September 15, 2009

Cap-and-Trade: Run Over by the Healthcare Train?

Filed under: Climate Politics

President Obama’s risky perseveration on health care is running over another of his pet governmental expansions—cap-and-trade legislation sent by the House on June 26 for Senate consideration.

How soon we forget. By a squeaky 219-212 vote, the House rushed Congressman Waxman’s 1300-page opus out the door so the members could get back to the hustings for the Fourth of July. When many freshman democrats got home, those who voted for it experienced the first angry “town hall” of their careers. The blowback caused by Obamunism began over energy, not healthcare.

Obama is taking great risks with healthcare because he can’t cobble enough votes from his own party. About 50 congressmen won’t vote for anything with Public Option in it, while another 50 won’t vote for anything without it. There’s no doubt that this impasse is going to continue for some time.

Given that health care is bottled up in the house, why isn’t Obama pushing Cap and Trade in the Senate? Simple: the votes aren’t there. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), the new head of the Agriculture Committee calls cap-and-trade a “complete non starter” and said that it is not her “preference to move on cap and trade this year.”

Now the White House is providing cover for the Senate in order to keep Obama from another legislative embarrassment (assuming health care will be his first). When asked last week about cap-and-trade, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs completely ignored the question and segued into the need for major legislation to prevent some future financial crisis.

For cap-and-trade, “next year” translates as “never.” Senators know what touched off the town halls, and they know what fate awaits many of their democrat counterparts come November 2010. Voting for an unpopular Public Option healthcare program along with cap-and-trade will easily realign the Senate into its old filibustering self.

Right now (and there’s a lot of time between now and the 2010 election) it’s a pretty good bet that a substantial number of democratic congressmen who voted for cap-and-trade are not going to come back—especially those from republican-leaning districts. That kills cap-and-trade in the next Congress.

But, thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Environmental Protection Agency now has authority to issue its own regulations on carbon dioxide. Given its obvious failure in the legislature, it is a sure bet that Obama will direct (or has directed) Administrator Lisa Jackson to issue her own cap-and-trade schedule (along with a 37mpg average fuel economy mandate). Look for something concrete out of EPA before the United Nations’ climate change confab in Copenhagen in early December. For sure, the world’s largest emitter of CO2—China—isn’t going to agree to any mandatory emissions reductions there unless the U.S. has something very serious in hand. And, if China does nothing, there’s simply not going to be a major slowdown in the growth of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Not that it really matters. The rather large elephant crowding cap-and-trade out of the Senate is the earth’s reluctance to warm in the last decade, along with new projections saying that we could go another ten years without much heating.

The current hiatus in warming portends a reduction in potential heating for the entire century. Most computer models produce significant warming as a result of an increase in atmospheric water vapor (a “greenhouse” gas), which comes from an ocean initially warmed by carbon dioxide. When the ocean doesn’t warm much, this “feedback” effect is delayed. Or so goes the myth.

The lack of warming is an embarrassment to any elected official who has been hiding behind “the science is settled” fig leaf in order to promote cap-and-trade. While every scientist will tell you that indeed the surface temperature of the planet is warmer than it was a century ago (that’s the “settled” part of global warming science), very few scientists anticipated such as long a period without warming as we are now in. In other words, the real science of future warming is completely unsettled.

The bottom line is that the Senate is perfectly happy to kick cap-and-trade under the train. It’s going to have a hard enough time recovering from the upcoming healthcare wreck. Voting for that, along with cap-and-trade, could unleash a torrent of new republicans in both houses of congress.

Fobbing carbon dioxide regulation off to the EPA gets Congress off the hook and will lay the blame on the President. No wonder the Senate has abandoned cap-and-trade. It’s payback for being forced to vote on healthcare.

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