Saturday, October 09, 2010
President Obama killed the climate change bill. That's the brunt of the article "As the World Burns, How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change" by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker. Lizza tells the tale of how Washington's erstwhile "Three Amigos" -- also known as K.G.L., for Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. -- cobbled together a cap-and-trade climate-change bill that had "the support both of the major green groups and the biggest polluters" -- until the deal fell apart.
The story has generated a lot of Beltway buzz and some ire among Senate staffers. But if the White House did have a role in killing the bill, kudos to Obamaland.
The tale starts in March 2009, when the White House announced a "grand bargain." In exchange for a cap on carbon emissions, Democrats would agree to offshore oil drilling, nuclear power and more natural gas production.
The genius of that strategy is twofold. First, it gives the enviro left and the oil-friendly right a dog in the fight. More important, it ultimately led K.G.L. to bypass GOP senators, who opposed cap-and-trade, and cut a deal with industry, in the hopes that industry would lean on the Repubs.
And cut deals they did. As Lizza reported, Texas oil-and-gas billionaire T. Boone Pickens climbed on board. In exchange for concessions -- like pre-emption from carbon being regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency -- big utilities promised "a very supportive statement" and the chamber of commerce promised to keep quiet.
"It wasn't a surprise to us that various industries were willing to sell out," explained Matt Dempsey, spokesman for climate change contrarian Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. Industry biggies got in on the negotiations and "they were poised to make money."
No worries. If the bill means higher fees, he added, "They can pass it on to consumers."
Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips agreed not to refer to the measure as a "carbon tax." The senators decided to call a proposed fee on gasoline "a fee on polluters."
Anything but a "gas tax."
When the White House leaked that it opposed Graham's support of higher gas taxes to Fox News, it was the beginning of the end for Graham.
Then again, the bill always was doomed to fail. One way or another, cap-and-trade has to raise consumer prices -- and critics are going to call that a tax hike. The jig was up in 2009 when the Senate voted 98-0 for an amendment against any climate legislation that "directly or indirectly" raised federal taxes.
Lizza asked Al Gore what the former vice president thought tanked the bill. Gore cited GOP partisanship, the recession and an "unhealthy level" of special-interest influence.
Gore's too modest. He deserves some of the credit, too. Gore has warned that global warming will cause the sea to rise 20 feet and that the next generation could live a decade without winter. Yet Gore and his co-believers don't act as if they believe their own shtick.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus and author Bjorn Lomborg have challenged Gore to a debate. He won't bite. If the health of the planet really were at stake, you would think Gore could give up an hour or two to argue his case.
After all, Gore found time to fly to the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen last year so that he and other true believers could talk to one another about the evils of greenhouse gases. Then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prince Charles arrived in separate private planes.
When the big-shot proponents of a doomsday scenario won't get a handle on their own emissions, they shouldn't expect their D.C. cohorts to spew out anything heavier than hot air.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders.
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