A bureaucrat in Washington has decided to spend $89,000 of your tax dollars to make himself and like-minded souls on Capitol Hill feel better. The chief administrative officer of the U.S. House of Representatives is purchasing carbon credits for the U.S. Capitol.

Daniel Beard, the administrator, is making his purchase from the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), a financial institution favored with a celebratory visit from Al Gore shortly after the former vice president and climate activist won his Nobel Prize.

As government spending goes, this is a pittance. But it is taxpayer revenue that is being spent on behalf of a dubious, but oh-so-politically correct, cause. This expenditure doesn’t make me see green—it makes me see red.

In theory, carbon offsets are simple. As the Washington Post explained (in an article that was unusually skeptical for one on the environment), “You simply turn over some money, and the offsetters promise to absolve your sins by putting it to use on green technologies, planting trees, pumping carbon dioxide underground and the like.”

The problem is that the buyer of carbon offsets doesn’t really know what, if anything, he is getting for his money. “What are you buying besides a piece of paper that is well printed and that says you are a morally superior person?” says Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The institutions that sell carbon offsets, most of which are for-profit outfits, have a wide variety of ways of spending the money. They might contribute to a wind farm or to planting trees to absorb the carbon in the atmosphere. It is, of course, almost always impossible to measure the impact, if any, of carbon credits.

An investigation by the Financial Times newspaper suggested that some organizations are paying for emissions reductions that don’t occur. Others have received credits for doing things that they were going to do anyway. The FT also found a “shortage of verification.” A climate researcher from Princeton University told USA Today, “No one knows what to trust.”

According to the Washington Post, researchers at Tufts University warned last year that “voluntary offsets are of limited value to solve the increasing threat of climate change.  They should not be seen as a way to buy ‘environmental pardons.'”

Will a $500 contribution to a wind farm really erase your carbon footprint, after you’ve flown around the earth in an emissions-producing jet? Planting trees is nice, but it won’t do much for reducing emissions for years to come. Trees don’t grow overnight. Ebell notes the irony: Climate alarmists often insist that we must do something now.

While rich companies, people, and nations can afford to buy carbon offsets, poorer nations can’t—and they need high energy of the “bad,” carbon-producing kind, if they are to develop their economies. Carbon reduction could mean economic stagnation for many of the world’s poor. They are a luxury purchase for those who are able to enjoy the good things of life, and then pay a fee for absolution.

The outfit where Mr. Beard has chosen to spend our money may not have been a good choice. According to the Post, Chicago Climate Exchange has been criticized by an advocacy group, Clean Air-Cool Planet, which claims that some of the financial instruments offered at the Chicago Climate Exchange may actually be “undercutting the carbon-offset market because it is becoming difficult to judge whether such credits represent any real greenhouse gas reductions.”

Mr. Beard is unfazed (as one often is when spending somebody else’s money). “What can I say? I just disagree,” Beard told the newspaper. “Obviously, this is an emerging marketplace, but it’s a marketplace of the future, and the Capitol is leading. My question is, why wait?”

One good reason to wait is that a government study of the growing carbon-offset industry is expected in April. Reps. Thomas Davis (R-Va) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked Beard to wait for that study before committing taxpayer dollars. Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.), a physicist and member of the committee, also asked Beard to delay. “Using our limited House resources for purchases where the measure of return is so dubious makes me very wary,” Ehlers reportedly wrote to Beard. Well, actually that looks like three good reasons to wait.

As is often the case, taxpayer money was spent to make somebody, not necessarily the taxpayer, feel good.

Charlotte Hays is senior editor at the Independent Women’s Forum.