Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Six Months: Energy


I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children. . . this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal

--Barack Obama, 6.3.08



Faced with tough choices about what to get done while they still have big majorities, Democrats have decided to. . . go on vacation. The House will take six weeks off in August-September instead of the planned five, allowing its members more time to campaign. As discussed earlier, that means unions don’t get open voting in organizing elections. Hispanics don’t get amnesty for illegal aliens. We don’t see more New Deal-type economic stimulation to create jobs, and we don’t cut the deficit either, or even pass a budget.

What Democrats might do, however, in a “lame duck” session after the election is over but before defeated colleagues depart town, is pass an “historic” energy bill. As Fred Barnes of the conservative Weekly Standard notes, Obama and Democrats see health care as their signature victory, and an energy policy victory would provide a fitting bookend to two years of political domination:
“Cap and trade” climate-change legislation is even more unpopular than Obamacare. But that’s hardly an impediment to pushing for its passage—especially if you’re thrilled with the idea of being a martyr for liberalism. Besides, it passed the House a year ago. So there’s only the Senate to go. . .

And the current Senate just might be won over in a “lame duck” session.

Patrick J. Michaels at the libertarian Cato Institute makes the case against “cap and trade.” Using the United Nations’ climate calculator, he finds the House “cap and trade” bill would lower the world’s temperature in 2100 by 1/5th of one degree. If all the Kyoto Protocol signers cooperated, the temperature increase would be 7% below what it otherwise would be—4.6 degrees higher instead of 5 degrees higher, assuming UN estimates are right. Why so little difference? Because China and other developing countries are outside the protocol. While American CO2 emissions have been relatively stagnant in the last decade,
China's have been staggering. In eight years, China's annual totals will be equal to what they emit now plus everything we emit. So if we stopped emitting completely, China completely counters our effort.

Obama isn’t wedded to “cap and trade,” however, just as he was able to give up on the public option in order to pass health care. Robert Samuelson, in the Washington Post, outlines what he thinks Democrats should do instead:

➢ pass a gradually increasing tax on oil or carbon that moves people toward more energy-efficient products, including cars, and link the tax to major spending cuts, a healthier economic approach than “cap-and-trade;”

➢ fund research and development of cheaper, cleaner energy sources, and;

➢ tap domestic oil and natural gas, creating jobs, limiting our dependence on imports, and profiting from drilling advances that have opened vast reserves of natural gas trapped in shale.

Judging by how health care turned out, we’re not likely to get Samuelson’s sensible recommendations. But Democrats may indeed pass some sort of signature energy bill.