Tag Archives: Grist

Choo Choo Canned Heat Collectivism

George Will in Newsweek:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

One way of looking at high-speed rail systems is that they are a means by which distant communities get connected, economic development and jobs are fostered, and workers with a diverse array of marketable skills can improve their mobility and thus their employment prospects. But another way of looking at high-speed rail is that it’s some nonsense that came to a bunch of hippies as they tripped balls at a Canned Heat concert. That’s my takeaway with George Will’s latest grapple-with-the-real-world session, in which he attempts to figure out “Why liberals love trains.” It’s “Matrix” deep, yo

Sarah Goodyear at Grist:

In case you’re wondering about the provenance of that “collectivism” word — well, collectivism was a favorite demon of Ayn Rand, right-wing philosopher and the Ur-mother of libertarianism in the United States. Here’s a typical usage, from The Objectivist Newsletter of May 1962 (via the Ayn Rand Lexicon):

The political philosophy of collectivism is based on a view of man as a congenital incompetent, a helpless, mindless creature who must be fooled and ruled by a special elite with some unspecified claim to superior wisdom and a lust for power.

“Collectivism” also recalls some of the very worst communist ideas, including the “collectivization” of farms in the Stalinist Soviet Union — among the great atrocities of the 20th century (a crowded category).

Which makes it a pretty strong term to be throwing around when it comes to funding different modes of transportation in 21st-century America. But Will persists with his formulation:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

A couple of things here. First off, automobiles are not the only vehicles capable of encouraging “delusions of adequacy.” Bicycles, one might argue, are a lot more capable of encouraging such delusions — fueled as they are entirely by the body of the “unscripted” individual. Which is perhaps why they seem to enrage people in cars, who have to worry about gasoline and the like, so very much.

Second, let’s talk about modern air travel. What mode of transport is more capable of sapping the human sense of possibility, more confining of the untrammeled human spirit? Perhaps before Will goes after high-speed rail, he should call for the defunding of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paul Krugman:

As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.

And there’s the bit about rail as an antiquated technology; try saying that after riding the Shanghai Maglev.

But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.

Matthew Yglesias:

But I do think this is a good look into the psychology of conservatives. Maybe high-speed rail is a waste of money and maybe it isn’t. I think it’s plausible to say we should just spend the cash on better regular mass transit or whatever. But I’ve long struggled to explain the right-wing’s affection for status quo American policies that amount to massive subsidization of the automobile. A small slice of that is spending on roads. A much larger amount is minimum lot size rules, parking mandates, the whole shebang. It’s a bit odd, and my instinct had been to say that this just goes to show that conservatism has nothing to do with free markets and everything to do with the identity politics of middle aged white suburban conformists. But Will offers another explanation here. Automobile use is not a sign of the free market, but an actual cause of it. Driving inculcates habits of freedom, and thus coercive pro-car regulations are, in a way, freedom-promoting.

More Krugman:

A bit more on this subject — not serious, just a personal observation after a long hard day of reading student applications. (My suggestion that we reject all applicants claiming to be “passionate” about their plans was rejected, but with obvious reluctance.)

Anyway, my experience is that of the three modes of mechanized transport I use, trains are by far the most liberating. Planes are awful: waiting to clear security, then having to sit with your electronics turned off during takeoff and landing, no place to go if you want to get up in any case. Cars — well, even aside from traffic jams (tell me how much freedom you experience waiting for an hour in line at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel), the thing about cars is that you have to drive them, which kind of limits other stuff.

But on a train I can read, listen to music, use my aircard to surf the web, get up and walk to the cafe car for some Amfood; oh, and I’m not restricted by the War on Liquids. When I can, I prefer to take the train even if it takes a couple of hours more, say to get to Boston, because it’s much higher-quality time.

Yes, your choices are limited by the available trains; if I wanted to take a train from beautiful downtown Trenton to DC tomorrow, I’d be restricted to one of 21 trains, leaving roughly once an hour if not more often, whereas if I wanted to drive I could leave any time I wanted. Big deal.

