Correcting the Record on Waxman-Markey

April 7, 2010 | Yael Borofsky,

John Harwood incorrectly stated that House-passed Waxman-Markey "would reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels over a 10-year period," in a post this week discussing the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman Senate legislation
on the New York Times blog, The Caucus.

In fact, the Waxman-Markey climate bill does not require emissions reductions in the U.S. economy below business-as-usual (BAU) levels for at least a decade. The bill would allow regulated firms to purchase up to two billion tons of carbon offsets in lieu of reducing their own emissions in the capped sector of the U.S. economy. As our comprehensive analysis of Waxman Markey has shown, firms would be legally permitted to continue BAU emissions and practices through 2017 under the most conservative estimates of offset projections (under the CBO) and 2027 under the most expansive estimate (from the EPA).

It's also important to note that carbon offset projects have been shown to be highly suspect, if not outright fraudulent. Many analyses, including those relied upon by the New York Times, have assumed that offsets represent real and verifiable emissions reductions. But repeated examples of project owners being paid for offsets from emissions reductions projects that would have happened anyway are now well documented, as are cases of outright fraud. One influential Stanford study concluded that "between a third and two thirds" of emissions offsets under Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) did not represent real emissions cuts.

That's why it is not accurate to claim that Waxman-Markey "would reduce" carbon emissions, as our analysis has definitively shown. Harwood could have noted that "the Waxman-Markey bill sets a "target" for reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade," or that it "aims" to reduce emissions at that rate.

The Breakthrough Institute has raised concerns about the New York Times coverage of the Waxman-Markey bill before, including, for example, this graphic erroneously depicting what the bill would achieve with respect to emissions reductions.

Reporters that misrepresented what Waxman-Markey would mean for U.S. emissions reductions will have a chance to get the story right once the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman bill drops on the Senate floor.