Democrats’ green de­ter­mi­na­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Robert No­vak

“I’ve never seen in­dus­try so deathly afraid of the cur­rent pol­i­tics sur­round­ing cli­mate change pol­icy,” a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cial told me. With good rea­son. As Democrats take con­trol of Congress, once firm op­po­si­tion to the green lobby’s cam­paign of im­pos­ing car­bon emis­sion con­trols is weak.

Pan­icky cap­tains of in­dus­try have them­selves largely to blame for fail­ing to re­spond to the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists’ well-fi­nanced pro­pa­ganda op­er­a­tion. One gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial says “in­dus­try ap­pears ut­terly help­less and ut­terly clue­less as to how to re­spond.” But the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion it­self is a house di­vided, with sup­port for greens and se­vere car­bon reg­u­la­tion inside the De­part­ment of En­ergy ram­pant, reach­ing up to the sec­re­tary him­self.

None of this nec­es­sar­ily means cli­mate change will be­come law dur­ing the next two years, with Pres­i­dent Bush wield­ing his veto pen if any bill es­capes the Se­nate’s grid­lock. Rep. John Din­gell of Detroit, re­as­sum­ing chair­man­ship of the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee af­ter a dozen years’ ab­sence, will try to pro­tect the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try from Dra­co­nian reg­u­la­tion. But over the long term, in­dus­try is los­ing to the greens.

The stakes are im­mense, as shown by the im­pact of the bill to im­ple­ment the Ky­oto pro­posal cospon­sored by Sen. John McCain, front-run­ner for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, and Sen. Joe Lieber­man, the fa­vorite Demo­crat of many Repub­li­cans. The U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mates this mea­sure would re­duce gross do­mes­tic prod­uct by $776 bil­lion, raise gaso­line prices 40 cents a gal­lon, raise nat­u­ral gas prices 46 per­cent and cut coal pro­duc­tion by nearly 60 per­cent. Charles River As­so­ciates, busi­ness con­sul­tants, pre­dicts it would kill 600,000 jobs.

Yet, Jonathan Lash of the World Re­sources In­sti­tute two weeks ago said McCain-Lieber­man does not go far enough in re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions. Green ex­trem­ists would pre­fer the se­vere leg­is­la­tion pro­posed by Sen. Bar­bara Boxer, the new chair­man of the En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee.

Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try sources, Mr. Din­gell has pri­vately ad­vised auto in­dus­try lob­by­ists to pre­pare for the worst. House Speaker-des­ig­nate Nancy Pelosi is mak­ing car­bon emis­sion leg­is­la­tion a pri­or­ity, and Mr. Din­gell has warned Detroit that she ex­pects him to move a bill through his com­mit­tee. He will do his best to mod­ify leg­is­la­tion, but he is obliged to fol­low Mrs. Pelosi’s wishes and can­not play Ho­ra­tio at the Bridge.

Ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try sources, Mr. Din­gell

has pri­vately ad­vised auto in­dus­try lob­by­ists

to pre­pare for the worst. House Speaker-

des­ig­nate Nancy Pelosi is mak­ing car­bon

emis­sion leg­is­la­tion a pri­or­ity, and Mr.

Din­gell has warned Detroit that she ex­pects

him to move a bill through his com­mit­tee.

The same dilemma faces Rep. Rick Boucher, a staunch ally of the coal in­dus­try who will be­come chair­man of the En­ergy and Com­merce sub­com­mit­tee on en­ergy and air qual­ity. He must bal­ance Mrs. Pelosi’s de­sires with the in­ter­ests of the coal coun­ties in his South­west Vir­ginia dis­trict.

Staunch foes of car­bon regu- la­tion re­main in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, headed by Chair­man James L. Con­naughton of the Coun­cil on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity. But the En­ergy De­part­ment’s top ex­ec­u­tive strata have gone green.

Since mov­ing from deputy Trea­sury sec­re­tary to En­ergy sec­re­tary nearly two years ago, busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive and fi­nancier Samuel W. Bod­man has kept a low profile. In a rare pub­lic ut­ter­ance on global warn­ing Oct. 5, 2005, he said an “in­creas­ing level of cer­tainty” about global warm­ing fu­eled by car­bon diox­ide “is real” and “a mat­ter we take se­ri­ously.” In private meet­ings, he has ex­pressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion with ad­min­is­tra­tion pol­icy. Mr. Bod­man’s un­der sec­re­tary, for­mer Se­nate staffer David K. Gar­man, has shocked in­dus­try lob­by­ists with his crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent’s views.

In the back­ground is a pend­ing Supreme Court de­ci­sion on what the Clean Air Act re­quires or per­mits the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to do about green­house gas emis­sions. Even if the Court says the author­ity is merely dis­cre­tionary, McCain or any Demo­cratic pres­i­dent would then crack down on in­dus­try if noth­ing is passed be­fore the 2008 elec­tion.

Ul­ti­mate sal­va­tion from U.S. self-de­struc­tive be­hav­ior may come from the real world. Most Euro­pean Union coun­tries, suf­fer­ing higher en­ergy costs and con­straints on growth im­posed by the Ky­oto pact, can­not meet that treaty’s emis­sion level re­quire­ments. Fur­ther­more, China is on pace to ex­ceed U.S. emis­sions by 2010, mean­ing that uni­lat­eral U.S. car­bon con­trols will have lit­tle im­pact on global emis­sions while driv­ing Amer­i­can jobs to China.

This down­side of Mrs. Pelosi’s green de­ter­mi­na­tion ought to res­onate in union halls and coal­fields of Penn­syl­va­nia, Ohio and West Vir­ginia. How­ever, Amer­i­can in­dus­tri­al­ists, while wring­ing their hands, are not mak­ing their case.

Robert No­vak is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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