Saturday, May 2, 2015

Regulatory Reform Bills: North Carolina’s Sausage Style of Lawmaking

“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”-- John Godfrey Saxe, The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869

I must admit that I love both good sausage and good law.  But in both cases, there is just too much temptation to the makers.  And the source of the temptation is profit.  Sausage makers can squeeze more profit by adding in fillers to their product.  Lawmakers attract more campaign contributions when they lard up their products with special interest provisions.  The only restraint on either is transparency in their process.  While sausage makers must list their ingredients on the label; lawmakers write their own rules about how the laws get made.

Regulatory reform had become a popular political issue in the election of Ronald Reagan, and had become bipartisan when Bill Clinton endorsed the same ideas.  There was a bipartisan consensus that when government regulations became too burdensome on business, they were counterproductive to society.  And so, North Carolina began reviewing, streamlining and updating its regulations in earnest, regulation by regulation. 

The N.C. General Assembly created a vehicle for this process in 1995, the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee.  This Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee’s charge was to eliminate overlapping, conflicting and unnecessary rules. To do this work, they have assistance from the Rules Review Commission, an appointed body with a professional staff which meets monthly to review all rules.  Both the RRC and the Committee have been at this work for over twenty years, so you would think they would have eliminated all the wasteful, red tape in state government.  And you would be right.  In fact, the work is so routine now that this Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee has not even met this year, at all.  The reason they do not meet is that the Rules Review Commission now controls the rulemaking process and has reigned in the agencies almost to a standstill.

In fact, what is now being called “regulatory reform” is not review of agency rules, but creation of loopholes to general laws themselves.  Regulatory Reform is a brand now and not a principle.  In fact, the changes they are making in the name of regulatory reform make the laws more confusing, increase overlap and do not streamline anything.  The statute books keep getting bigger and more complicated each and every session.
The only industry which benefits from this exercise is the lobbying industry, which has mushroomed to help clients put loopholes in existing laws under the Trojan horse bills known as the annual Regulatory Reform Act.  These bills throw together a hodgepodge of unrelated subjects and label them regulatory reform.  In 2013, the bill faltered for being too larded down with these provisions.  In 2014, some version of it passed both houses but its final form was actually decided by a Conference Committee

In 2015, we see the same bad pattern forming again, with the bill getting larded up with unrelated provisions which could never pass on their own. Reforms which have no public benefit, but which help out a narrow class of interests are especially favored in this process.  Bad ideas somehow get new life when they are tacked on to the regulatory reform vehicle, even ones which were rejected when considered on their own merits.

But the General Assembly can make good reform ideas into law if it wishes to do so.  For example, in 2013, the N.C. General Assembly considered amendments to the laws controlling large scale transfers of water from one river to another called Interbasin transfers.  The bill went through a full committee hearing in both the House and Senate.  Several editions were created to fine tune the concepts and the process took four months from the first bill draft to its final passage.  You can argue that the final version of SB 341 was not the best law, but it was carefully crafted and was debated on its merits without unrelated fluff and stuff added in.  It reflects the considered will of the current crop of elected officials on the subject of Interbasin transfers.

Then along comes the Regulatory Reform bill of 2014.  The Senate version of the Regulatory Reform bill contained a section dealing with Interbasin Transfers which appears to have been designed to benefit a single project, the transfer of water from the Roanoke River to the Neuse and Tar Rivers.  This provision amending the law of Interbasin Transfers was added in the Senate Finance Committee.  A careful Senator may have noted that the law of Interbasin transfers had been thoroughly debated the previous session and a comprehensive bill with compromises and debate had resolved all important questions.  But said careful Senator was not on the Senate Finance Committee, which decided to bury the amendment on page 31 of the 62 page long committee substitute.  In fact, burying the significance is the point of the regulatory reform bill process.

