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Profiting from Pollution?

With Barack Obama now in office, Congress is preparing to pass laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gases which scientists say cause global warming. What’s interesting about these laws is that they may allow some companies to profit from the pollution of others. Bill Stamps explains.



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It’s called cap and trade. The government puts a cap, or limit, on how much pollution a company can put out. Companies buy the right to pollute a certain amount. Whatever they don’t use they can sell or trade to other companies, and that allows them to pollute even more.

If it sounds weird…even those involved in writing the laws understand. University of Houston Law Professor Victor Flat is teaching a class on cap and trade.

“It does sound weird. It does sound weird. And you gotta wonder, it sounds kind of like are we letting people do something wrong by buying and selling pollution?”

But Professor Flat says in reality, there is nothing wrong because the government sets a cap on how much greenhouse gases it’s allowing. As long as that goal is met, what companies do or don’t do with so called pollution credits may not be important.

“We’re dealing with the problem and we’re just letting people do it in the most efficient way they can.”

Depending on who you talk to global warming is either one of the biggest problems we face or one of the biggest hoaxes. Either way the professor says the new laws are coming, and money generated could be staggering.

“The first year of sales could be 600 billion dollars. That’s a large amount of money.”

If you’re wondering why the government doesn’t just fine a company for polluting the way an athlete is fined for using steroids, the belief is companies may find more ways to pollute less if they can actually save their pollution credits and sell them for more than the fine. They may or may not care about greenhouse gases, but making money…that’s another story.

Bill Stamps, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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