When the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess on June 2, lawmakers will begin debating the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade global warming bill. Many environmental activists are worried the bill will not pass this time, and they are counting on a future legislative victory since all three remaining presidential candidates support nearly identical cap-and-trade global warming plans. Unfortunately for the American people, past energy policy decisions are already slowing the U.S. economy in fundamentally the same way a fully implemented cap-and-trade plan would.

Under a cap-and-trade system, the government sets a “cap” on overall economy-wide carbon emissions and anyone who exceeds their government-allotted allowance is forced to buy credits (“trade”) from the government. These caps drive up energy prices, which in turn incentivizes consumers to consume less carbon-emitting energy. Higher energy prices are absolutely essential for cap-and-trade’s promised success. Without them, there would be little incentive to invest in new technologies that could cut carbon emissions.

Liberals have already been successfully “capping” the production of domestic energy sources for years. In 1995 President Clinton blocked drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2006 Senate Democrats blocked drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. By government estimates, these areas may contain 25 billion to 30 billion barrels of oil (against about 30 billion barrels of proven U.S. reserves today) and 80 trillion cubic feet or more of natural gas (compared with about 200 tcf of proven reserves). Estimates of ANWR alone show almost 5% of present U.S. oil use has been “capped” out of existence.

And what has been the result of these caps on domestic oil production? Sky high energy prices. Retail gasoline is in its 15th straight day of record highs. American Airlines is mothballing planes, cutting flights and raising prices. For the first time since 1991, the Department of Energy reported that gasoline use was down. Goldman Sachs predicts that oil could top $140 a barrel this summer and average $200 a barrel next year. Such prices are already proving to be a major drag on the economy.

Implementation of Lieberman-Warner would only worsen these trends. The Heritage Foundation released a study this month estimating that the impact of Lieberman-Warner on the U.S. economy would be a cumulative loss in gross domestic product of at least $1.7 trillion. And this is on top of what the Congressional Budget Office shows would be a $1.21 trillion increase in taxes between 2009 and 2018.

No wonder so many Democrats are already backing away from their support of the bill. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have all expressed second thoughts about the bill after considering how badly it would hurt their state economies. Hopefully after a summer on the campaign trail listening to voters’ concerns about gas prices and the economy, America’s presidential candidates will reach a similar conclusion.

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