Just look at the scope of subjects covered in the Senate’s substitute: Lottery Commission oversight; regulation of fertilizer application; small business owners acting as lawyers in OAH; community college beer-brewing courses; the Bonner Bridge; ADA access to swimming pools; eliminating air quality monitors; venomous snakes; low flow toilets; protecting business owners from penalties for violations they discover through audits; inlet hazard areas; landscape contractor licensing; and pesticide use to control moles.  These changes range from major and controversial rewrites of state policies to obscure topics.  And this is by design.  It is impossible for a part time legislature with limited staff to read and digest all the changes they are asked to support or oppose in these bills.  In fact, the temptation is for any legislator to add on her favorite hobby horse by tacking on amendments.  The House’s version was drastically different in terms of substance, but strikingly similar in mixing the obscure with the unpopular.

This design is just an ambush style of lawmaking.  It favors lobbyists over people.  It favors special interests over the public interest.  It favors Conference Committee members over everyone else.  In the end, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2014’s contents were decided by the eight conferees: Tim Moore, Paul Stam, Tim Moffitt, Thom Tillis, Paul Tine, Trudy Wade, Tom Apodoca and Harry Brown.  This process subverts democracy, empowers lobbyists and lumps together completely unrelated subjects.

In addition, the process produces incomprehensible laws.  The normal process of vetting laws, making amendments and reviewing drafts to improve wording no longer occurs except in leaked drafts between lobbyists with little time for proofreading much less substantive analysis.  In the 2014 Regulatory Reform Act, the new loophole provision on the Interbasin Transfers contained a blatant error in stating the law: it applied the loophole to transfers and withdrawals approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.  The problem is that the Army Corps of Engineers does not approve transfers or withdrawals, the State of North Carolina does.  So the loophole only created confusion instead of clarity.  A bad piece of gristle ended up in the legislative sausage, and the quality control functions were not there to catch the error.

Worse than erroneous laws, are unpopular legal changes which get made under the Regulatory Reform Brand when they could not pass as freestanding bills.  The 2015 bill is every bit as bad as the 2014 bill and is poised to be heard next week.  North Carolinians support the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS) by wide margins.  Coupled with tax credits, this provision has helped bring down the cost of solar energy just at the time that we are seeing the long term costs with coal power come home in the form of coal ash lagoon leaks. 

Of course, special interests associated with the coal industry does not want solar to advance.  So they tried to enact a repeal or scale back of the REPS by passing a bill dealing with that subject, HB 681.  They could not get the votes to even get that bill out of Committee.  So what did the coal industry advocates do?  They amended the 2015 Regulatory Reform Act with the same type of language.  Former Duke Energy employee, Rep. Mike Hager made the sausage this time around, cutting a deal which allowed his defeated bill HB 681 to survive under the Regulatory Reform Brand.

It does not have to be this way.  Back in the late 1990’s, the General Assembly’s staff began pioneering a process to bring together experts on issues to work out compromises while bills were being drafted.  These experts represented different interests.  Their debates allowed staff to write laws that made sense to read and were easier to understand.  The process was called 605 Process, named after the large meeting room where these groups met.  The laws which came from the 605 Process were still sausage, but they were sausage with a known list of ingredients made in the light of day.  I want 605 Process back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day and Anti-Earth Day

The 45th Earth Day is a token remembrance.    Like most "Days" on our calendar, the history of the day's significance fades first, swiftly followed by the impulse which drove its creation and finally by its being co-opted into another marketing opportunity.  And so the form outlasts the function.

The function of the first Earth Day was both educational and inspirational.  The 1970 version of Earth Day was a teach-in, designed to be practical, participatory and interdisciplinary with the output designed to be action.  And it was a phenomenal success.  In the years that followed, President Richard Nixon signed off on the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the states, which had failed in large measure to protect human health or the ecosystems which support it.  Shortly thereafter, President Nixon signed into law amendments to the federal programs for clean air and water which also gave the United States government the duty to protect our lands and waters.

