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Washington, DC —The principal plans Congress is considering to combat global warming may not work as intended, according to an open letter from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency specialists posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The EPA’s inability to verify greenhouse gas emissions or effectively police a cap-and-trade market would make it an “inefficient and ineffective strategy” for combating global warming.

The two EPA specialists are speaking in their private capacity but are raising concerns rooted in their experience with other emission trading programs administered by the agency. Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel received clearance from EPA to voice their concerns to Congress so long as they disclaimed any agency endorsement of their views. The two are agency attorneys who are married to each other.

The letter sent to every member of Congress spells out weaknesses with the cap-and-trade approach now being debated in both houses. Overall, the two EPA lawyers find emissions trading “inherently inferior to a carbon tax” because of administration and enforcement problems, including –

  • Poor Verification. EPA lacks any system for measuring or verifying most sources of greenhouse gas emissions. While tracking may be possible in the industrial sector, “there are many other sectors of the economy from which it will be difficult or impossible to insure accurate reporting”;
  • Inflated Cap. The determination of the initial cap is “extremely contentious and has resulted in a cap that was significantly inflated above actual emissions”; and
  • Trading Scams. EPA is not equipped to enforce market protections that ensure “true reductions, not just paper credits” as exist now in many carbon offset schemes. The cap-and-trade market will confer “tremendous financial incentives to understate actual emissions and overstate the amount of emission reductions or carbon sequestration offsets.”

In addition, Williams and Zabel point to the absence of any technological innovations that have resulted from U.S. emission trading programs, yet technological innovation is seen as the consensus path for long-term greenhouse gas reductions. Their analysis comes at a time when EPA has vetoed state action to directly regulate greenhouse gases from auto emissions and is delaying development of any federal approach to the problem, apart from limited voluntary incentives.

“Before it acts, Congress should solicit the views of the EPA specialists who it will ask to administer any greenhouse gas regulations,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “EPA should un-gag its experts so that they can openly discuss the best ways to address the urgent challenge of climate change.”

Seventeen months ago, representatives for more than 10,000 EPA scientists urged Congress to take immediate action against global warming, in a petition that also called for an end to censorship of scientists and other specialists on topics of climate change and the effects of air pollution.


Read the open letter to Congress

Compare the collapse of EPA’s plan for open market air emission trading in 2002

Look at the mass petition from EPA staff demanding action on greenhouse gases

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