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.


  1. Drats. My first comment was lost.

    I, too, was surprised that Obama was able to get China on board. Hope it's not too little too late. I also wonder how they will bring about any significant reductions when they've relied so heavily on coal. Nuclear perhaps, but it has its own set of environmental problems. At the least, the US should stop exporting coal and enabling other nations. And we should shut down our own plants. (Not sure that "clean coal" or IGCC will ever be a viable option in our lifetimes.)

    1. I agree on both fronts. There will be a wind down of coal plants but utilities love them because they have high capital costs and low operating costs. Since most utilities charge customers a return on their capital investments, big coal plants are easy ways to make shareholders happy. In NC, they get around 9% return on capital investment. Given that financing is so cheap for them, return on large capital investments is the thing propping up their bottom lines. It also explains why they do not invest heavily in efficiency research, since they get to pass costs onto captive consumers rather than competing on costs of production with other providers.

  2. Yes, funny that we fund the utilities' investments.

    A few years ago, Texas was trying to fast-track a bunch of coal plants. They wanted to close down the more expensive and less profitable natural gas plants. Coal was very cheap, as you know, and the potential for bigger profits was a draw. Rick Perry even got in on it. However, a coalition of mayors, along with some citizens and watch-dog groups, protested. Many of the new coal plants were not built. If more people would become involved in these energy issues, including conservation, I really do think we could make a difference. But people have to care. Here in DFW, we have bad air, particularly during the summer. I hope we don't have to look like Beijing before the citizens take action.