Media Notes: Politico & National Journal Reach Opposite Conclusions on Congressional GOP Climate Strategy; Obama Thinks Media Isn’t Alarming Enough on AGW; Answering Cass Sunstein

by William Yeatman on February 11, 2015

in Blog

Over the last two days, energy reporters from Politico and National Journal have reached opposite conclusions regarding the congressional GOP caucus’s strategy on climate change.

Here’s Politico on Monday:


And here’s National Journal on Tuesday.


They both can’t be right! I suspect Politico’s Schor is closer to the truth, and that the GOP isn’t yet willing to challenge the President’ climate regulations. There are three tea leaves that suggest as much.

  1. Last week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who holds the gavel on the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over EPA’s budget, indicated that she wouldn’t use her power in that capacity to fight EPA (for now);
  2. Also last week, Rep. Ed Whitfield, who chairs an ultra-influential House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Clean Air Act, told E&E News ($) the GOP will take up EPA reform during the second year of the 114th Congress;
  3. Finally, the GOP this week rolled out a vanilla “Era of Abundance” energy platform, which picks very few fights (more on that in a forthcoming post).

It’s possible that the GOP is playing rope a dope, and that it would prefer to engage these issues nearer a national election. I honestly don’t know whether they’re holding their powder or girding their loins. this week conducted a fawning interview with President Obama, and the bear went loose when climate change was broached. When asked if the media “overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease,” the Commander in Chief responded: “Absolutely.”  His answer mirrors the tone set by the president’s National Security Strategy, unveiled late last week, which lists AGW alongside terrorism and Russian aggression as among our top threats. Yesterday at the White House, when asked “if President Obama believed climate change is a greater threat than terrorism,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest yesterday affirmed that “the point that the president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the direct impact on their lives of climate change or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism.” [Quote captured by The Hill’s Laura Barron-Lopez]. So…the president thinks that more people are impacted by AGW than terrorism…To me, this suggests that the President hasn’t flown commercial in a very, very long time.

Superstar legal mind and former OIRA head Cass Sunstein penned a confusing column in Bloomberg Views yesterday, “Talking Like Grownups about Climate Change.” His subject is the gap between caring about AGW and caring enough to sacrifice. Here’s the nuts and bolts of his thinking:

How can most Americans be unwilling to pay to reduce a problem that they believe (as they indicated in the recent poll) will damage them personally?

One answer is that many people believe companies can reduce emissions on their own, and without imposing costs on consumers. (Unfortunately, that’s highly unrealistic.) Another is that, in surveys, most people express an immediate and strong aversion to higher taxes as the solution to climate change (or almost any other problem).

If the second answer is the right one, then there may be an opening for an adult conversation about the topic. If we are worried about climate change, surely we would be willing to pay something — at least if it isn’t a lot — to reduce the risk. According to some estimates, the U.S. could do a lot to reduce greenhouse gases if the average American paid a monthly energy tax, targeted to such emissions, of $10, along with an equivalent gasoline tax.

Here’s why I’m confused. Sunstein says that there’s “an opening for an adult conversation” if it is true that “most people express an immediate and strong aversion to higher taxes as the solution to climate change.” And then, in the next paragraph, he describes this “adult conversation,” whose very first topic of discussion is…a $10 monthly energy tax. I don’t get it. I thought Sunstein’s premise is that his interlocutors “express an immediate and strong aversion to higher taxes.” Sunstein’s “conversation” seems too provocative to be civil.

In any case, Sunstein asks the question, “It would be interesting to ask people whether they would be willing to pay such amounts — or just how much they might be willing to pay.” According to research by a Harvard professor, the answer is $5 per month, or $60 a year. That’s what people who care about AGW are willing to pay.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: