A Lump of Coal for a Cold, Rainy Summer Day

By JC

Jay over at LitW opens up today with a rift between Ms. Palin’s and Paul Krugman’s ideas on cap & trade:

“it appears Palin thinks cap-and-trade legislation’s primary goal is about achieving energy independence…”

It’s not surprising that Palin would do so, given that Alaska is totally dependent on oil development. And Krugman took a stab at looking at the political implications of passing a cap & trade policy through Congress in his Monday column:

And while a major environmental bill has passed the House… the bill fell well short of what the planet really needs…

What makes the apparent paralysis of policy especially alarming is that so little is happening when the political situation seems, on the surface, to be so favorable to action…

And let’s be clear: both the president and the party’s Congressional leadership understand the economic and environmental issues perfectly well. So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take?

What makes this all so, well, predictable, is that the argument has been reduced to one of: to cap & trade or not? If it weren’t for the competing proposal of a carbon tax, one might think that cap & trade is the progressive position. Much like with the health care debate, and the jettisoning of single payer as a point by which to begin the discussion, the carbon tax has been ignored as being too radical of a notion.

James Hansen, the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, came to Capitol Hill yesterday, and was basically ignored. For those who haven’t followed the history of the debate between cap & trade and carbon tax methods for reducing greenhouse gasses, Hansen was dubbed “the father of global warming” when he testified in Congress in 1988 about the dangers of unrestricted emissions.

Skip forward to yesterday, and Senate republicans want to use Hansen as a witness for his willingness to criticize the cap & trade plan, being a carbon tax supporter. A NY Times article quoted one congressman:

A House Democrat, meanwhile, labeled Hansen’s Capitol Hill appearance yesterday “irrelevant.”

Irrelevant? Welcome to the club, director Goddard, of progressive ideas tossed by the wayside as Congressional dems work to govern from the middle–a middle where corporate republicans have been replaced by corporate democrats, which is to say a political middle ground that has not changed much at all.

Hansen, in a scathing piece in the Huffington Post yesterday, lays out his arguments and solutions:

The essential step, then, is to phase out coal emissions over the next two decades. And to declare off limits artificial high-carbon fuels such as tar sands and shale while moving to phase out dependence on conventional petroleum as well.

This requires nothing less than an energy revolution based on efficiency and carbon-free energy sources. Alas, we won’t get there with the Waxman-Markey bill, a monstrous absurdity hatched in Washington after energetic insemination by special interests.

Which, of course, brings it home to Montana, which is almost as dependent on coal as Alaska is on oil. So if we begin the discussion of energy dependence here by arguing about the merits of cap & trade, those that still wish to convey 3rd world status on Montana as an energy exporting colony will whistle all the way to the bank. And as Hansen says, “we won’t be able to create the concerted approach we need globally to prevent catastrophic climate change.”

And so on this cold, rainy summer day, we get a capped & traded lump of coal for our global warming christmas present.

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  1. petetalbot

    The fact that Republicans voted almost unanimously against the cap and trade bill means that it must have some validity.

    Sure, it doesn’t go far enough and isn’t nearly as effective as a carbon tax, but isn’t it a start?

    You make a good analogy to health care reform initiatives: not having single-payer in the debate is similar to not having a carbon tax in the debate. But again, I’ll support a decent public option bill until we can get single payer, and I’ll support a cap and trade until we can get more meaningful legislation on climate change and energy independence.

    • JC

      Deciding which path to go down–cap & trade or carbon tax–commits the nation to one path of action. Its not a question of “let’s start with cap & trade” and if that doesn’t have the desired effect, we can then add on a little carbon tax.

      What this bill does is commit our country to a plan of action that will dictate how we react to future changing conditions. I think that reexamining the history behind a carbon tax, and the implications of choosing one course of action over another is a much wider discussion to be having, instead of just letting the conservatives and corporate democrats dominate the debate by limiting it to cap & trade.

      While a public option may logically lead to single payer in the future, cap & trade does not logically lead to a carbon tax.

      • petetalbot

        I get your point, JC, but if cap and trade was the only bill to come before you in congress, would you say “nay” just because it should have been a better bill? One can still (and must) fight for better legislation down the road.

  2. This may seem a minor quibble, but with the profusion of posters around here, I think by-lines are kind of a must.

  3. JC

    Oops. Thanks for the reminder, Wulfgar. Jhwygirl reminded me to do so, and I promptly forgot. Newbie error. I’ll update them.

  4. Don’t most things that Congress passes fall well short of what is really needed? Except when it comes to handing out our money, then they go overboard.

    • Anon

      “Except when it comes to handing out our money, then they go overboard.”

      You mean like Section 431 on page 1193 of HR2454? The section that amends the Social Security Act? The section that says the government will *estimate* the amount of buying power a family will lose under Cap and Trade and IF you qualify as Low Income, you will receive a monthly check to make up the difference. Gee, I wonder how this new entitlement will be paid for? Could it possibly be just another form of wealth redistribution where the people who aren’t low income will be giving more money to the people who are?

      Surely you aren’t surprised that an “energy” bill is modifying the Social Security Act!

  5. CTF

    I could not agree more that the best way to stem the tide of global climate change is with a transparent and straightforward carbon tax. Not only does a carbon tax avoid the evasion and market manipulation inherent to cap and trade, it incentivizes green R&D and returns the revenue to the people. Congress should take a look before it’s too late.




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