that they better not build anywhere near rich neighborhoods. I thought Democrats were against the undue influence of the rich and against urban sprawl. Maybe they are, but not the big one at city hall.

I felt like the sentences they removed made it more of an indictment on making exceptions for the rich than on the Mayor’s hypocrisy, but in the end, I think the point came across.

A Little on Cap-and-Trade

I’ve been a little confused recently why I’ve been hearing some conservatives talk negatively about Cap-and-Trade policies that help fight pollution. It is a significant improvement over current policy.

Historically, the government has simply passed laws that put a maximum, or cap, on the amount of pollution an industrial site can put into the air. The problem with this approach is that certain industries that we need, like iron ore smelting and oil refining, produce a lot of pollution. When the government simply caps pollution output it can cost these companies a fortune to be compliant because the laws of physics dictate that a whole lot of undesirable chemicals have to be released to produce their products.

The other downside is that any company that falls under the maximum already has no incentive to reduce their pollution other than personal ethics and public image. It is very possible that this company could reduce their pollution output rather inexpensively. The trade part of cap-and-trade allows these two companies to trade pollution cuts.

As an example, let us say that the pollution cap on Bad Chemical X is 100 units, and ABC Refinery Company produces 150 units. ABC Refinery Company calculates that it would cost $75 million dollars to reduce the pollution down to 100 units. Now XYZ Power Company is currently producing 95 units of Bad Chemical X, so it does not need to cut pollution under the law. However, XYZ Power Company investigates and finds that for only $35 million dollars they could reduce their output of Bad Chemical X by 50 units. Under Cap-and-Trade they can sell the reduction in pollution to ABC Refinery Company, who would likely pay some price less than $75 million dollars to spend less than doing it themselves. XYZ Power Company makes a profit by cutting their pollution and selling the reduction credit. ABC Refinery saves money by buying that reduction credit.

The same amount of pollution is cut, plus the economy only loses $35 million to added expenses instead of $75 million. Cap-and-Trade policies are better than simple maximums on the amount of pollution.

Why some conservatives have a negative reaction to cap-and-trade is probably because the system was first proposed on a large scale under the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol was bad because it exempted China and India from virtually any pollution standards and put the burden on the U.S. and Europe. However, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Cap-and-Trade solutions to pollution are a big improvement over any other pollution control mechanisms that I have seen.

As always, tell me what you think.

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