And don’t get me started on how much more freedom of movement I feel in New York, with subways taking you almost everywhere, than in, say, LA, where you constantly have to worry about parking and traffic.

So if trains represent soulless collectivism, count me in.

Atrios:

As Krugman says, trains really are the best way to travel, at least for travel times that are roughly competitive with air travel. That fact doesn’t automatically mean that therefore we should spend huge amounts of public money on it, but, you know, it does mean that people like trains for more reasons than their insidious collectivist promotion.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Manypeoplehave, for good reason, taken their knocks at syndicated columnist William F. George’s ludicrous column about trains, with particular emphasis on the substantial amount of government subsidies that facilitate “individualistic” car travel.    In addition, I’d note that the flying experience is a good example of Republican “freedom.”   For some distances flying is of course necessary and useful, although a good high-speed train network would reduce the number of routes that make flying more practical. For the ordinary person, however, flying is a miserable experience — more waiting in line than a Soviet supermarket during a recession, the potentially humiliating security theater, and incredibly cramped and uncomfortable travel.     But — and here’s the rub — people as affluent as Will can buy their way out of the worst aspects of flying, with separate security lines, private lounges, and first-class seating.   With trains, on the other hand, the experience for the ordinary person is infinitely superior but the affluent can obtain an only marginally better experience.   So you can see why Will hates it.   The fact that trains might represent more meaningful freedom for you isn’t his problem.

More Krugman:

Some of the comments on my various pro-train posts have been along the lines of “Oh yeah, try taking the train to Los Angeles.” But that, of course, misses the point.

I think about the trains/planes comparison something like this: planes go much faster, and will continue to go faster even if we get high-speed rail; but there are some costs associated with a plane trip that can be avoided or minimized on a rail trip, and those costs are the same whether it’s a transcontinental flight or a hop halfway up or down the Northeast Corridor. You have to get to the airport at one end, and get from it at the other, which is a bigger issue, usually, than getting to and from train stations that are already in the city center. You have to wait on security lines. You have to spend more time boarding. So if we look just at travel time, it looks like this:

DESCRIPTION

Suppose that I put those fixed costs at 2 hours; suppose that planes fly at 500 miles an hour; and suppose that we got TGV-type trains that went 200 miles an hour. Then the crossover point would be at 667 miles. It would still be much faster to take planes across the continent — but not between Boston and DC, or between SF and LA. Add in my personal preference for train travel, and I might be willing to train it to Chicago, maybe, but not to Texas.

Now, if we got vacuum maglevs

More Yglesias:

I endorse Krugman’s analysis, but in some ways I think the fact that you can’t get to LA on a train actually is the point. You can’t take the train from New York to Los Angeles. You can’t drive from New York to Los Angeles. You need an airplane. But LaGuardia Airport has limited runway capacity and many daily flights to Boston. Clearly, though, you can take a train from New York to Boston. So money spent on improving the speed and passenger capacity of NYC-Boston train links is, among other things, a way to improve New York’s air links to the West Coast.

Now a separate question is whether there’s any feasible way to actually do this in a country that doesn’t have a French (or Chinese) level of central political authority empowered to build straight tracks through people’s suburban backyards. The answer seems to be “no,” but the potential gains from greater rail capacity in the northeast are large and would (via airplanes) spill over into the rest of the country.

More Goodyear:

In the dark days immediately after 9/11, Will seems to have had a revelation about how a certain mode of transportation could help our nation be stronger and more secure. In an Oct. 1, 2001 column syndicated in the Jewish World Review, Will recommended three steps in response to the attack that the nation had just sustained. First, buy more B-2 bombers. Second, cut corporate taxes. And third? Let Will speak for himself (emphasis mine):

Third, build high-speed rail service.

Two months ago this columnist wrote: “A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less — a majority of flights; 40 percent are of 300 miles or less — automotive travel is as fast or faster than air travel, door to door. Columnist Robert Kuttner sensibly says that fact strengthens the case for high-speed trains. If such trains replaced air shuttles in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Kuttner says that would free about 60 takeoff and landing slots per hour.”

