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Saving Speaker Pelosi: The Inept Politics of the US Cap and Trade Plan

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Saving Speaker Pelosi: The Inept Politics of the US Cap and Trade Plan

Op-ed in The Energy Tribune

I won’t be surprised if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate
Environment Committee chair Barbara Boxer and President-elect Barack
Obama all send flowers to certain people I generally consider allies in
the fight against committing economic suicide in the name of “global
warming.” The reason: these three supporters of the moribund and
politically dangerous carbon dioxide “cap-and-trade” rationing scheme
have just had their prospects immeasurably improved by those whose ox
they hope to Gore. (So to speak).

Start with industry. An
unfortunate rule of thumb is that trade associations and Washington
representatives are principally focused not on fighting bad ideas, and
possibly losing, but instead on claiming worse outcomes were avoided
and – critically – that they were at the table when this occurred.
Consider how in late 2008 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reprised its
ill-fated endorsement of HillaryCare, by calling the draft
Dingell-Boucher cap-and-trade bill “reasonable.” Apparently it was an
offering to “be at the table so we’re not on the menu” as the tired
saying goes.

The notion of saying “no” to horrible ideas is
simply too embarrassing to consider. As Newt Gingrich reminded us in
this context at about the same time, there’s also simply no opportunity
to show how clever we are in designing alternatives if we just say
“no.” Meanwhile, this action helpfully jerked the center of the issue
significantly to the left.

Fortunately, both Reps. John Dingell
(D-MI) and Rick Boucher (D-VA) have since been deposed as key
Congressional leaders on energy by true global warming radicals from
Beverly Hills and Massachusetts, Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey,
respectively. One can only hope that this coup serves as a wake-up call
that appeasement’s unhappy history stands little chance of improvement
on this issue.

Next up to save the anxious Democrats was a cadre
of conservative thinkers – like Charles Krauthammer and Art Laffer –
calling for a carbon tax instead of the apparently inevitable
cap-and-trade. They were joined by select lawmakers, and even by the
company demonized by the global warming industry for their past sins of
supporting speech on both sides of this debate.

This latter entry
was tailor made for the alarmists to position themselves as being on
the side of the consumer. All of them provide real bogeymen against
which the cap-and-traders will now claim they are protecting the
public, supplanting “those people who want to tax your energy” railed
against by candidate John McCain, who vowed the soothing balm of a
“market mechanism” instead. Well, now replace McCain’s imaginary
tax-collector with a team that Democratic Central Casting couldn’t have
invented any better. All of this could have benefited from a little
more thinking-through.

And excuse me for asking but, since no one
says any feasibly adopted tax (or cap-and-trade scheme) would change
the climate, to what are we really, ultimately agreeing here? “Peace”
with these people is not for sale here, my friends.

The question
remains, how much have the forces behind imposing a carbon
cap-and-trade scheme on the US understood this political landscape?
They announced again recently their paralysis over the prospect of
being tagged as the ones who visited this scheme upon you. You see
first that they hoped George W. Bush would take ownership of it with an
EPA rulemaking, subsequent to Massachusetts v. EPA. When the
administration wisely pushed that off into the future with an Advanced
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (implicating a lengthy regulatory
process), it seemed that Congressional champions might possibly act.

Yet
the leaders in Congress, while claiming that they have the necessary
votes to enact precisely that which they demanded for six years, as the
minority party, also indicated that 2009 was likely to be the third
year of their own stalling. They’re terrified of doing this, just as
the Obama administration would rather not be known for what EPA would
do, but for their intervention. That hardly signals inevitability. So
why bail them out?

Is it possible they are cagily, consciously,
waiting for the Chamber to beg for cap-and-trade in order to rescue
them from the ravages of what an unchecked EPA might do? Did they
predict that some Republican-types would leap into the fray to
helpfully cast the carbon rationers as the more responsible parties by
crying out for taxation? Or are the rationers merely the unwitting
beneficiaries of this behavior?

Please indulge my gloating, as I
have publicly predicted the tax offering for some time, also confident
that our friends would not, upon reflection, say instead, for example,
“if you’re serious – and I have no reason to doubt that – why are you
not proposing a tax, instead? It is much less costly even though, I
admit, it offers no opportunity to reward those businesses lobbying for
cap-and-trade.” Notice the number of issues one can raise in a single
question? But, no. It was too tempting to be the one calling for the
tax.

We’ve seen this before, when friends took credit for
“shutting down government” even when it was a president who refused to
sign their duly adopted budget, or when they failed to simply assert continuation of the Clinton-Gore policy of refusing to seek ratification of Kyoto.
As I say, it makes sense to think these things through before the bold
pronouncements, with which one’s adversaries often find great use.

How
well the rationers have considered these gifts in their gambit matters
only slightly, as we judge whether they are still acting out of fear,
or savvy. The ultimate point is that they must be called to take
ownership of that which they seek to do to us. It is past time to stop
making their frightful task any easier.

The obvious first step is
to remove the false urgency of a potential EPA rulemaking, by
clarifying for the Supreme Court and the agency that the Clean Air Act
as written is actually not intended as a vehicle to regulate greenhouse
gases. It’s quick, clean and would allow Congress to consider what
would possibly be the most expensive course ever charted at least with
deliberation. That legislation has been proposed, by Rep. Marsha
Blackburn (R-TN). If Congress can pass a pay raise, now of all times, why not this?

Naturally,
the Blackburn solution is being ignored. There’s an urgent crisis to
make as big a mess of this issue as possible, after all.

Christopher C. Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. His latest book is Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.