Will Bush stay the course on CO2?

bush7856473524109673967.jpgRumors are flying that President Bush may propose to cap CO2 emissions from electric power plants in the upcoming state of the union speech (see Iain Murray’s post of 01/22/4:07PM on The Corner). It’s deja vu all over again.

Back in September 2000, the Bush-for-President campaign proposed to cap CO2 emissions from electric power plants. Not long after the presidential inauguration in January 2001, rumors were flying that Bush would propose CO2 caps in the state of the union message. The Competitive Enterprise Institute and other free-market groups urged President Bush to abandon that ill-considered proposal.

A conservative pundit who weighed in was former Reagan official Alan Keyes. His hard-hitting column, “Bush’s road to an energy tax,” is available here. Along with CEI and its allies, Keyes pointed out that Bush’s advocacy of CO2 caps for power plants was inconsistent with his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. He noted that enacting carbon caps would undermine bi-partisan congressional efforts to prevent “backdoor” (regulatory) implementation of the non-ratified climate treaty. Most importantly, Keyes warned that carbon caps would function as energy taxes at a time when energy prices were soaring and the economy was sliding into a recession.

All those objections against carbon caps remain valid today. Fortunately, Bush decided to disavow the campaign proposal and stick to pro-growth energy policies in 2001. As White House press secretary Ari Fleisher explained at a March 15, 2001 press briefing, a December 2000 report by the Energy Information Administration found that imposing carbon caps on power plants “would lead to large increases in the price of electricity. And given where California is today and where our nation may be facing in terms of high energy bills and a looming energy crisis, the President does not think it would be wise to proceed.”

Kyoto proponents like Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) professed to be outraged at Bush’s “breathtaking betrayal.” It was mighty silly. They fumed as if Bush had hoodwinked them into supporting him instead of Gore, only to find out that he was not really their man on CO2! Bush could not honor both his “promise” to promote energy abundance and prosperity and his “promise” to cap CO2. He wisely chose to keep the energy abundance/prosperity promise.

But will he stay the course this time around? Or will Bush’s legacy end up being to take slings and arrows for seven years opposing Al Gore’s anti-energy agenda only to enact that agenda at the end of his second term? Stay tuned.