Alternative Energy, Energy Independence and Global Warming Reduction

Setbacks Expose a Nation Ill-Prepared for the Future

Americans don't want new power plants, and climate legislation would throttle back those in place. Are we looking at a future of power shortages and brownouts? (story)

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Wait 'til Next Year?
Freighted With Huge Costs, Climate Bill Sinks in Senate 

On the same day that oil leaped $10.75 to beyond $138 a barrel, causing a 394-point plunge of the Dow,  the  Climate Security Act, with some $526 billion for alternative energy development, including gasoline substitutes, sputtered and died in the U.S. Senate.

The 48 votes to end the debate — the "cloture" that would have signified acceptance of the bill — fell far short of the 60 needed. Messages from 5 more senators were sent to the floor saying they would have voted yay had they been present. Senators McCain and Obama were among them, but just another day of campaigning was somehow more important than attending.

"Law and Sausages" by our congressional correspondent forewarned us that watching legislation aborning would be as stomach-churning as watching sausages being made. Co-sponsor Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said it for us: "It is disappointing and frustrating that parliamentary maneuvers and concerns about something really totally irrelevant to this once-in-a-career-lifetime opportunity to do something" was being frittered away.

Irrelevance had to do with Republican retaliation for Democrats dragging their feet on a pledge to clear a number of Bush administration nominations for circuit and district court judgeships (Democrats were in turn retaliating against the same Republican tactics during the Clinton...never mind). As payback, Republicans called for a reading of the entire 492-page Boxer amendment on the floor. "Eight hours wasted," said a disgusted Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), with all debate halted. Entirely fitting, said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY). Hadn't Senator Reid once spent nine hours reading his own book in the Senate to forestall legislation?

The week had been set aside for debating the bill, but debate hardly got started until Thursday.
Emissions Are Good for Us

Thus did this monumental bill fall prey to the usual party squabbling that has, in the eyes of the American people, made the U.S. Congress the nation's lagging indicator, with approval ratings in the teens. Case in point: Sen. Lieberman put up then-and-now satellite photos of the diminished polar icecap to show what is happening to the planet. Because for some senators this will come as news?

Apparently. "I am telling you that carbon emissions are a function of economic growth and technology. It means jobs, cars and energy", Kentucky's other senator, Jim Bunning (R), informed his colleagues.
Filling the Tree

Republicans hotly objected to Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) forcing a vote after only four days of debate, and worse, "filling the tree" -- a tactic of putting amendments everywhere in the bill where it could be amended, thus blocking any further amendments. What they found particularly offensive: the only amendments that might be considered would have to be approved personally by Reid.

The amendments Republicans sought to propose typically provided that, if a certain cost (e.g., gasoline) crossed a certain threshold, or if jobs lost in the senator's state exceeded a certain number, then a particular provision of the bill would be suspended, or an industry would be granted more allowances to pollute, or offshore drilling would be permitted -- a bloodletting that would threaten over time to leave the bill anemic if not a corpse. One after another senator used today's price of gasoline as somehow relevant to a bill that would not take effect for a couple of years and which spans 40 years.

Each side had studies to contradict the other: the bill would create vast new industries retrofitting America; no it wouldn't, for James Inhode (R-OK) it would be "the killer for jobs for America", losing 9.5% of all manufacturing jobs to China and India, where the jobs will increase emissions, because those countries have no controls.

Both Lieberman and Boxer cited economic models that delays would cost the nation far more in the future. Lieberman contended that "Each two year delay in starting emissions reductions doubles the annual rate at which we will need to reduce emissions by 2020 in order to ward off a global catastrophe."
It's Money That Matters

But to no avail. The costs to be incurred now, as outlined in the Boxer amendment, were what KO'd the bill (see tables in following story). Republican senators dubbed it "the mother of all earmarks", "a climate tax", "a tax and spend plan", "a massive tax increase on the American people". Using a colorful pie-chart, Sen. Boxer gamely insisted it was nothing of the kind, that no one would be taxed, that all the money would come from the auctioning of allowances to industry, that half the money raised from the auctioned-off carbon allowances would be returned to the public to offset pass-along cost increases, and the other half given to industry to assist in their conversions.

But Ms. Boxer might have been better advised to have expressed those allocations as percentages of whatever monies the auctions would raise. The gargantuan size of the absolute dollar figures totaling $5 trillion were what fueled the Republican assault. That the costs would be spread across 40 tears was never emphasized.

Beyond pure cost, more than one legislator quoted the Wall Street Journal's editorial page: "the most extensive reorganization of the American economy since the 1930s", effectively raising the specter of that bugbear, the New Deal. According to Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the bill has "35 direct requirements that various agencies of the U.S. government will issue regulations, and regulations are often far more detailed than the laws we pass". This in turn will lead to legions of bureaucrats to enforce the regulations, and require industry to hire accountants, technicians and economists to ensure compliance, adding a huge cost burden.

"Instead of just letting cap-and-trade work", in freshman Senator Bob Corker's (R-TN) view, "the bill had to be turned into a huge spending bill", even giving money away to parties that have "nothing to do with emitting carbon".

In a final lament, Sen. Boxer said, "If we do nothing we will be on the wrong side of history".

At least with sausage, something tasty is the reward. But the extrusions of Lieberman, Warner and Boxer proved too much to swallow.

  Stephen Wilson for PlanetWatch