The alarmists are gaining ground in their drive to wear down those among the opposition they cannot shout down, censor, or shut down. Last week — on the heels of Rep. Bob Inglis and Arthur Laffer calling for reductions in other taxes to offset the carbon tax they feel is inevitable — the latest to fall was my former CEI colleague, Jonathan Adler, over on The Corner.
Jonathan has a feature today on the homepage lamenting the wretched choice of the hyper-political — and, to my mind (and clearly Jonathan’s as well) highly anti-scientific — John Holdren as (of all things) chief science adviser. This of course only supports my argument against anticipatory capitulation on the belief that one can buy peace with this crowd.
I’m with Ramesh on this one. (Sorry, Iain.) I think that a deal, such as that outlined by Inglis and Laffer, is definitely worth taking (and have tepidly endorsed a deal of this sort in several NRO columns in the past few years, e.g. here and here). I explained some of my reasons on the Volokh Conspiracy here on Sunday. One reason that is worth highlighting is that a “just say no” position, such as that outlined by Jim Manzi in the December 1 NRODT – even if successful in defeating cap-and-trade legislation — would not prevent the federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Now that the EPA has regulatory authority to control GHGs under the Clean Air Act, such regulation is a certainty. Indeed, it is compelled. So, if no climate change legislation passes, we will be stuck with even more onerous and unwieldy command-and-controls regs on carbon dioxide. This reality does not require preemptive compromise, but I think it does add to the argument for an ambitious deal, of the sort Inglis and Laffer have proposed.
I can’t help but conclude that Jonathan’s analysis, while in several ways reasonable (if only because it is reasoned), mostly reflects exhaustion over the fight, and the desire to cut a deal. This has for some time been precisely what the alarmist industry has been hoping all of us would do. Um . . . Jonathan . . . then what happens? No one says that this tax will have any impact on its supposed rationale. So, what are you actually agreeing to or — I’m certain this isn’t the case — have we convinced ourselves that this will buy peace? I will offer no comparisons with appeasement’s unhappy history.
The basis for Jonathan’s argument distills to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Massachusetts v. EPA. But the Court’s 5-4 majority actually held, in pertinent part:
EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. It has refused to do so, offering instead a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, including the existence of voluntary Executive Branch programs providing a response to global warming and impairment of the President’s ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce emissions. These policy judgments have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and do not amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. . . . On remand, EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.
So while correct about Holdren, what Jonathan is really saying when arguing for capitulating anyway is simply the old crutch of all failed -isms of the past century, that some form of GHG regulation is “inevitable.” This is demonstrable nonsense. Notice how Pelosi et al have just yet again kicked the can down the road? They are terrified of getting pinned with responsibility for it.
This something regulatory is inevitable is also the driving the thinking in the regulated community, whose representatives’ jobs in practice are less to fight, with the chance they will lose, than they are to claim something worse was avoided and — most important — they were involved in crafting the better deal. This, as I have noted, is exactly what congressional and pressure-group activists are counting on, and indeed fostering — a la the “weepers” dispatched in earlier days into the Paris metro to ride the cars all day sobbing, demoralizing the French out of the fight. So, it seems, “we’re all Frenchmen now.”
As a result, the belief is that industry must call for legislation imposing cap-and-trade or a tax, to avoid the big bad EPA which is roaming, free of constraint. This makes something that wasn’t really inevitable at all now reality, and gives bipartisan cover to the Democrats who are paralyzed with fear over the prospect of being solely responsible for having done this to the U.S. economy. Worse, should industry or center-right opinion leaders propose such a tax — instead of just saying “if you’re serious, why not impose the less inefficient tax?” — they will inevitably call for it inartfully, leaving Obama and congressional Democrats to claim they saved you from mean energy taxers with a “market mechanism.” You heard it here first.
Green pressure groups will allow no such compromise to include Clean Air Act preemption of states imposing their own silly regs, or of the Endangered Species Act as a tool to regulate GHGs, or the Endangered Species Act to be invoked in the name of “climate change”, or the National Environmental Policy Act. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….
It is true that continued debate — which the greens call “delay” — is a virtue, even if only for political reasons and not the obvious reasons of sober policymaking. Further debate risks “loss of momentum,” as the greens warn — which means the sky will continue to not fall, cooling might continue as predicted, and they know they can only impose such massive burdens under “crisis” conditions. With debate, they lose.
The best way to pursue sober policymaking, to have a reasoned legislative debate over a massive intervention in the economy — unless of course one believes that last “do it now or we all die!” stunt in October has worked out well — is also the most reasonable course: adopt the clean, short, and sweet Blackburn bill or a similar statement to give Congress the clear path to deliberating, well, deliberately, on the biggest legislative regime in decades, possibly ever.
Blackburn says, in its entirety:
SECTION 1. GREENHOUSE GAS REGULATION UNDER CLEAN AIR ACT.
Section 302(g) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7602(g)) is amended by adding the following at the end thereof: ‘The term ‘air pollutant’ shall not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, or chloroflourocarbons.’
SEC. 2. CLIMATE CHANGE NOT REGULATED BY CLEAN AIR ACT.
Nothing in the Clean Air Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.
If necessary, you can add the now-ritual assertion that “Congress should enact a comprehensive . . . so long as it does not seriously impact. . . . ” That’s fine, they’ve done it before, it is defensible and surely wiser.
The point is that the claimed urgency (and inevitability) deriving from Mass. v. EPA is a false one, unless you live in a world where Congress is so completely emasculated that pay raises can pass but one-liners to calm down and proceed deliberately on a massive economic intervention are simply too much work.
So, instead of sighing and saying “ok, you win, because you’ll probably win more, later, if I don’t give in now,” call for the most rational course — enact Blackburn. Congress should proceed on such serious matters as rationally and deliberately as possible and without artificial urgency. This phony urgency is alleviated with a simple legislative fix with a sound political explanation. Of course, I am confident which way an open, deliberate public debate over this issue would go. So are the greens, which is why they keep trying back doors and crying “crisis!”
Meanwhile, remind members of Congress of the history lesson of the failed and politically devastating 1993 BTU tax, and the last time the Chamber of Commerce insisted that it was much wiser to agree and be at the table so as to not, as the tired phrase goes, be on the menu instead (HillaryCare).
But the first step is to avoid agreeing to something now on the grounds that, heck, EPA might act. Or worse, as Jonathan claims, to insist that such regulation is now “compelled.” No, it isn’t, and it is no more inevitable than BTU, HillaryCare, or other faded “inevitabilities” that the Obama administration would get away with by saying “oh, that was EPA, it wasn’t us.” We should dare them to smack the economy with this burden in a way that leaves fingerprints — if, somehow, it is not struck down as arbitrary and capricious, given that it a) is premised in demonstrably incorrect computer models, and b) under no scenario would ameliorate the situation in whose name it is imposed.
The responsibility is on EPA and the Obama administration — or congressional Democrats — to justify what they want to do to you; no one has commanded them to do it; and it is not upon us to whimper and ask if this will feed the beast for a while and buy some time until it is hungry again. Cowboy up, people (and Jonathan, read your own piece about Holdren, and then tell yourself again, yeah, we can buy some peace by capitulating on . . . er . . . rationalizing, the first step). Remember why we decided to fight this in the first place, take stock of where things really are, and get back in the game.