Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Profound Journalistic Ignorance of Climate Change Legislation

It’s not like this is a new issue. By now, you’d think that journalists would have figured out what’s what in the realm of forestalling climate change, but you’d be wrong. Just take a look at today’s long writeup in the New York Times.

After a quote from Lindsay Graham, a senator from South Carolina, pronouncing the death of cap-and-trade, the coauthors write

Mr. Graham’s opinion matters because he has been the only Republican willing to work with Democratic senators on some form of climate change legislation.


But towards the end of the piece we read that

Two senators, Maria Cantwell of Washington, a Democrat, and Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, have proposed a system known as “cap and dividend” under which power plants, steel mills, refineries and other major carbon emitters would have to pay for permits to pollute, with all of the money being rebated to consumers to cover the higher costs of energy and manufactured goods.


So: Graham is the only Republican willing to collaborate, but Collins has also sponsored a carbon-capping bill (one that would allow trading too).

Even worse—in fact, much worse—the article completely mischaracterizes Cantwell-Collins. It does not, unlike Kerry-Boxer, require industry-by-industry emission permits. Instead, it requires permits for introducing fossil fuels into the economy, whether by extraction or importation. It goes after carbon from the top of the food chain, making its cap comprehensive, unlike approaches that try to determine which uses of fuels will be regulated and by how much. This also neatly sidesteps the political morass that results from inviting each industry to lobby for its own dispensations. Auctioning fossil fuel permits and rebating the proceeds to the public, as Cantwell-Collins proposes, is not an evasion of environmental responsibility, but a rational attempt to make the inevitable energy price increases economically and politically palatable.

The real story is not the death of climate change policy, but the collapse of one particular initiative that was largely smoke and mirrors, fatally compromised by payoffs to any business alliance that stuck out its hand. The bad news is good news, unless all we know is what we read in the papers, feel discouraged and give up.

3 comments:

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Cantwell-Collins definitely looks superioro to Boxer-Kerry. Of course, Boxer-Kerry is a spinoff of the Christmas tree monstrosity that came out of the House after all the corporate lobbyists got their mitts on it.

TheTrucker said...

The supreme court's gift of power to the corporations to legally swift boat any senator is a monster. I can't see how an environmental bill can ever pass the US Senate again. Yet, a bill that does not turn money over to the government or the corporations or the speculators and which provides instant returns to those who conserve has a lot of merit in the current recession. Cantwell-Collins seems to fit that description and if it is properly marketed it may fly.

The Senators from coal states will be pressed to join the Republicans in voting against any environmental bill. Of the 50 states, 16 are major coal producing states, 10 are minor coal producers, and 24 are non coal producers. With the exception of Collins and Snowe, the Republican lock step party will vote against any environmental bill. These 38 will be joined by the Democrats from the major coal producing states (14). The bill will not pass the Senate because it lacks the new "taxi medallions" for Wall Street hustlers. Those who own "taxi medallions" will ever fight public transportation, and those that own "carbon permits" will ever fight clean energy. It looks bleak for anyone that attempts environmental legislation.

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