The Corner

Regulatory Policy

(Another) Climate Warrior Aiming to Bypass Democracy

Sen. Jeff Merkley questions Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt during his confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Whether it’s through their attempts of “legislation” by regulation, litigation, or the pressure of Wall Street’s corporatists, the climate warriors have long shown an interest in bypassing the usual democratic procedures in order to get their agenda through, and there is no doubt that some of the coercive measures that have been put in place to combat the pandemic will have given them additional ideas. That’s not a good thing.

In the meantime, Senator Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) has written this in the Washington Post (my emphasis added):

Our ability to take on the climate crisis through legislation will be challenged by the realities of the Senate. If Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) emerges as the majority leader following the runoff elections in Georgia, no serious climate bill will ever get a hearing in committee, much less get to the Oval Office. And even if Democrats win the Senate, passing adequately ambitious legislation will be a struggle with such a razor-thin margin and the need for filibuster reform.

But we cannot wait. We need bold executive action that treats this crisis — quite literally — as the emergency it is.

The National Emergencies Act (NEA) and the Defense Production Act (DPA) give the president broad powers to act in the national interest during grave national emergencies. While President Barack Obama used the DPA to purchase green transportation fuels, neither of these acts has been fully used to address the climate emergency.

Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would not only send a powerful signal about the urgency of bold action, it would unlock powers that allow our nation to take significant, concrete actions regardless of congressional gridlock. Examples include redirecting spending to build out renewable energy systems, implementing large-scale clean transportation solutions and financing distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency — all of which would help safeguard our communities and slash harmful pollution.

Invoking the DPA would complement a national emergency declaration and help address the national security threats posed by our climate crisis. These powers would allow the Biden administration to take essential steps toward strengthening our emergency preparedness, such as constructing resilient energy infrastructure and mobilizing domestic industry to ramp up manufacturing of clean energy technologies. These are necessary steps to protect Americans from the deluge of violent storms and extreme weather events that are on the horizon. Plus, spawning a robust clean energy industry could generate millions of high-quality American jobs vital to rejuvenating our post-covid economy.

If you believe that last sentence, you will also believe that these measures are compatible with a properly functioning democracy. Some “climate”-related spending — such as improving the resilience of low-lying coastal cities or, as Merkley suggests, toughening our energy infrastructure — can be justified regardless of one’s views about a climate “crisis,” which is supposedly either already with us or due the day after tomorrow. For the most part, however,  “spawning a robust clean energy industry”, particularly under a scenario where the costs will be front-loaded, will be an exercise in value destruction, replacing that which does not need replacing, at least any time soon. And when value is destroyed, jobs tend to be destroyed along with them.

That’s not to say that such a spawning would spawn no new jobs, or to deny that some collateral benefit may come from some of them, even if no small part of that benefit is uncomfortably reminiscent of this passage from Keynes’s General Theory:

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again… the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.

Low bar.

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