Other people are getting paid by the federal government so why shouldn’t we? That’s the sentiment coming from the forest industry over reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This is how a bad bill becomes a bad law. When there’s money up for grabs, special interests and their lobbyists swarm like bees to honey seeking to protect or improve their bottom line. Inevitably, few win at the expense of many. And when you can get paid not to do anything, all the better. Jessica Leber of E&E (password required) reports:

About 15 of the 50 coalition members are spending this week arguing that 5 percent of cap-and-trade revenue be devoted to domestic forest and land conservation. That’s compared to about 1.2 percent proposed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and on par with the money slated to protect rain forests outside of U.S. borders.

Advocates say they want the funding to stem decades of forest losses fueled by struggling landowners facing intense pressure to harvest their trees or sell to housing developers. [..] Landowners already stand to gain through a climate bill’s offset program, under which they could sell credits to balance fossil-fuel emissions under a carbon cap. A proposal by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), which could be folded into a final Senate bill, includes a beefed-up domestic offset program with a specific carve-out for farm and forest projects.”

Laurie Wayburn, president of the conservation group Pacific Forest Trust said, “In the energy and alternative energy sectors, the public is investing a great deal in helping entrepreneurs develop technologies that reduce carbon emissions. Land does this naturally, but it doesn’t do this for free. Landowners can’t do this just out of their goodwill.” Wade Mosby, a senior VP for a timber company echoed Wayburn’s sentiments, saying, “I think we’re providing a lot of environmental benefits to the entire public, but we don’t get paid for it.”

So who would get paid for and who wouldn’t? Do you only qualify if you have more than ten acres of forests? Are trees that capture more carbon than others worth more? Do synthetic trees count? With the trillions of dollars in carbon (energy tax) revenue available through a cap and trade system it’s no wonder the forestry industry is chomping at the bit.

If there’s a market for conservation, it should be driven by the private sector, not a newly-created, artificial market for a clear, odorless gas that will be funded by all Americans. Pacific Forest Trust, for instance, makes payments to a tree farm “in return for an agreement to never subdivide its land and always maintain a sustainable forest.” Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited purchase land to create and protect habitats and establish wildlife preserves. Ironically, environmentalists are challenging Ted Turner’s attempt to save wildlife. The billionaire is seeking to restore bison wildlife through buying property in Montana before the remaining 88 bison from Yellowstone National Park are slaughtered.

This rent-seeking strategy of invested companies and individuals is keeping the idea of reducing carbon dioxide emissions alive and well. Now it’s just a matter of convincing the queen bee they deserve more honey.