Thinning air traffic in the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor has acquired new urgency. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker essay on the deadly dialectic between the technological advances in making air travel safer and the adaptations to these advances by terrorists.

“Airport-security measures,” writes Gladwell, “have simply chased out the amateurs and left the clever and the audacious.” This is why, although the number of terrorist attacks has been falling for many years, fatalities from hijackings and bombings have increased. As an Israeli terrorism expert says, “the history of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods of attack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities.”

The lesson to be learned is not defeatism. Security improvements can steadily complicate terrorists’ tasks and increase the likelihood of defeating them on the ground. However, shifting more travelers away from the busiest airports to trains would reduce the number of flights that have to be protected and the number of sensitive judgments that have to be made, on the spot, quickly, about individual travelers. Congress should not adjourn without funding the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Now that it’s a Democratic administration advocating for rail, Will sees it not as a sensible solution for moving people from one place to another, but instead as a tool to control an unsuspecting populace:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

In his recent screed against rail, Will explicitly dismissed arguments that it would be good for national security. He also didn’t mention air travel. Maybe that would have reminded him of what he himself wrote nearly 10 years ago.

David Weigel:

Good get, but if we’re going to be talking about stupid ideas people had right after 9/11, we’ll be here all day. Will’s rail fetish was a passing fancy, and since then he’s come around to the conservative consensus that rail can never, ever work as a replacement for air travel, so rail projects are essentially boondoggles.

This is an odd discussion to have as the Atlas Shrugged movie comes out. The book and the film absolutely fetishize rail; the film makes it clear that rail will become necessary once gas starts to really run out. And this is something liberal rail adherents point out, too. But I don’t see conservatives coming around to HSR, which needs a massive manpower and financial and land commitment to get going, outside of that sort of crisis thinking.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

This isn’t to play “gotcha,” as much as it is to note a simple fact about our world: We’re all partisans, whether we admit it or not. Reason’s opposition to the individual mandate has almost nothing to do with the substance of what is truly a center-right policy and everything to do with current political circumstances. The mandate was implemented by a Democrat. Reason, as a right-libertarian institution, is part of the conservative opposition to the liberal president. Likewise, Will’s opposition to high-speed rail is purely a function of partisan politics.

This isn’t a bad thing. Yes, partisanship can be taken too far and veer into ideological blindness, but, in general, it is a useful way of organizing our thoughts on policies and politics. Indeed, it’s how most voters process political information. Political commentary would be much more bearable if pundits were willing to accept the partisan origins of their biases and skepticism, instead of playing a game where we pretend to be open-minded observers.  Most are anything but.

Gulliver at The Economist:

Mr Bouie might be overstating the influence of partisanship a bit, and it’s hard for people to know exactly what is driving others’ opinions—or even one’s own. Still, partisanship is certainly a useful frame through which to view both the most ardent opponents and the most passionate defenders of HSR. There is political science research that shows that a president weighing in on one side of a given debate (as Barack Obama has with high-speed rail) dramatically increases political polarization on that issue. Of course, if Mr Bouie’s theory is correct, we should be able to point to some lefty supporters of HSR whose support seems to be driven primarily by partisanship—or even a few who, like Mr Will, have switched positions on the issue. Anyone have a nomination? Let us know in the comments.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Infrastructure, Mainstream, New Media

Duelling Banjos Or Duelling New York Times Columnists

Ross Douthat at NYT:

Cap-and-trade’s backers are correct to point the finger rightward. If their bill is dead, it was the American conservative movement that ultimately killed it. Climate legislation wasn’t like health care, with Democrats voting “yes” in lockstep. There was no way to get a bill through without some support from conservative lawmakers. And in the global warming debate, there’s a seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the conservative movement and the environmentalist cause.

To understand why, it’s worth going back to the 1970s, the crucible in which modern right-wing politics was forged.

The Seventies were a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms, and none was more potent than the fear that human population growth had outstripped the earth’s carrying capacity. According to a chorus of credentialed alarmists, the world was entering an age of sweeping famines, crippling energy shortages, and looming civilizational collapse.

It was not lost on conservatives that this analysis led inexorably to left-wing policy prescriptions — a government-run energy sector at home, and population control for the teeming masses overseas.