But it was not to last.  Less than one year after the first Earth Day, a corporate defense lawyer with the Richmond firm of Hunton and Williams drafted a memorandum addressed to the United States Chamber of Commerce.  While the first decade following Earth Day was marked by successful implementation of new controls, there was a determined resistance which built over time.  The fledgling apparatus constructed by those visionaries who took Powell's advice to heart quickly went to work dismantling the accomplishments of Earth Day.  And they are not done yet.

By the time that he marked the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson had seen the rollbacks enacted by the Reagan years come fully into force.  EPA had many of its teeth pulled.  Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" was taking aim at what remained.  Senator Nelson's response was not melancholy, or defeated, but did take aim at the central question.  Which is the support structure and which is the dependent structure: the Earth or human civilization?

“I have a friend whose guiding theology for all political matters is the editorial page of the ­Wall Street Journal. He could never quite understand that there is a direct and beneficial connection between a healthy environment and a prosperous economy until I described the connection in the jargon of his business world. I said to him, ‘Look at it this way and the connection becomes obvious. It is this: the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. All economic activity is dependent upon that environment with its underlying resource base. When the environment is finally forced to file under Chapter 11 because its resource base has been polluted, degraded, dissipated, irretrievably compromised, then, the economy goes down into bankruptcy with it because the economy is just a subset within the ecological system.’"—Gaylord Nelson on Earth Day XXV

I think we need to go ahead and give Justice Powell's ideas the fame which they so richly deserve.  We need to go ahead and proclaim August 23 as Anti-Earth Day.  Rather than teach-ins, Anti-Earth Day will use billboards and negative ads to get its messages across.  Rather than experts, the spokespeople will be political leaders who ridicule science.  Rather than sustainability, this day will preach take, make and waste as the keys to prosperity.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Proposed: a new official State Toast for North Carolina

The New State Toast

Here’s to the home of the billboard blight
Which sprout like weeds both day and night
Where trailer parks sprawl outside the gates
Of McMansionvilles in the Old North State

Here’s to the land of the builder’s buck
Where the trout and his friends are out of luck
Where Chuck Koch has bought the vote
And caught poor DENR by the throat    

Here’s to the land of boom and bust
Leaving our parks to close and rust
While begging others to send us trash
So lobbyists can make some cash

Here’s to the land of the coal ash pit
Where toxic sludge is allowed to sit
While Rucho calls all those frackers here
To give their cash and bend his ear

Who needs Yucca Mountain, we have Jones Street
Pile all that waste beneath their feet
Maybe then their toes will feel the heat

Of the Hell we’re headed for, tout suite.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Clean Solar Power Helps Reduce Mercury Contamination

When polluters do not pay, we all pay instead. Cleaning our air of mercury, carbon dioxide and methane will grow the economy, create jobs and protect our natural resources for the next generation of North Carolinians.  Mercury contamination of fish already prevents many North Carolinians from safely eating many of the fish which grow in our state’s waters.  Carbon dioxide and methane pollution are disrupting our climate through the greenhouse effect.  Methane pollution could be captured for liquid fuel instead of leaking from wells, pipes and swine waste pits.  Carbon dioxide can be reduced, by powering more of our homes, schools and businesses with the sun’s abundant energy.  In fact, North Carolina is a national leader in all these areas, but the fossil fuel industry boosters would rather keep us addicted to their products.  We need federal and state solar tax relief extended to keep this trend going and to give homeowners and businesses the freedom to choose energy sources which do not pollute our air and water. 

Mercury damages nerves and the brain.  Many wild fish caught in North Carolina’s waters are now high in mercury due to air pollution from coal-fired power plants.  As obsolete fossil fuel-fired plants have been retired under North Carolina’s Clean Smokestacks Act, our air emissions of mercury have been reduced as well, but not enough to make our fish safe to eat.  In addition, EPA’s proposed mercury rule will help protect North Carolina from pollution generated by coal-fired plants in states south and west of us.   Women and children are advised not to eat some wild-caught fish at all, including many popular fish like largemouth bass, yellow perch and wild-caught catfish.  Adult men are advised that they should eat no more than six ounces of these fish per week, a filet about the size of a single fast food fish sandwich portion. 

