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The State Department is often the bane of conservatives, mostly for its institutional embrace of the multilateral let's-not-offend-anyone approach. Even in the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell provides the bulk of the grist for right-wing angst over the current agenda.
Despite all of this, attentive conservatives hailed the State Department's performance at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Unfortunately, some of the State Department's key achievements appear to be on the verge of being squandered at home.
The U.S. negotiators at Johannesburg obtained a tremendous victory for affordable energy, in coalition with unified Lesser Developed Countries, commonly known as the Third World.
This coalition rejected the 15-nation European Union's insistence that the LDCs, if they are to develop, must do so according to the eco-elite, European-preferred method. That method is through the least efficient, most land-intensive, and most expensive energy technologies -- wind and solar, or "renewable" energy systems.
European and American elites alike prefer to know that the Brazilians and other Third World nations are actually living as the elites prefer to imagine them developing, not how these nations actually prefer to develop themselves. This is eco-imperialism.
The victory in the final summit declaration may have been toothless, but given its symbolism, it was not meaningless.
This language, after paying requisite fealty to the goal of increasing the contribution of renewable technologies, included the highly important breathtaking qualification of also "ensuring that energy policies are supportive to developing countries efforts to eradicate poverty."
Further, the concept of "renewable" technology was redefined to expressly include hydroelectric power, perversely stripped over time from the acceptable U.S. definition in order to please domestic American pressure groups that place fish above farmers and those whom the farmers feed.
The U.S. negotiators also successfully demanded the specific recognition, twice, of fossil fuel technologies. This was indeed a sea change.
Compare, however, domestic reality with what the U.S. negotiators in Johannesburg insisted upon as the most economically sensible and humane international energy position. Compare the State Department's victory at the summit with what seems likely to emerge from the current House-Senate conference on energy legislation, which the White House has signaled it will accept.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., circumvented the committee process for developing an energy bill, lest a pro-energy bill emerge as appeared likely.
Daschle's concoction of programs to continue our policy bias against energy exploration, production and transportation -- that is, against easy energy availability -- garnered 88 votes out of 100. This is particularly damning to the prospects for America's affordable energy policies benefiting our seniors and the poor, and our economic competitiveness. The Daschle package included a "renewable portfolio" standard," demanding that wind and solar power provide 10 percent of America's electricity. They currently provide only 2 percent, and the United States is the world's leader in production.
A five-fold increase cannot be accomplished by market forces or even through the sickeningly rich subsidies these proven failures receive.
It is not reasonably debatable that the requirement of an otherwise unobtainable level of use of expensive energy sources will raise energy prices and penalize the poor. This from a bill initially designed to respond to an energy crisis!
State was able to defeat precisely that same anti-poor measure in Johannesburg. If these provisions survive a congressional conference committee, as most betting folks now presume they will, the bill's prescriptions will, without doubt, ensure nationwide application of California's energy prescription: eliminate coal from the portfolio, and otherwise limit energy sources by government fiat regardless of availability or reliability, not to mention effectiveness and price. Does anyone recall how that turned out?
Most troubling is that this Senate effort was advanced with the tacit acceptance of the coal industry due to the lure of tremendous subsidies for "clean coal" development.
This is folly. If you can't burn it for reasons of carbon dioxide emissions, which the Senate bill dishonestly codifies as demonstrably linked to "man-made global warming," it matters not a whit what are its content of actual pollutants such as sulfur or nitrogen oxides.
The other principal reason this stark contrast exists and is regrettably likely to emerge into domestic law is that the White House has never bothered to round up allies similar to those who backed the State Department in its highly effective diplomatic stand in Johannesburg.
Where are the advocates for the poor? For seniors and minorities? They should be featured yet they are nowhere to be found, except the odd self-appointed spokes-group sprinkled throughout the "Green" coalition. Compounding the dreary outlook is that the White House has signaled its top energy priority is getting a signing ceremony.
Other, deeply troubling provisions in the energy bill include stealth provisions codifying global warming assertions that scientists refuse to make and against which the State Department also fought in Johannesburg.
The State Department's victory at the recent summit over the eco-elitist desire to make energy less affordable provides a glaring contrast with the Senate's negotiating position on domestic energy legislation. Barring unexpected developments, the energy bill must be abandoned in hopes of a better product in the future.