Climate Change: The Mandate that Wasn’t

It is quite typical for pressure lobbies to claim that their issue has been provided a mandate by any given election outcome even where, as in this case, the particular issue was kept up in the attic with Ross Perot’s “crazy aunt” until the election was over. However, some scribblers, like Sebastian Mallaby in today’s Washington Post, seem desperate to believe — or at least have others believe — the hype that the people spoke and demanded action on climate change — thus the rush to add subcommittees, and even a full, special (if legislatively impotent) committee in the House to push that which has failed to get a majority every time it has been raised: Kyoto-style carbon-based energy rationing.

But in truth the victorious Democrats didn’t run on the issue. As the Greenwire news service reported on the day of the election, climate change was hardly a factor in swaying voters’ minds:

Massie Ritsch, spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending, said the recent media frenzy over climate change — from Hollywood-style documentaries to mainstream press coverage — did little to stir voters this year. “For all of the attention Al Gore’s movie got, it hasn’t stayed a major election issue,” he said.

If anything they ran away from it, like they ran away — and continue to run away — from the Kyoto Protocol, which they bash President Bush for “refusing to sign.” (He didn’t sign the Treaty of Versailles, either, and for the same reason: someone else beat him to it.) As Greenwire reported back in August:

If Democrats take back the House or Senate this November, conventional wisdom says climate change would vault to the top of the congressional agenda. But the reality is more complicated.

Consider Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), front-runner to take the Energy and Commerce Committee gavel if Democrats control the House…he is far from convinced his panel can, or should, take a more aggressive tack on global warming…

Another top Democrat on the panel, Virginia’s Rick Boucher, currently the ranking member on the subcommittee that oversees climate issues, said economic hurdles and technological barriers to mandated greenhouse gas curbs are his top concerns.

It’s time to stop calling names and vote, kiddies! Yet whenever the issue has been elevated to be a major priority, it has fared poorly. As Roger Ballentine, an energy and environment adviser to 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, cautioned about the legislative and substantive mess that results in efforts to exercise control over a significant portion of the economy: “It starts looking like a health care bill, and that’s just hard as hell.”

So apparently, Dingell got it right when he noted that the new House panel is simply for show:

We should probably name it the Committee on World Travel and Junkets…We’re just empowering a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs to go around and make speeches and make commitments that will be very difficult to honor.

It looks as if someone has peered behind the curtain at Europe to see that, no, this doesn’t actually work and, no, they aren’t outperforming the U.S. by any means; quite the opposite is true.

As I heard from trusted sources, Duke Energy’s CEO was informed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, now Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, last November, that the rent seekers will have to wait two years, for two reasons: 1) President Bush cannot be seen to have had anything to do with such legislation; and 2) the issue is too good not to have around in for the 2008 election cycle. His interview with The Charlotte Observer certainly offers no reason to doubt this account.

Now the greens sadly notify us that, well, while they’d really like to see something pass, alas, what with this “gridlock” (I’m not kidding, NRDC’s term for what is otherwise described as a sweep) it looks like this has to be an issue for ’08. Unlike in ’06.