Energy from the Sun hits Earth each day sufficient to meet all our current energy needs, but harnessing it has been technically and economically challenging, until now.  Many solar opponents base opposition on old data regarding solar power’s costs.  Many of these opponents are funded by fossil fuel industry backers like the Koch brothers, such as the Beacon Hill Institute.   Solar power is saving people money in North Carolina and creating jobs, thanks to the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Portfolio Standard and to tax relief offered to businesses and homeowners who install solar.  Private business installation is on the rise and costs are coming down.

While North Carolina is enjoying a solar revolution, the fossil fuel industry is fighting back, hoping to keep us addicted to fossil fuels.   Allowing the solar energy tax credit to expire at the end of 2015 will increase taxes on those who install solar panels on their homes and businesses.  Solar tax relief will keep this boom going in North Carolina.  Many principled conservatives understand the value of energy choice and support solar tax relief.  North Carolina’s successful solar policies have inspired conservative legislatures in other southern states to promote solar energy as well.  North Carolina’s solar industry can help us save money, clean up our air and water and create high tech jobs.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Orwellian ad Nauseum

J. Peder Zane’s extended ad hominem attack (“The Orwellian Leftist Foes of Fracking in NC” News & Observer, Jan. 13, 2015) on people that question the claims of fracking proponents lacks as much credibility as it does civility.  He maligns reports from the State of New York’s extensive study that are thoroughly supported by scientific literature and were in fact reviewed by independent public health consultants-as a secondary form of peer review.  In contrast, Zane’s critique lacks any specifics, except when it comes to name-calling.

Zane’s redbaiting is not much different from that previously presented by Charles Krauthammer.   Krauthammer  described “an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class -- social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies -- arrogated to themselves the right to rule.”  After the fall of communism and the decline of socialism, Krauthammer posits that the “knowledge class” is using environmentalism to impose a new religion of Gaia, with its priests demanding carbon chastity. “Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but -- even better -- in the name of Earth itself.”  So the Red Menace is now the Green Menace.  Greenbaiting is the new redbaiting.  Both Krauthammer and Zane see in the climate policy debate, the red menace seeking to have us sign away our freedoms.  Thus we get ad hominem attacks on anyone who wants to control carbon dioxide and methane pollution or who urges caution on fracking rules.  Orwell had a term for this tactic:  the daily Two Minute Hate.

New York’s decision was careful, methodical and scientifically sound.  When natural gas prices began to climb in 2008, companies began snatching up lease rights in upstate New York around the Marcellus shale.  This activity prompted New York to revise its oil and gas permits to reflect the new concerns raised by the new technology.  New York officials produced a report detailing the environmental impacts of fracking and associated oil and gas development, called by its acronym SGEIS.  New York’s SGEIS was the most comprehensive study of the scientific, engineering and policy considerations related to fracking undertaken in the United States.  The State of New York’s Department of Health reviewed the SGEIS and additional scientific studies cited, reviewed and discussed extensively in their report commenting on the SGEIS.  Experts in public health from other states were consulted by New York who reached the same conclusions: fracking has not been proven safe to public health.      

New York explicitly embraced the precautionary principle: that a new activity which carries some risk to public health should not be allowed until science can prove that it is safe.  Dr. Howard Zucker, New York’s Acting Health Director, said that until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from fracking to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, the Department of Health recommends that fracking should not proceed in New York.  This is not an anti-science approach, but rather a policy decision that public health should be protected while science develops.  It is a policy choice that puts public health above short-term profits which angers those seeking to make a fast buck.

