Perry Mason Hearings

Perry Mason Hearings

February 28, 1998

Blame it on inexperience, minority-itus, or El Niño, but some of our friends on Capitol Hill still imagine that the purpose of hearings is to gather information. The real point is to prosecute and convict one’s political adversaries before the court of public opinion. A hearing goes well when our team plays Perry Mason and discredits the witness by exposing him (or his agency) as an enemy of the people.

Here’s how Perry Mason might conduct a hearing on global warming:

Perry: Mr. Gore, the Administration requests $700 million in tax credits for of fuel efficient vehicles. I presume the government will set a good example by purchasing cars with higher fuel economy than the current 27.5 miles per gallon CAFE standard?

Al: Absolutely.

Perry: Has the governmentconsidered the safety risks to federal employees? Harvard Professor John Graham estimates that raising the CAFE standard to 40 mpg would cause an additional 1,650 fatalities annually. How many federal employees’ lives should we be willing to sacrifice to save oil – or save the planet?

Al: The Administration’s proposed R&D program would allow us to improve fuel economy without compromising auto safety.

Perry: So you admit that, other things being equal, lighter cars offer less protection in crashes than heavier cars?

Al: Well, no.

Perry: Then you dispute the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s finding that the fatal crash rate for passenger cars increases by 1.1 percent for each 100 pound decrease in vehicle weight?

Al: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Perry: Please do. You’re also proposing tax credits for weatherized houses that don’t leak cool air in the summer or warm air in the winter?

Al: Yes, if those houses exceed current energy-efficiency standards.

Perry: So you’re encouraging people to buy poorly-ventilated houses?

Al: Energy-efficient houses.

Perry: But doesn’t reducing ventilation intensify the buildup of indoor air pollutants, such as cockroach dust? And didn’t the New England Journal of Medicine report that exposure to cockroach dust "may help explain the frequency of asthma-related health problems in inner-city children"?

Al: Look, curbing fossil fuel emissions will also curb ozone and particulate pollution. That will reduce childhood asthma.

Perry: But childhood asthma rates have increased while ozone and particulate levels have declined. Isn’t indoor air pollution the real problem, and won’t additional weatherizing make it worse?

Al: I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Perry: Now, about those renewable energy tax credits and subsidies – what percentage of U.S. electricity needs is currently met by wind and solar power?

Al: Less than one-half of one percent.

Perry: And what percentage by fossil fuels?

Al: Eighty-five percent.

Perry: So how in the world can we reduce U.S. fossil fuel emissions 40 percent below baseline projections by 2012 without a return to Carter-era gas lines, stagflation, and "malaise"?

Al: If we do it dumb, it will be costly; if we do it smart, it won’t cost much.

Perry: Seems to me you were more honest in 1992, when you wrote that saving the planet would require "sacrifice, struggle, a wrenching transformation of society."