Obama’s Commerce Secretary Wants Higher Energy Prices

by David Bier on January 13, 2012

in Blog

In theory, environmentalism is about protecting the poor and middle class from the careless capitalists. In reality, it amounts to persistent attacks on all those groups—capitalists on down.  The Clean Water Act is commonly used to deprive families of their property without due process. The Endangered Species Act is similarly abused to violate property rights with little benefit to wildlife. Cities fine residents millions for violating their mandatory recycling programs. Energy taxes, renewable energy mandates, ethanol tariffs, cap-and-trade schemes, energy rationing, and a host of other programs raise the price of electricity and fuel, which primarily hurts the poor.

In an opinion article in today’s Washington Examiner, Iain Murray and I document how the current Commerce Secretary has repeatedly advocated not just the policies that lead to higher energy prices, but the higher prices themselves.

From 1979-1982, Bryson chaired California’s Public Utilities Commission where he used fixed-rate contracts to drive up electricity prices for consumers, and Bryson isn’t shy about admitting the effect of his policies. “What California has done is knowingly incur higher cents per-kilowatt-hour costs,” he boasted. “They’re substantially higher than the U.S. average in order to invest in the kind of systems we have in California …. that’s been part of the regulatory environment for the investor owned utilities as long as I’ve been close to it.” ….

Today, Bryson is still working for higher prices. In a 2008 panel discussion with author Tom Friedman and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Bryson said, “Take global warming. It’s going to cost something to deal effectively with this. Energy prices are going to have to go up.” His comments had an effect on Breyer. “We better get away from oil. That’ll help us. I hear Tom Friedman and Bryson — they are giving five reasons why. …. They said the world ‘price’ — raise the price of oil. Raise the price of oil! Raise it through the roof, and then people will look for substitutes, so I cheer,” he said smiling…

“What I hear is,” Breyer continued, “’It’s just because you make these huge salaries in the judiciary. You haven’t thought about the average person.’ But I am thinking about the average person. Isn’t that the problem, that the average person is going to have to pay too, and quite a lot? You hear these ‘terrible’ words: tax. But remember Alfred Kahn? Kahn was told by Jimmy Carter don’t refer to the word recession, so he said, ‘OK, we’re about to have a banana.’ Fine, let’s put a banana on oil,” he said laughing.

These two liberal elites laugh as they conspire against the American consumer, the middle class, and the poor. Bryson is no stranger to the “hidden tax” idea—he’s actually an advocate of doing exactly that. While speaking at UC Berkley in 2010, Bryson spoke in favor of President Obama’s cap and trade energy scheme. He said that the bill has “the advantage politically of sort of hiding the fact that you have a tax, but that’s what you’re trying to do, trying to raise prices of carbon.”

This backdoor attack on the poor was fortunately defeated, but it’s not an anomalous case for environmental policy—it’s the norm. Other environmental policies—bans on cheap light bulbs, air emission regulations, water use regulations, and others—already inflate the prices of goods and services, which hurt the poor the most. It’s unfortunate that the people who claim to care the most about the poor are the least likely to see it.

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