Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

House Climate Change Hearing

Yesterday, Earth Day,  I watched C-Span coverage of the hearing of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on the planned cap & trade bill.  The hearings on “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” had many odd moments.  But the strangest moments, causing me the most cognitive dissonance, were the repeated attempts of Big Coal CEOs (e.g., Jim Rogers of Duke Energy Corporation) try to explain to Congressional Republicans that electricity costs are going up NO MATTER WHAT, whether or not any cap and trade legislation is passed, so Congress might as well pass legislation to help us transition to clean energy around the nation.  The looks of disbelief on these Republican faces were comical.  They are used to trying to argue science with scientists (and never understand how dumb they look when they do this), but they expect to be considered the champions of business, especially the dirty polluters of Big Coal and Big Oil.  To have the CEOs of coal and oil companies side (at least partly) with the climate scientists (“pointy heads” as the Republicans think of them) and environmentalists (“tree huggers and granola crunchers” in the GOP lexicon) nearly caused their heads to explode.  I’d love to see similar hearings in the Senate–and watch what Sen. “In Denial” Inhofe (R-OK) does when Oil and Coal people side with the environmentalists and climate scientists.  It ought to be highly entertaining.

Other strange moments: Rep. Barton (R-TX) repeatedly claimed that cutting carbon emissions will lead to the de-industrialization of the United States. No, moron, it means switching to different forms of energy like hydroelectric, wind, solar, and geothermal (and, if certain waste problems could be solved, nuclear)–all using off the shelf technologies. 

Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) accused EPA Director Lisa Jackson of deciding to regulate carbon emissions “with or without Congressional approval.”  Jackson rightly replied that the Environmental Protection Agency had been ORDERED to regulate CO2 emissions last year by the Supreme Court of the U.S. and the Bush admin. refused to obey the order.  Blackburn looked like she failed to comprehend the significance of this–as if Supreme Court rulings are mere suggestions.

Rep. Terry kept claiming that without a breakthrough in carbon capture and storage technology  that a cap on carbon emissions would raise coal and oil prices.  No kidding.  That’s the POINT.  A cap-and-trade system rewards low-carbon power and pushes high-emission polluters to find ways to pollute less.  If the carbon prices don’t rise, it removes the economic incentives to pollute less. 

Republicans can’t seem to fathom how these kind of regulations lead to innovation and savings–even though they’ve seen it done with aerosols and refrigerants that deplete the ozone.  One CA legislator had to show how CA regs on refrigerators have resulted in lower prices and less energy use even though refrigerator sizes have  increased.  Secretary of Energy Chu testified that contemporary refrigerators use only 1/4 of the energy they used in 1975.

In all, the Democratic members of Congress seemed excited and optimistic.  They see this as a way to get off our dependence of foreign oil, create green jobs, save the planet, and help the economy all at the same time.  The Republicans, by contrast, see this as a disaster. They believe nothing can be done and many of them still won’t acknowledge the science of global warming.  Or they say the U.S. can do nothing until China and India make 3 times the sacrifices. One Congressman even claimed we had to wait until Yoruba (!) did something.

Another GOP talking point was to call the cap and trade bill an “energy tax.”  No, that’s different.  Energy taxes directly tax sources of energy (usually very dirty ones) directly.  Pollution taxes tax emissions.  Both can be helpful incentives to getting corporations to pollute less.  But a cap-and-trade system sets a limit (a hard cap) on emissions and gives credits to those who emit less and allows them to trade off with those who emit more.  It uses market forces to cut carbon emissions.  Europe has used it for over a decade under the Kyoto Protocol and has greatly cut their greenhouse gasses.  America and the rest of the world used it to stop acid rain and stop destroying the ozone layer by cutting out those chemicals that deplete the ozone layer.

In point of fact, I wish Congress would impose direct carbon taxes in addition to a cap and trade system because of the lost time.  If we had put  cap-and-trade system into place after the Rio Earth Summit of ’92 or in signing on to the Kyoto Protocols (Clinton did not push ratification through the Senate, to Al Gore’s extreme frustration), then, perhaps cap-and-trade would be sufficient. But the pace of global warming is faster than originally predicted and scientists now believe the world must cut greenhouse gasses by 70% over the next century (with the biggest cuts coming within the next decade) to avoid total climate catastrophe.  So, I’d want to combine cap and trade with direct carbon taxes in order to give maximum incentives to cutting emissions.

By far the strangest comment Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) called clean energy and climate legislation the “largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country I’ve ever lived through” and claimed that he feared passage of this law more than  war and terrorism!!

The law, with plenty of teeth, is sure to pass the House.  I worry about it getting past filibuster in the Senate, though, especially if the Republican senators are as out of touch with reality as the Republican Representatives!

P.S.:  Two things worry me.  1. Although environmentalism is now mainstream and a major concern of most of the nation, the PRIORITY always lessens during economic hard times because people put their short-term economic survival first.  2. Polling shows that many people strangely think that just because they voted for an administration that wants to stop catastrophic climate change that the ecological  news is getting better. Part of this may be that people can take in only so much bad news and with the steady drumbeat of bad economic news, war news, etc., have tuned out the ecological news–news which is pretty bleak.   Combined, I worry that this means people won’t put enough pressure on Congress to pass this legislation in a strong enough form.


April 23, 2009 - Posted by | ecology, U.S. politics


  1. ‘They believe nothing can be done and many of them still won’t acknowledge the science of global warming’

    (I weep and gnash my teeth)

    Comment by steph | April 23, 2009

  2. I saw a lady on a news program yesterday who said that obese people are adding to the pollution of the Earth ! Lord, what is coming next ? I favor a clean environment and personal responsibility towards it, but some people are wacko !

    Comment by Paul | April 23, 2009

  3. Suppose McCain and the Republicans had won the election. Our government would still be in denial and these Republican neanderthals would be in control. Scary? Indeed!

    Comment by Ralph Reed | April 23, 2009

  4. Paul, the rationale for the news programme comment was thus:

    1. we all pollute the earth
    2. pollution is generally correlated with consumption
    3. the more an individual consumes (generally) the more they pollute
    4. therefore people who consume more, pollute more.

    It aint rocket science.

    Comment by phil_style | April 23, 2009

  5. It’s really quite simple: If you champion big business and big business says the profits are in green energy, then you pass the green energy legislation to help out your friends in big business. Of course, the unintended consequence of this support is that you might actually save the planet. Sounds like a win-win for everybody.

    Comment by haitianministries | April 23, 2009

  6. Michael,

    In your and their emotional state of elation over creating “green jobs,” have you and the Democratic members of Congress read the recent study which found that every “green job” created with government money in Spain over the last eight years came at the cost of 2.2 regular jobs, and only one in 10 of the newly created green jobs became a permanent job?

    Spain is still in Europe, last time I checked, and was one of the models our President pimped to Congress back in January. Brilliant.

    Comment by Chuck | April 24, 2009

  7. That study was debunked by several others.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 24, 2009

  8. Oh, right.


    Comment by Chuck | April 29, 2009

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