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Eco-fuzzy math: Debunking a cap-and-trade debunking

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By Michelle Malkin  •  April 22, 2009 10:26 AM

The MSM relied on Politifact to “debunk” the GOP’s claim that the Obama cap-and-trade plan would cost American families an estimated $3,100 a year.

The debunkers were wrong.

The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack busted their fuzzy math:

It’s just another inconvenient truth: If Americans want any of the government remedies that would supposedly save a planet allegedlyimperiled by global warming, it’s going to cost them.

Just how much it will cost them has been a point of contention lately. Many congressional Republicans, including members of the GOP leadership, have claimed that the plan to limit carbon emissions through cap and trade would cost the average household more than $3,100 per year. According to an MIT study, between 2015 and 2050 cap and trade would annually raise an average of $366 billion in revenues
(divided by 117 million households equals $3,128 per household, the Republicans reckon).

But on March 24, after interviewing one of the MIT professors who conducted the study on which the GOP relied to produce its estimate, the St. Petersburg Times fact-check unit, Politifact, declared the GOP
figure of $3,100 per household was a “Pants on Fire” falsehood. The GOP claim is “just wrong,” MIT professor John Reilly told Politifact. “It’s wrong in so many ways it’s hard to begin.”

According to Politifact, Reilly’s report included an “estimate of the net cost to individuals” that “would be $215.05 per household. A far cry from $3,128.”

… During a lengthy email exchange last week with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, MIT professor John Reilly admitted that his original estimate of cap and trade’s cost was inaccurate. The annual cost would be “$800 per household”, he wrote. “I made a boneheaded mistake in an excel spread sheet. I have sent a new letter to Republicans correcting my error (and to others).”

While $800 is significantly more than Reilly’s original estimate of $215 (not to mention more than Obama’s middle-class tax cut), it turns out that Reilly is still low-balling the cost of cap and trade by
using some fuzzy logic. In reality, cap and trade could cost the average household more than $3,900 per year.

The $800 paid annually per household is merely the “cost to the economy [that] involves all those actions people have to take to reduce their use of fossil fuels or find ways to use them without
releasing [Green House Gases],” Reilly wrote. “So that might involve spending money on insulating your home, or buying a more expensive hybrid vehicle to drive, or electric utilities substituting gas (or
wind, nuclear, or solar) instead of coal in power generation, or industry investing in more efficient motors or production processes, etc. with all of these things ending up reflected in the costs of good and services in the economy.”

In other words, Reilly estimates that “the amount of tax collected” through companies would equal $3,128 per household–and “Those costs do get passed to consumers and income earners in one way or
another”–but those costs have “nothing to do with the real cost” to the economy. Reilly assumes that the $3,128 will be “returned” to each household. Without that assumption, Reilly wrote, “the cost would then be the Republican estimate [$3,128] plus the cost I estimate [$800].”

The slogan of Politifact is “Sorting out the truth in politics.” The website, a project of the St. Petersburg Times, won a Pulitzer on Monday.

I second John McCormack’s question: Will Politifact correct its faulty debunking or not? If not, they should change their name to PolitiFICTION.

Contact them here.

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