Senate Sets Up Lopsided Global Warming ‘Debate’

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will kick off a legislative effort to address global warming next week.

Considering the agenda and witnesses scheduled to testify at the committee’s so-called “Bipartisan Climate Conference,” it appears that “the fix is in” for greenhouse gas regulation.

Led by New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the purpose of the April 4 conference is to discuss “how Congress might go about creating a mandatory trading program to control U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” according to an e-mail distributed by a spokesman for committee Democrats.

The conference isn't about whether greenhouse gas regulation makes sense but how to implement it, and the agenda and witness list reflect this bias.

None of the 29 scheduled witnesses, about half of which are publicly owned corporations and energy-related business-trade associations, is expected to directly question the need for mandatory greenhouse gas regulation, at least that is what the committee staff hopes.

Excluded from the hearing was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market-oriented think tank that has prominently opposed global warming regulation and that has testified many times before Congress (and is an organization with which I am an adjunct scholar).

A Democratic committee staffer told me that CEI was excluded because its written comments on a committee questionaire allegedly were “less thoughtful and comprehensive than those of other respondents who similarly do not endorse mandatory greenhouse gas controls at this time.”

My impression that he was slighting CEI was short-lived, though. What the spokesman really meant was clarified by his next sentence: “Representatives of some of these other [opponents of greenhouse gas regulation], such as the National Mining Association and the Edison Electric Institute, will participate in the conference.”

While NMA and EEI may dispute global warming alarmism privately, they are not likely to say so publicly; that appears to be the price of admission to the conference.

Based on discussions with a source at NMA and CEI's director of energy policy Myron Ebell, witnesses apparently need to sign onto the premise that greenhouse gas regulation is necessary if they want to play in the committee’s legislative sandbox.

The legislative strategy of groups such as NMA and EEI seems to be that any greenhouse gas regulations must apply to the entire economy, thereby making such regulation politically unpalatable since no one would be left economically unscathed.

It’s not an entirely irrational strategy, but it is a strategy akin to “playing chicken.” It seems that questioning the costs and benefits for any sort of greenhouse gas regulation is the best approach, but the conference’s built-in bias won’t give groups such as NMA and EEI the leeway to do that.

Most of the conference’s other witnesses will be environmental activist groups that promote global warming alarmism, which might lead one to wonder why the activists have been invited to testify at all if the committee has already decided that greenhouse gas regulation is necessary.

Hasn’t their alarmism already succeeded and do they really have anything more to add to the debate?

The title of one of the witness panels is “Trading and International Competitiveness.” Its witnesses will include the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and World Resources Institute, green groups that have long clamored for greenhouse gas regulation. Precisely what these non-business, non-scholarly, non-profit activist groups know about trading and international competitiveness is somewhat of a mystery. A committee spokesman had no answer for my query on that point.

A few of my other questions that went unanswered included: Does the committee believe that environmental activist groups are particularly qualified to set national energy and economic policy – which is what mandatory greenhouse gas regulation boils down to?

What's more important to the committee: expertise or activism?

Is the testimony of the Pew Center really necessary since Pew members and fellow global warming alarmists Shell, Exelon and GE will be testifying?

Will the World Resources Institute be commenting on its recent pronouncement that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were immediately halted, it would have no impact on climate in the foreseeable future? (Yet such a prohibition would surely devastate the global economy.)

Do the eight large companies slated to testify represent, in the committee's mind, some sort of cross-section of American business? Who will be reflecting the views of small- and mid-sized businesses?

Who will testify on behalf of those who live on fixed incomes and others who will be disproportionately harmed by higher energy prices — a universally acknowledged outcome of greenhouse gas regulation?

Is it the committee’s position that “everyone agrees on carbon caps; it’s just a matter of the government picking winners and losers and assigning profits and losses?”

Committee chairman Domenici’s spokesman told me, “Both Republican and Democrat[ic] staff wanted thoughtful presentations that were representative of all points of view, including those who do not believe in global warming. My understanding is that staff on both sides of the aisle is comfortable that the full range of views will be represented at the conference.”

So according to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staff, apparently it’s OK not to believe in global warming as long as you don’t express that politically incorrect opinion.

Silence on that point “comforts” committee staff and, after all, when it comes to determining vital national energy and economic policies, what could be more important than a well-choreographed conference?