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Fuzzy Math

According to an MIT study, cap and trade could cost the average household more than $3,900 per year.

12:00 AM, Apr 22, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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It's just another inconvenient truth: If Americans want any of the government remedies that would supposedly save a planet allegedly imperiled 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."

Running with Politifact's report, bloggers at Think Progress called the GOP's claim a "deliberate lie," a "myth", and an "outright lie". On April 1, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann said that cap and trade's "average additional cost per family six years from now would be 79 bucks, minus the amount foreign gas prices would drop based on decreased demand, and minus lowered health care costs, because of the cleaner atmosphere. Thirty-one bucks, 3,100 bucks, it's all the same to Congressman John the mathlete Boehner, today's worst person in the world." On April 8, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said of the GOP's figure: "No. Pants on fire. The MIT guy says 'no.' That's not what the study says. Not true. You can't say that."

From Politifact to Think Progress to MSNBC, Reilly's rebuttal of the GOP cap-and-trade estimate made its way to the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives. During an April 2 floor debate, New Jersey Democrat Rob Andrews criticized Republicans for citing a study that "the author claims is just being blatantly misrepresented," and the staff of the House energy committee chairman, Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey, wrote that the figure was "more fuzzy math from Republicans."

The falsity of the $3,100 per household cap-and-trade estimate became a well-established fact among members of the press. News outlets that reported Reilly's criticism of the GOP's figure included not only liberal outlets like The New Republic and The Washington Independent, but mainstream publications like Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, Politico, McClatchy, and the Wall Street Journal.