The Climate Hot Potato

by William Yeatman on January 29, 2008

As with the global warming advocate who attributes each weather event – hot or cold, wet or dry – to his creed, there’s nothing like starting one’s day off having your beliefs or assumptions affirmed.  So it was when I picked up today’s Washington Post, turning to its editorials confident that the lead piece would feature some angst over the lack of promises made about global warming to-dos in last night’s SOTU speech.

Lo and behold, despite the many weighty issues of our time and addressed last night, in true self-parody fashion the Post laments in its ultimate paragraph:

“But the greatest disappointment of the night was his failure to commit to working with Congress on legislation to create a mandatory carbon emissions reduction system in the United States — without which no international accord will be possible.”

Wow.  That's disappointment, but its expression is notable not so much for intimating that the U.S. enhances its bargaining position by adopting in advance some version of what we are asking others to adopt in return for our acquiescence; thank goodness WaPo editorial writers aren’t doing our negotiating for us (again/yet).

No, most instructive is the mindset betrayed by this appeal, which is also apparent in the halls of Congress: Bush must take ownership of this issue before he leaves office.

Remember, the next administration could just as easily push this agenda, like asking Congress to approve the Post's desired cap-and-trade legislation, or make the relevant findings.  Regarding the latter, this would actually allow more careful deliberation given the regulatory challenges/demands are recent: making a Clean Air Act “endangerment” finding, and listing the thriving polar bear as “threatened”.  But, maybe more careful deliberation isn't a good thing.  Further, the global warming establishment sounds confident that the next president will be “one of theirs” (Clinton, McCain, Obama).

Similarly, Congress has the ability to enact that which they insist that Bush either first ask them to enact, or adopt through unfortunate abuse of existing statutory language.  Yet you have noticed that, after seven years of shrill demands that hearings are an irresponsible delay tactic and waste of time and Congress must act now, the new majority seized the gavel and…opted for dozens of hearings not one of which, until recently, was on an identifiable piece of legislation (which bills, of course, carry identifiable price tags).

This is because the agenda is very expensive, intrusive, would lead to job loss and increased energy costs – just as it already has in Europe.  So the better scenario for them is for Bush to take the blame for, er, helm of the policy cruise they claim they are eager to board.  They offer the occasional excuse that, well, that mean Bush would veto it so there’s no point trying.  That’s of limited persuasion given that the past twelve months are replete with rhetorical and actual examples that such threats are no deterrent whatsoever.

As my colleague Marlo Lewis, DC attorney Peter Glaser and others have pointed out, for Bush to relieve Congress of responsibility for that which their lips say they really really want, but which their reluctance to take responsibility for says no no, would necessarily trigger statutory implications unprecedented in their insertion of a regulatory agency into the U.S. economy.  The consequences would include the unfortunate and unintended, in addition to the intended and expensive, requiring a “legislative fix.”

That is, for Bush to do what the Post and others insist with increasing desperation would not merely rescue Congress from having to follow through on their (post-2006 election) promises, but also position them to clean up Bush’s mess.  Better still, this would leave the regulated community grateful for the “fix” that would, of course, include imposition of the cap-and-trade regime that they presently oppose (but-for the rent-seekers who, also in classic fashion, can’t agree on whose scheme should make who windfall-wealthy).

If you embrace this agenda, the choice is simple.  The Post gets it.


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