Rather than embrace the precautionary principle, North Carolina’s General Assembly has chosen to conduct an experiment on human subjects, by legalizing fracking and by promoting North Carolina as a fracking destination.  Just a few years ago, some conservatives were urging caution on fracking in North Carolina.  October 10, 2011, DENR conducted a public hearing in Sanford, North Carolina, where two noted conservative lawmakers urged caution: “We need this information so we can develop either the best reason to frack with the best law in the nation, or not to frack at all.”  Just a few months later,  former Representative Mitch Gillespie was serving at NC DENR defending the policy preferences of Halliburton to prohibit the government from knowing which chemicals they planned to use in hydraulic fracturing.  Representative Gillespie’s position was scientific, while Secretary Gillespie’s position surrendered to the oil and gas lobby.

Not all conservatives are anti-science, nor are all conservatives pro-fracking. Some conservatives and many Republicans are concerned about climate change and fossil fuels. Consider the case of Bob Inglis, former Republican Representative from South Carolina.  Student organizers from Duke invited him to give the keynote at a 2012 symposium: “Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future.”    Inglis told the folks at the Duke conference that there were conservative responses to the dangers posed by climate change.  Climate change denial is not common among younger conservatives.  A recent study of Republican voters finds a vigorous difference of views on climate change, showing that more than half supported regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant.  Even those conservatives who favored lifting the ban on fracking may oppose the use of forced pooling on grounds of libertarian principle, as Dr. Roy Cordato did in 2013.   

The lawsuit Zane references does not declare fracking a nuisance, but challenges the composition of the Mining and Energy Commission as unconstitutional, a very similar claim to the one brought by Governor Pat McCrory against the Coal Ash Commission.  The website Zane references for his claim that that the earth is not warming is run by a staffer of the Heartland Institute who has published no scientific papers and who has no college degree at all.  Rational examination of the science, engineering and policy implications of fracking leads many to promote caution about fracking and some to oppose it altogether.  

 Zane should check his facts before labelling these critics as more anti-science than Young Earth Creationists: New York’s SGEIS is nothing like “Of Pandas and People.”   

Orwellian doublespeak is alive and well in the world of environmental science policy, but is being promoted by supporters of the oil and gas lobby, not fracking opponents.  A prime proponent of pro-drilling doublespeak is Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah’s Second District.  In support of his recently passed bill, ironically captioned the “EPA Science Advisory Reform Act of 2014,”  Rep. Stewart opined about EPA’s Science Advisory Board that: ” It’s critical that we have a balanced panel of experts operating in an open and transparent way.”  But, his bill actually requires that scientists who have published scientific studies be recused from advising on any scientific issues related to their own work, while simultaneously clearing the way for folks to comment on science when they have a financial conflict of interest.  In other words, Rep. Stewart’s proposed “balanced panel of experts” reform puts the scientific experts on the sidelines at EPA’s Science Advisory Board while clearing paid industry lobbyists of conflicts of interest.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We Must Act Now to Begin Reducing Carbon Dioxide Pollution

In April of 2007, the United States Supreme Court held that carbon dioxide pollution as well as other greenhouse gasses could be regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency if the EPA found that the levels of  those gases endanger public health or welfare.  By December of 2007, EPA officials had concluded that emissions did endanger public health and welfare, but said finding was withheld by political appointees of President George W. Bush and only released to the public after a congressional investigation.  In 2007, EPA had concluded that the Clean Air Act gave it power to limit carbon dioxide pollution from both mobile and stationary sources and that the science on climate change disruption showed that this pollution endangered public welfare.  But staff of Vice President Dick Cheney and fossil fuel lobbyists argued to cover up the finding in order to avoid tarnishing President Bush's legacy.

