Cap-And-Trade Prospects Dimmer Than Ever

Sen. Lisa Murkowski scored a political victory last week even though she fell short by four votes of achieving a legislative victory.

Despite vicious smear campaigns by the likes of MoveOn.Org, Climate Progress, and Environmental Defense Action Fund, despite a White House veto threat, and despite me-too criticism from Nixon and Ford alum Russell Train and the subsidy-seeking Auto Alliance, all 41 Republican Senators and six Democrats voted for Sen. Murkowski’s resolution to stop EPA from ‘enacting’ controversial global warming policies through the regulatory back door.

Thanks to Sen. Murkowski’s courageous leadership, the Democratic Party is now the Party of Endangerment – that party taking ownership of all the regulatory consequences of EPA’s endangerment rule; hence the party responsible for endangering America’s economic future.

Obama officials and their congressional allies talk as if the endangerment rule were a legislative hammer enabling them to bully opponents into supporting cap-and-trade as the price of averting an economically-chilling era of litigation-driven greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act.

That is doubtful. A legislative extortion strategy works only if Republicans and moderate Democrats are too dumb to appreciate the political victory they and Sen. Murkowski just achieved.

The Party of Endangerment miscalculates, because pro-growth lawmakers are not stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have a third option: Just say no to cap-and-tax, let President Obama and his congressional allies take ownership of the regulatory cascade and economic fallout emanating from the endangerment rule, and then exploit the political backlash.

University of Colorado climatologist Roger Pielke, Jr. put the point very well more than a year ago: “Far from being an incentive for Congress to act on its own, the looming possibility that EPA will take regulatory action is a strong incentive for Republicans to stalemate Congressional action and a nightmare scenario for Democrats.”

Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute came to the same conclusion. Threatening to sic EPA on the economy is tantamount to promising to commit political suicide. Team Obama, he says, might as well tell Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, “Don’t make me raise energy prices! You’ll really be in trouble with your voters when I raise their energy prices!”

By denying President Obama bipartisan cover for greenhouse gas regulation via the Clean Air Act, last week’s Senate vote turned the endangerment rule into a political liability for Democrats in an election year. The pressure has just gone up on moderate Democrats and Republicans alike to avoid sharing the blame for virtual energy taxes that increase gasoline prices and destroy jobs. Hence, the prospects for cap-and-trade are now dimmer than ever.