Social conservatives and libertarians, the two wings of the American right, found common ground resisting these prescriptions. And time was unkind to the alarmists. The catastrophes never materialized, and global living standards soared. By the turn of the millennium, the developed world was worrying about a birth dearth.

This is the lens through which most conservatives view the global warming debate. Again, a doomsday scenario has generated a crisis atmosphere, which is being invoked to justify taxes and regulations that many left-wingers would support anyway. (Some of the players have even been recycled. John Holdren, Barack Obama’s science adviser, was a friend and ally of Paul Ehrlich, whose tract “The Population Bomb” helped kick off the overpopulation panic.)

History, however, rarely repeats itself exactly — and conservatives who treat global warming as just another scare story are almost certainly mistaken.

Rising temperatures won’t “destroy” the planet, as fearmongers and celebrities like to say. But the evidence that carbon emissions are altering the planet’s ecology is too convincing to ignore. Conservatives who dismiss climate change as a hoax are making a spectacle of their ignorance.

But this doesn’t mean that we should mourn the death of cap-and-trade. It’s possible that the best thing to do about a warming earth — for now, at least — is relatively little. This is the view advanced by famous global-warming heretics like Bjorn Lomborg and Freeman Dyson; in recent online debates, it has been championed by Jim Manzi, the American right’s most persuasive critic of climate-change legislation.

Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world — and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.

But it’s also grounded in skepticism that such a regime is possible. Any attempt to legislate our way to a cooler earth, the argument goes, will inevitably resemble the package of cap-and-trade emission restrictions that passed the House last year: a Rube Goldberg contraption whose buy-offs and giveaways swamped its original purpose.

Jim Manzi at The American Scene:

Ross Douthat has a column in today’s New York Times in which he kindly mentions me, but far more important, manages to make a multi-layered argument for why an informed rational observer should oppose cap-and-trade legislation within the length restrictions of an op-ed. In my view, the position that Ross presents – basically, that the cure is worse than the disease – is the rationally persuasive argument that won the day in recent legislative debates in the Congress.

I believe the debate and politics of this issue have, so far, played out along lines I set forth a couple of years ago. That doesn’t mean, however, that the debate is permanently settled. Nothing in American politics ever is, and the attempt to introduce cap-and-trade through legislation, regulation and/or judicial rulings is likely to continue for many years.

David Leonhardt at NYT:

Mr. Douthat mentions Mr. Ehrlich in his column today, to explain why Republicans have blocked action on global warming:

The Seventies were a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms, and none was more potent than the fear that human population growth had outstripped the earth’s carrying capacity. According to a chorus of credentialed alarmists [including Paul Ehrlich], the world was entering an age of sweeping famines, crippling energy shortages, and looming civilizational collapse.

It was not lost on conservatives that this analysis led inexorably to left-wing policy prescriptions — a government-run energy sector at home, and population control for the teeming masses overseas.

The analogy to global warming is obvious. Just as ingenuity came to the rescue in the past, allowing people to use resources more efficiently than they ever had before, it could do so again — providing us with ways to emit far less carbon for every dollar of gross domestic product.

And I — like many others, I imagine — would be thrilled if that were what the future held. But I think there are two big reasons to doubt that we’re on another Ehrlich-Simon path when it comes to global warming.

The first is basic economics. When the problem is resource scarcity, companies and individuals have a powerful incentive to become more efficient. It keeps their costs down. Mr. Simon understood this, and it’s the fundamental reason he won the bet.

But global warming is different. The fact that carbon emissions are warming the planet doesn’t make it more expensive to produce those emissions. So companies do not have an ever-increasing incentive to emit less — the way they would if the problem were, say, a lack of oil. Global warming doesn’t solve itself the way that resource scarcity does.

The second reason is the accumulation of evidence. Almost as soon as Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Simon made their bet in 1980, Mr. Simon’s prediction started looking good. In 1981, as Mr. Tierney wrote, “grain prices promptly fell and reached historic lows during the 1980s, continuing a long-term decline.” (Mr. Tierney noted that an ally of Mr. Ehrlich ignored this trend at the time and focused instead on “blips in the graph.”)