In April of 2009, the EPA published its findings that carbon dioxide pollution endangered both public health and welfare.  For the years which followed, lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry continued to argue for delays in reducing carbon dioxide pollution while voluntary measures were supposed to magically solve the problems of climate disruption, In June of 2014, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on EPA's proposed response to regulate carbon dioxide pollution and other greenhouse gasses, giving the EPA's proposal a green light on control over major sources of air pollution like power plants.  Shortly after this victory, the EPA announced its proposal specifying reductions in greenhouse gas pollution each state should be required to meet on a statewide basis.

Meanwhile, scientists were confirming data which show that carbon dioxide levels measured at Mauna Loa were above 400 ppm over a three month period-the highest in recorded history.   The Pentagon was preparing a report identifying disruptions caused by climate change as a threat to national security.  Now that the law is clear, the problem has been identified and a cost-effective solution has been put forward, rational decision makers should be able to make an effective policy response to climate disruption and carbon dioxide pollution.   But our legislative branches are not so easily persuaded by law, cause, effect and cure.  It has become an article of faith among many GOP leaders to resist any attempt to control carbon dioxide pollution by law.  We do not need more science or law, just bipartisan leadership.  We need conservative problem solvers to offer a real cure that suits their needs.

I had the good fortune to meet one in 2012.  His name is Bob Inglis.  Student organizers from Duke invited him to give the keynote at a symposium: “Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future.”   Inglis is a native of Bluffton, South Carolina and practiced commercial real estate law prior to his election to the United States House of Representatives.  He served from 1993 through 1999 and  from 2005 through 2010.  During his last three terms, he garnered more than 60% of the vote in the general election each time.  But in 2010, the Tea Party attacked Inglis and finished his political career with a primary challenge from the right.

Inglis told the folks at the Duke conference that there were conservative responses to climate disruption.  While these responses are not widespread, they are more common among younger conservatives.  This is consistent with the observed trend that correlates climate disruption denial with age-older voters of all political stripes have less faith in climate science and less interest in doing anything to combat it.

The arch-example of this trend may well be the octogenarian Republican Senator on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe.  His book on climate policy has not exactly been flying off the shelves at Amazon.  Just reading through the Amazon reviews tells you much about the political polarization that has destroyed rational dialogue about climate disruption science.  Nearly all the reviews were either 5-Star, ALL CAPS love notes or one star ad-hominem attacks.  I will not read it.  I already was sent a free copy of a very similar volume, which misapprehends basic concepts of statistics.

Senator Inhofe’s beliefs on carbon dioxide pollution are mixed up with his theology.  Senator Inhofe has explained that man’s role in climate is insignificant since God is in charge of the climate, as suggested by citing Genesis 8:22.  Senator Inhofe cited Paul's Letter to the Romans as support for casting stones at those who believe climate change is man-made by claiming they worship the creation rather than the creator.

Charles Krauthammer goes one step better by describing “an ambitious, arrogant, unscrupulous knowledge class -- social planners, scientists, intellectuals, experts and their left-wing political allies -- arrogated to themselves the right to rule.”  After the fall of communism and the decline of socialism, Krauthammer posits that the “knowledge class” is using environmentalism to impose a new religion of Gaia, with its priests demanding carbon chastity. “Now the experts will regulate your life not in the name of the proletariat or Fabian socialism but -- even better -- in the name of Earth itself.”  So the Red Menace is now the Green Menace.  Greenbaiting is the new redbaiting.  Both Krauthammer and Senator Inhofe see in the climate policy debate, the red menace seeking to have us sign away our freedoms.

I agree that there is a knowledge class which rules Washington, DC.  The evidence does not support the notion that this powerful; “knowledge class” is made up of climate scientists and fellow traveler refugees from the Politburo.  Rather, you may find them on K Street in very nice offices working for the fossil fuel lobby and the think tanks they have funded, vetted and cited.

