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  1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact: Cap and trade idea has strong Republican roots

Published Jun. 2, 2014

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio made waves about climate change in a May 11 interview on ABC's This Week.

"I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it," Rubio said. "And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy."

After a May 13 speech at Daemen College in upstate New York, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, suggested that voters stop electing tea party-aligned politicians — and then she turned her sights on Rubio for disagreeing with the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made. She called for politicians to reach across the aisle in search of solutions, singling out a cap and trade plan as an area where the parties could agree.

"That was originally a Republican idea," she said. "It was developed in the 1970s when the Clean Air Act was initially adopted."

Was it?

The idea of cap and trade is that the government sets a limit (the cap) on how much carbon individual companies — typically electric utilities and manufacturers — can emit. The government then issues permits to companies and allows them to buy and sell the permits as needed (the trade). If the policy works as planned, overall emissions decline, companies determine for themselves the best way to lower emissions, and the free market rewards those who lower emissions most effectively.

Wasserman Schultz started the clock ticking in the 1970s. Her spokesman, Sean Bartlett, told PolitiFact Florida that "the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments were the first time federal law used the concept of offset mechanisms that ultimately became the 'cap and trade' systems."

That law included precursor ideas, such as providing industry with flexibility to meet limits, rather than simply imposing controlling regulations, said Eric Pooley, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund and author of The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan used a cap and trade system to phase out leaded gasoline, noted MIT economics professor Richard Schmalensee and Harvard Kennedy School government professor Robert Stavins.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush proposed the use of a cap and trade system to cut by half sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and consequent acid rain, they wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed in 2010.

"An initially resistant Democratic Congress overwhelmingly endorsed the proposal," the professors wrote. "The landmark Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 passed the Senate 89 to 10 and the House 401 to 25."

Bush not only accepted the cap, but he sided with environmentalists who wanted a larger cut than his own advisers, according to Smithsonian Magazine, in a report that detailed how the Environmental Defense Fund worked with Bush's White House to make cap and trade a reality.

"George H.W. Bush does indeed deserve enormous credit for being the champion of the cap and trade program for sulfur dioxide, a major cause of acid rain," Pooley said. "That has led many over the years to refer to it as a Republican idea."

But Pooley said that Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell — a Democrat — also deserves credit for leading the legislative charge that ultimately passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.

"So if pressed, I would call it a bipartisan idea that was championed by a Republican president," he told PolitiFact Florida.

In 2005, the EPA under President George W. Bush issued the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which aimed to achieve "the largest reduction in air pollution in more than a decade" using cap and trade, wrote Stavins and Schmalensee.

They noted the contributions under Reagan and both Bushes to argue that cap and trade should be embraced by Republicans as well as Democrats.

"After all, these policies were innovations developed by conservatives in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations (and once strongly condemned by liberals)," they wrote.

In 2003, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat from Connecticut, introduced the "Climate Stewardship Act," which would have used a similar cap and trade approach to reduce carbon pollution linked to global warming.

Versions of the bill were reintroduced in 2005 and 2007.

That was the first time legislation was introduced to use cap and trade for carbon emissions, Pooley told PolitiFact.

McCain's 2007 version was co-sponsored by Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. And both McCain and Obama had cap and trade programs in their presidential platforms.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

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