The Corner

Inhofe: On Cap-and-Trade, ‘Day Of Fear Is Over’ for GOP

Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), tells NRO that congressional Republicans must begin to refocus their efforts to combat cap-and-trade legislation, or else they risk being hoodwinked. “Right now, nobody seems to care about this, it’s all about health care. Frankly, I don’t want this to go under the radar,” he says.

Inhofe, who outlined his concerns in an op-ed in Roll Call on Monday, says that Democrats have recently been urging GOP senators in private conversations to consider supporting the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” the 821-page climate bill introduced on September 30 by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.).

The Kerry-Boxer bill aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. It also includes a cap-and-trade system, or as the bill terms it, a “Pollution Reduction and Investment” program.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is one Republican who has signaled that he’s interested in working with Democrats on the issue. Though not a co-sponsor, Graham did co-write, with Kerry, a supportive op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Yes We Can (Pass Climate Change Legislation).” Inhofe declined to comment on Graham’s article, though he did say that “he had some questions to ask [Graham], since there is a very clear, true side to this issue.”

Still, Inhofe says that he doesn’t think “Republicans will be tempted” by any small nuclear or drilling carrots buried deep under Kerry-Boxer’s regulatory provisions. “The Democrats want this grand plan, but we can build nuclear plants and support new energy exploration without tying it to cap-and-trade,” says Inhofe. As a senior Democratic Senate staffer told NRO, “the stipulations for nuclear energy and offshore drilling in Kerry-Boxer are anemic.” Senator Inhofe, the staffer continues, “is bluntly honest. Kerry and Boxer are the same Democrats who, in the past, have dug in their heels on those exact issues. There is a lot of skepticism and little trust among Republicans, even with all of the assurances.”

As Inhofe wrote in Roll Call:

Over the past week, many people have speculated about the potential for a grand Senate climate deal, tying cap-and-trade to the expansion of nuclear power and offshore drilling. Both policies make eminent sense and are key components of the Republican “all-of-the-above” energy policy. But tying those policies to a massive national energy tax makes no sense, which is why there’s little hope for a deal so long as it involves cap-and-trade.

But the Democrats want none of this — and even if they agree to compromise for some of this, they will undermine the enormous economic benefits that come from developing these resources by taxing the energy that Americans use. Remember that the point of cap-and-trade is to make these resources more expensive, and ultimately to drive these resources to extinction, so conjoining them is an exercise in contradiction.

Senator Boxer announced last week that EPW will begin hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill on October 27. These hearings will feature testimony from Obama administration officials, among others. Inhofe says that “it appears in staff negotiations that Boxer wants a very unfair majority of favorable witnesses [and that] the GOP just wants to be treated fairly. All we want is a reasonable number of witnesses. It’s really a no-brainer issue.” Of course, says Inhofe, regardless of the hearings, “there isn’t anything that wouldn’t pass the EPW committee,” since Boxer has five more senators on her side than Inhofe has on his.

Ultimately, says Inhofe, the Kerry-Boxer bill and the related Senate hearings are “all geared towards Copenhagen,” where in December the United Nations will hold a multi-nation climate summit. President Obama is set to attend the talks. So is Inhofe, though he says that he will be leading a “truth squad.” Rushing a debate in preparation for Copenhagen “seems to be the way of the Obama administration,” says Inhofe. “They’re disturbingly geared toward Western Europe.”

If Boxer does get Kerry-Boxer out of EPW, she will have something to bring to Copenhagen. Yet for many Democrats and Western Europeans, just getting the bill out of the committee is not enough. They want Boxer to prod the rest of the Senate to support the measures, though it’s unclear how many other committee chairmen want to take this up. As the New York Times reports today, hopes that anything substantial will emerge from the U.S. Senate, or from Copenhagen, are fading.

Which may just be a gift to Americans. “It is the poor who will be hit hard by cap-and-trade,” says Inhofe. “It’s a regressive measure. Democrats will argue that they’re redistributing the wealth, but they’ll leave it vague, since it’s just more taxes.”

Republicans, he adds, must be focused on America, not on European conferences. “Every assertion has been discredited from Al Gore’s science-fiction movie,” says Inhofe. “The day of fear is over. We need to continue to help people in this economy, which has been really tough on so many.”