In contrast, climate scientists have been hounded out of positions of power.  President George W. Bush renounced his promise to regulate carbon dioxide having changed his plans following lobbying from fossil fuel lobby.  There is a bit of pushback against the (formerly) K Street-based ALEC, which has lobbied heavily in the climate policy debate.  In some cases, the companies and the lobbyists that they represent disagree about whether they were lobbying on climate change issues at all.

But this brings us right back to Bob Inglis and the small cadre of folks who believe in battling climate disruption without growing government.  They have really great ideas, but they are not getting a fair hearing in the national policy debate.  Here is the premise from which Inglis operates as communicated to Duke in 2012: “It is time for conservatives to take the lead on environmental issues because, in the face of our most pressing environmental problems, conservatism offers the solution—free enterprise. For  years, conservatives have been afraid to lead on the issues of climate change and energy because we thought we did not have a viable solution to offer the country. … I posit that the climate crisis is not an unsolvable riddle. Instead, if we apply conservative principles, climate change can be an opportunity for the economy and the environment.”  Inglis goes on to lay out three conservative policy principles supporting this approach: accountability, certainty and tax reform.

Inglis argues that coal is not being held accountable for the more than 13,000 premature deaths caused by soot each year in the United States.  As to certainty, he points out that energy sector investment is primarily hampered by uncertainty over global carbon policy and the price signals have jumped around a lot.  Lastly, he points out that conservatives want to tax things that are bad, like CO2, as opposed to things which are good, like income-so he proposes an income-neutral carbon tax as one type of solution.  This would be imposed on imports and removed on exports from the United States.  Whether this is the best solution or not, it is more creative than any other approach I have seen coming from conservatives-it seeks to turn the buying power of American consumers into the driver of innovation and investment both here and abroad.

We currently export carbon dioxide to China and we import the products and most of the profits made with that export.  It is far better policy for job creation in the United States if we manufactured those products in the United States instead-a fact that our wage-stagnant recovery demonstrates.  Our four most important elements for civilization depend upon getting this policy done right: clean water, clean air, abundant food and abundant energy.

For years, Republican lawmakers have insisted that the United States should not make reductions unless China does so as well.  Now that China has committed to reducing its emissions, it is time to act to correct, it is time for those Republican lawmakers to act.  Our United States Armed Forces have declared climate disruption to be a real threat to global security.  Greenbaiting cranky old men to yell at their televisions about President Obama's EPA.  Kicking the can down the road is miscreant behavior, given the threat posed by climate disruption.

We owe it to the next generations to come to begin reducing carbon dioxide pollution right now.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Chief Scores a Huge Win for Climate; but the Beltway Band Plays On

Even good news is treated to a chilly reception by many Republican political leaders.  Witness the reception given to the preliminary announcement by China of emissions reductions pact with the United States.  Various Republican leaders have said various unkind things about President Obama’s historic announcement this past week, none of which dignify a serious response.  Rather they need a fact check.   

Charles Krauthammer himself said of President Obama’s visit: “I think the one item he could negotiate, and I'm serious about this, climate change. That's the one where if we and China could agree it would make a difference. You could shut down every coal mine in Kentucky it won't make a dime's worth of difference. If he gets an agreement with China, which he won't, but that's the one area it would be historic.”  Note Krauthammer's use of the qualifiers "I'm serious about this" and "which he won't." 

Like Krauthammer, many of President Obama's climate policy critics have been complaining for years that action to reduce carbon pollution is a nonstarter in the United States since the Chinese refuse to do anything about it.  Now President Obama has done what his opponents said he needed to do,  It is clearly miscreant behavior to demand that your opponent take a step and then torpedo that opponent for taking said step.  Such behavior is miscreant because it is mendacious.

I think President Obama’s pledge with China was a profound and defining leadership moment.  Coal energy kills Americans.  Coal energy also kills many more Chinese.  Both countries owe it to coal energy’s victims to chart a different course. Now there are no reasons to wait, only excuses.  Creative conservative approaches are available just as are flexible regulatory approaches.  Now is the hour to act.