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Town Hall Protests, Dubious Studies... Must Be August!

You know what the debate over energy and climate change could really use? The sort of calm, thoughtful, reasoned town-hall discussions that have made the health-care discussion such a delight this summer. Luckily, the American Petroleum Institute is planning to fill the void:

Taking a cue from angry protests against the Obama Administration’s health care restructuring, the oil industry is helping organize anti-climate bill rallies around the nation.

The American Petroleum Institute, along with other organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers opposed to the climate legislation Congress will consider again in the fall, is funding rallies across 20 states over the August recess.

In template fliers for rallies produced by the API-founded alliance, EnergyCitizens, the public is warned that “Climate change legislation being considered in Washington will cause huge economic pain and produce little environmental gain.”

Now, that last quote may be a tad confusing. After all, didn't the EPA, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) all publish detailed analyses showing that the costs of the House climate bill would be modest? Where did this "huge economic pain" business come from? Ah, well, you see, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) just released its own study today arguing that climate legislation would ravage U.S. manufacturing and destroy some 2 million jobs by 2030.

So, let's take a peek. Technically, NAM is using the same economic forecasting model as the Energy Information Administration, but NAM fed its own, very different assumptions into the model. Not all of those assumptions have been disclosed yet, but the ones that have seem a little dubious. For instance, NAM assumes that, under a climate bill, we'd see just 10 to 25 gigawatts of new nuclear power. But the EIA predicts we'd see that many nukes built without a climate bill, and up to 195 gigawatts under a carbon cap. Likewise, NAM assumes we'll see 5 to 10 GW worth of wind power installed for the next 20 years under a carbon cap. Yet there was 8.5 GW installed in 2008 alone—and, again, that's without any carbon price.

Last year, when the Senate was considering the Lieberman-Warner carbon bill, NAM came out with a similar analysis that projected economic doom by assuming that we'd see no technological advances and that renewable-power production would actually decrease as a result of a carbon cap. At the time, one Lieberman aide quipped that that NAM study was "like a poster in the subway that says 'THIS TRAIN WILL GO OFF THE RAILS' in huge bold type and then, in tiny type at the bottom, 'unless the train has wheels.' " Still, every study deserves its day in the sun, so let's put up a graph showing the NAM's gloomy economic projections, courtesy of Brad Johnson:

Hmm... Essentially, the manufacturing industry is saying that in the worst-case scenario—with everything going wrong, technological progress stagnating, companies choosing not to wring out inefficiencies, and wind and nuclear power taking a step backward for some unknown reason—that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions will cause the economy to grow $8.9 trillion between now and 2030 instead of $9.5 trillion. Feel free to decide whether that downside risk is totally unacceptable or not.