Happy Earth Day. Environmental policy sometimes is more about benefiting well-connected companies than saving the planet. Some examples:

  • Aluminum giant Alcoa lobbied for stricter standards on cars’ fuel economy, and for cap-and-trade legislation. Both policies effectively tax the weight of your car, providing an incentive to replace steel in cars with aluminum. Guess what? The process of making aluminum frames is so much more energy-intensive and GHG-intensive than making steel cars, that this might be a net environmental loser.
  • One of the first green fuels was ethanol. How has that turned out for the environment?
  • The light-bulb law has pushed GE to move its light-bulb manufacturing from the U.S. to China. Those Chinese factories don’t have the same environmental standards as the U.S. plants did, and they have to ship the bulbs around the world now.
  • Enron lobbied the U.S. to ratify the Kyoto Protoctol on climate change, effectively taxing coal use in the U.S. At the same time, Enron was building coal-fired power plants in developing countries that would not be affected by Kyoto’s emissions controls.
  • Power company AES did the same thing as Enron: lobbying for cap-and-trade in the U.S. while opening coal-fired plants in other countries.