Planet Gore

Winging It on Hot Air

The juxtaposition of two headlines on Drudge today are worth considering. First is “ROVE: Team Obama ‘winging it on issues large and small,’ ” then “DEEP BREATH: Obama expected to regulate carbon dioxide?”

My discussions (including conversations with someone who has been in meetings of most of the administration’s climate principals) indicate that there is a general and pervasive cluelessness among Team Obama about how to impose the Kyoto agenda on you. That’s a good thing. You just need to let your representatives in Washington know that there is no cheap virtue to be had in this issue, particularly in cutting deals to claim “I ‘did something’ ” or “I cut a deal in order to avoid something much worse.” Nonsense. Their fear over the politics of this has left them at sea.
One source confirmed the sense that, while the administration may like the idea of using EPA to serve as a foil for Congress — “we must act because otherwise, boy, EPA’s gonna do horrible things!” — they have zero desire for EPA to follow through on this threat and actually try to impose CO2 regulations under the Clean Air Act as currently written, or to otherwise take ownership of this beast of an issue, the New BTU. It has to be Congress.
Senate-confirmation-skirting Climate Czarina and eco-activist Carol Browner is staying out of the international context, personally, though is clearly engaged through proxies at every level. My sources are unsure why, but it could be issues surrounding her rather controversial profile and/or her ties to the green groups that are leading that charge. Perhaps there are turf issues with the Climate Envoy Todd Stern, or his boss Madame Secretary. One possible explanation is that “international” is simply not where the action is, despite the breathless reportage, because the Obama administration has decided it must first obtain domestic imposition of a regime, which they will then take to the EU et al. Also, she installed a non-factor former employee at the White House CEQ, which is apparently not playing in the issue in any substantive way –  despite having both domestic and international portfolios. Strange.
Otherwise internationally, they are deeply concerned (one might even say driven) to not repeat the Clinton-Gore mistake on this issue — i.e., exceeding their domestic mandate/political abilities by signing up to a new treaty before Congress has legislated (in the latter’s case, in defiance of a unanimous Senate). And so — while few if any seem to have any clue how to finesse the matter of not actually agreeing to a treaty in December, as the year-long build-up would dictate the world expects of them — barring a congressional miracle, they seem to have zero intention of sticking to this timeline presumed of them: legislating this year and taking that product as what we will agree to in a treaty, agreeing to that in December, then implementing all of it like mad. To make that happen would require a plan.
The congressional miracle, in my estimation, is always possible, but only if a few trade associations get wobbly and beg to be “saved” from EPA with cap-and-trade legislation; and, again, there is no indication that anyone who matters really wants or expects EPA to do anything but play chicken abd hope this comes to fruition. But you won’t go broke underestimating the DC rent-seeking and lobbying community.
Climate envoy Todd Stern is the most experienced hand on what I understand to be a fairly lost climate team, and despite (because of?) having been around during every bad decision of the Clinton-Gore Kyoto era, he is considered more cautious than many. As such he, too, should not be expected to try to move faster than domestic politics would dictate. His history includes being blamed, rightly or wrongly, by green groups for having argued against making the aforementioned Clinton-Gore mistake in the first place. Which leaves us with waiting on Congress to legislate first. This leaves the odd dynamic of legislation being demanded as the condition precedent to an international treaty that is being demanded as a way to make us do . . . what . . . the domestic legislation would do. The hole in that argument is that the treaty is really about much more: wealth transfer.
So it does seem that both Congress and the administration desperately want to be begged (given cover) by industry to impose the Kyoto agenda, and they are not in agreement on any plan other than hoping that non-rent-seeking industry will be frightened into surrender. This means that it will be Democrats, not Republicans, who kill this (which should be obvious anyway, and just what happened with BTU in 1993); and the rent-seekers are not driving this even if they stopped squabbling over the loot and agreed on whose nest gets feathered by how much. It’s the holdouts who need to be scared to their knees by EPA. That’s what’s going on.
Despite their fevered rhetoric, it seems fair to see both Congress and the administration like certain failed generals: convinced (or at least hopeful) that their opponent will sue for peace without having to fight, because they’re not sure they can get their own guys out of the trench if it came to a battle. The last thing anyone should do right now is make their plight any easier.

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