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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere?

As I type these lines, I hear rain falling on the roof of my house.  Rain, snow and ice have been the great drivers shaping this land we call North Carolina for millions of years.  The Earth’s crust has vaulted mountains of rock towards the western sky, but rain, snow and ice turned that rock into soil.  Nourished by the water and the soil, our verdant Appalachian Mountains are home to the most diverse ecosystems east of the Mississippi.  The Earth’s crust opened up a massive rift in the center portion of our state, but rain, snow and ice reshaped the hole into a series of rolling hills, creating the piedmont’s abundance of small streams.  Advancing and retreating coastlines created a broad plain dotted with oval lakes and fringed with a string of sandy islands where English settlers first established their tiny colony.  Our state’s history is water.
And so is our world’s.  Water was understood by ancient rulers and sages as the source of life.  The annual flooding of the Nile created the Egyptian breadbasket.  Moses brought forth water to the children of Israel in the desert to preserve their life, after calling upon water to destroy their enemies from Egypt.   Western civilization sprung forth in the area known as the Fertile Crescent, a place made fertile by the presence of abundant water from rainfall feeding the great rivers Jordan, Tigris and Euphrates.  Rome was built on the Tiber, but soon outgrew that River as a source of drinking water, bringing in huge quantities of water from surrounding mountains by gravity.  Emperor Justinian’s code stated the law that flowing water belongs to no person, any more than the sea belongs to any single person.  Rather, flowing water is the property of all for the benefit of our children and their children in a sacred trust. 
When any government acts to impair that trust, the people resist it. In 1215, at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames, King John was forced to sign a charter setting forth the rights of his subjects.  Among the abuses the Magna Carta corrected, was the royal habit of granting exclusive fishing privileges in the Thames and other rivers in England to favorites in the royal court.  The Magna Carta also protected the growth of the common law, under which England thrived for centuries and which England gave to her American colonies as their legal heritage, including their laws regarding water.
In 1774, Thomas Jefferson published a short pamphlet setting forth his property theory, captioned the “Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which publication got him added into a bill of attainder by the British parliament.  Jefferson’s theory was that the settled colonists did not own their land by permission of the King, but by their blood, sweat and tears -title held by a society which settles an area.   British lands were owned under feudal title-title derived from the British Crown.  Jefferson returned to an older concept, sovereignty of the soil within the people of a society which settles that land.
Upon declaring its independence two years later, North Carolina became a free state, no longer bound to follow the laws of the British Crown.  In its very first Constitutional Declaration of Rights, the North Carolina legislature declared its sovereignty over the soil for all of the land bounded in the charter of Carolina, including its waters.   
The independent State of North Carolina declared:
“The property of the soil, in a free government, being one of the essential rights of the collective body of the people, it is necessary, in order to avoid future disputes…Therefore all the territories, seas, waters, and harbours, with their appurtenances, lying between the line above described, and the southern line of the State of Virginia, which begins on the sea shore, in thirty-six degrees thirty minutes, north latitude, and from thence runs west, agreeable to the said Charter of King Charles, are the right and property of the people of this State, to be held by them in sovereignty.”
Titles perfected by residents of North Carolina tracing to royal grants were respected, but like Jefferson, North Carolinians rejected the notion that the British Crown was the source of their land titles.  While North Carolina’s legislature adopted the common law of England as its own, North Carolina’s judges did not feel bound by the common law of England and freely changed that law when it did not suit the needs of North Carolina’s commercial growth.  When the natural flow doctrine (aqua currit et debet et currere ut currere solebat) impeded the ability of millers to harness the power of North Carolina’s streams for industry, the courts changed the law.  North Carolina’s courts created an exception for reasonable use by owners of land abutting the water, riparian land.  In shorthand, we refer to this exception as riparian rights.  It is well argued that North Carolina’s courts were borrowing from American scholars who favored the French rules of watercourses from the Code Napoleon.
Other states west of us, rejected riparian rights as a limit on industry and agriculture.  In those states, you did not need to own land adjacent to river to use it, you just needed to be the first person to claim the water, usually by digging a ditch to get the water from the river to your farm.  These states were worried that riparian rights would lead to people hogging the water even when they had not been using it.  In these states, the first user became the rightful user and all others had to line up behind, even when they owned riparian land. We refer to this system as prior appropriation.
But whether you are in the east or the west, running water is not your property.  Your system of laws will give different people different rights to use the running water.  These rights powered the industrial revolution in America, through mills and factories.  These rights powered the Green Revolution here which saw a fivefold increase in agricultural productivity within a few decades.  Now these rights also power tourism economies in western North Carolina and along its coasts. 
Protecting these rights against encroachment is vital to protecting these resources for our children and their children.  As population grows, so does the competition for these resources.  Abundant rainfall is not enough to prevent shortage of water supply, just look to the example of Atlanta.  As Atlanta grows, so will its search for water supply widen to include its neighboring states, like North Carolina.  Water waste will become less profitable as water becomes scarcer.  In order to protect these resources for our children and their children, we will have to be better stewards of those resources than we are today.