Acting Locally
Cap and trade in review.


The Senate has completed its third foray into the waters of global warming cap-and-trade legislation in fewer than five years, with the fourth encounter undoubtedly to follow sometime in 2009. “In some ways,” Sen. Bryan Dorgan (D., N.D.) said of the Senate’s early June floor skirmish, “this is a dress rehearsal for next year.”

Indeed, it’s a given the next president will propose an ambitious tax-and-regulatory scheme to slash emissions of carbon dioxide by at least 70 percent. And there’s a good chance that the composition of the next Congress will make it a willing co-conspirator in that endeavor (but, as discussed below, that is by no means certain). Environmental groups, rent-seeking business interests, and their media acolytes will redouble their efforts on behalf of climate-control legislation.

Yes, the climate question will be with us for years to come. All the more reason to review the Senate debate and ask what conservatives should learn from it.

The Senate has considered cap-and-trade legislation in 2003, 2005 and again this year. The first two times senators voted on the actual legislation; the most recent vote was a procedural “cloture” vote to end debate and stop the bill’s opponents from offering substantive, but politically charged amendments. The procedural nature of this most recent vote complicates the analysis a bit, as most procedural votes are thinly veiled tests of a lawmaker’s party loyalty. But through their roll call votes and public statements, we can piece together a pretty good picture of how most senators view the economic trade-offs.

The cloture vote, offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which needed to win a supermajority of 60 senators, failed, attracting only 48 votes. But California’s Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, nevertheless declared it “a landmark moment in the fight against global warming.” She argued that the bill really won over the hearts and minds of 54 senators because six non-voting senators issued statements in support of the bill, up from the 38 who supported a cap-and-trade bill three years ago. If accurate, this would be a handsome return on the relentless campaign waged by the environmental lobby on behalf of climate-control legislation.

But not so fast. Nine Democrats who backed Reid’s motion (presumably out of a desire to be team players) and one who opposed him sent him a cautionary letter “as Democrats from regions of the country that will be most immediately affected by climate legislation.” They hail from states with significant industrial bases (Ohio and Michigan), coal production (West Virginia, Indiana, and Virginia), coal-burning utilities (Missouri) and agricultural sectors (Arkansas and Nebraska). One curious omission from this list is blue-collar, industrial Pennsylvania, where freshman Sen. Bob Casey voiced strong support for the legislation.

Their bottom line: “We cannot support final passage of the Boxer Substitute [Amendment] in its current form.”

Cap and trade, they wrote, must simultaneously meet two mutually exclusive goals — significantly reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions and “ensure that consumers and workers in all regions of the U.S. are protected from undue hardship.” Translation: Proceed with your utopian climate-control agenda, but only if you guarantee that my constituents and the businesses in my state will feel no pain.

The alarm bells in Boxer’s global-warming war room must have sounded when they read the list of demands, particularly the following:

The legislation must relieve these “more severely affected” states from the cost of complying with its numerous regulations and de facto taxes.