Editorializing on the Lieberman-Warner cap and trade bill set to be debated in the Senate next week, the Wall Street Journal writes: “For a bill as grandly ambitious as Warner-Lieberman, very few staff, much less Senators, even know what’s in it. The press corps mainly cheerleads this political fad, without examining how it would work or what it would cost.”

Eager to prove the WSJ correct the New York Times editorializes today: “The Senate last addressed climate change in 2003 when it cast 43 votes in favor of a bill sponsored by Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman. This bill is even more ambitious. It calls for a 70 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 — requiring, in turn, a huge change in the way the country creates, delivers and uses energy. It imposes a price on carbon to make sure that happens.”

Oh really? On what page of the bill does Lieberman-Warner “impose a price on carbon”? And what price do they set exactly? The New York Times does not say because Warner-Lieberman is designed to avoid such honesty. The Wall Street Journal is left to explain what the bill actually does:

The policy preferred by the environmental lobby is called cap and trade. The government would set a limit on emissions that declines every year. The goal of Warner-Lieberman is to return to 2005 levels by 2012, and to reduce that by 30% by 2030.

And for the most part, the politicians favor cap and trade because it is an indirect tax. A direct tax – say, on gasoline – would be far more transparent, but it would also be unpopular. Cap and trade is a tax imposed on business, disguising the true costs and thus making it more politically palatable. In reality, firms will merely pass on these costs to customers, and ultimately down the energy chain to all Americans. Higher prices are what are supposed to motivate the investments and behavioral changes required to use less carbon.

Responding to worries about higher energy prices the New York Times continues:

Every serious study shows that this is simply not true and that a well-designed, market-based program could yield positive economic gains — greater energy efficiency, technological innovation and reduced reliance on foreign oil. The same studies also make clear that the costs of inaction will dwarf the costs of acting now. The bill’s proponents must make sure that the economics of this debate are framed in a positive way.

We do not know if the NYT considers the EPA “serious” but the WSJ reports on what the EPA says the costs of the bill will be:

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this meddling would cause a cumulative reduction in the growth of GDP by between 0.9% and 3.8% by 2030. Add 20 years, and the reduction is between 2.4% and 6.9% – that is, from $1 trillion to $2.8 trillion.

These estimates assume that electricity prices will increase by 44% above what they would otherwise be by 2030. They also assume that existing coal-fired power plants, which currently provide about 50% of U.S. electric power, will be shut down – to be replaced with at least 150% growth in new nuclear facilities, plus other “alternatives.” Yet there are only 104 current U.S. nuclear plants, and the industry itself says it’s optimistic to think even 30 more can be built by 2020.

Completely ignoring that even environmentalist-friendly studies like the EPA’s must resort to complete fantasy about the use of nuclear power just to keep the economic costs of Lieberman-Warner in the low trillions, the NYT concludes:

Mr. Bush can no longer plausibly deny the science. What he continues to resist is the need for a full-throated response. The Senate can usher in a new era of American leadership when it convenes next week.

Avoiding meaningless nonsense like “usher in a new era of American leadership” the WSJ concludes:

Warner-Lieberman has no chance of becoming law this year with President Bush in the White House. But the goal of this Senate exercise is political – to get Members on the record early, preferably before the burdens of cap and trade become more widely understood; to give Democrats a campaign issue; and to pour the legislative foundation that the next Administration could cite as it attempts to regulate carbon limits while waiting for Congress to act.

So by all means let’s have this debate amid $4 gasoline, and not only on C-Span. If Americans are going to cede this much power to the political class, they at least ought to do it knowing the price they will pay.

No wonder Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wants to limit debate on the bill to one week. The more the American people learn about it, the more its failure is certain.