In recent years, though, anyone who had bet against global warming would look as wrong as Mr. Ehrlich did. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking at an accelerating rate. Scientists have recently revised upwards their predictions of sea-level rises. The planet’s 10 hottest years on record, according to NASA, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008. This year is on pace to displace 2005 as No. 1.

Matthew Yglesias:

[…] I’ll have a go at this one:

[Conservative opposition to carbon pricing legislation] is also grounded in skepticism that such a regime is possible. Any attempt to legislate our way to a cooler earth, the argument goes, will inevitably resemble the package of cap-and-trade emission restrictions that passed the House last year: a Rube Goldberg contraption whose buy-offs and giveaways swamped its original purpose.

Two objections. One—ACES certainly had its Rube Goldberg qualities, but it hardly “swamped its original purpose” of reducing the risk of climate catastrophe at small economic cost.

Two—if Republican members of congress looked at ACES and thought “nice try, but too many side deals” they were, of course, free at any time to introduce an alternative piece of legislation. They did not. And you can tell by the rhetoric of the broader conservative movement (”cap and tax,” “job-killing energy tax,” etc.) that there was no openness to this kind of effort to find more optimal ways of pursuing environmental goals. On the contrary, every move congressional Republicans have made—from adopting a House posture that made it necessary to forge costly side-deals with coal belt Democrats to adopting a Senate posture that ensures carbon regulation will be left primarily to the EPA—has tended to simultaneously undermine the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also making the economic impact of the regulations more costly.

The reality is that I don’t think American conservatives need a reason, as such, to oppose effective policies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Siding with the Chamber of Commerce against proposed new environmental regulation is just what the conservative movement does. Insofar as any particular person wants to dissent from that judgment in a vocal and persistent way, that person would simply be read out of the movement. The extent to which the conservative movement has its grip on any particular politician (or, indeed, newspaper columnist) can change from year-to-year or day-to-day but there’s no real opening for a conservative person or institution to make a genuine effort to help environmentalists without turning apostate. Things are different in Denmark, but that’s true of many subjects.

Brad DeLong

Douthat responds to Leonhardt and Yglesias:

There are important lessons to be drawn from the doomsday scenarios of the 1970s, but conservatives who expect the warming trend to suddenly reverse itself have almost certainly overlearned them. I would offer two caveats, though. One is that while the economics of resource scarcity did militate in favor of conservation in a way they don’t with carbon emissions, the same wasn’t obviously true of population growth, where many serious people were convinced that the economic incentives were leading the whole world straight into a disastrous Malthusian trap. In hindsight, what we know about demographic transitions suggests otherwise — but that was much less clear in, say, 1969 or so than it is today. (Which explains, in turn, why that era was marked by various proposals and policies that effectively treated “excess” children the way cap-and-trade treats carbon emissions: As something to be regulated or taxed or otherwise coerced out out of existence.)

The second is that the Simon-Ehrlich bet that Leonhardt references took place in 1980, after more than two decades of exponential population growth and population alarmism (and, of course, various disastrous and inhumane policy experiments). So Paul Ehrlich probably thought he had a fair amount of historical evidence on his side when he made it. And if there were an equivalent bet on climate — which, to be clear, I wouldn’t make, since I expect temperatures to continue to rise — it would be taking place now, or a couple of years ago, rather than in 2000 or 1990.

Elsewhere, meanwhile, Matt Yglesias criticizes me for saying that the cap-and-trade bill’s various buy-offs and giveaways “swamp its original purpose.” It’s a good point: I should have said threaten to swamp its original purpose. We know that the buy-offs and giveaways ended up swamping the bill’s secondary purpose (raising revenue, that is), but we don’t know how they’ll effect the primary purpose of reducing emissions: That depends, among other things, on just how imperfect (or corrupt, or easily gamed) the system of “carbon offsets” ends up being. (After several years of implementation, it’s still unclear how well Europe’s emission-trading system works.) In theory, though, Yglesias is right: The legislation as passed by the House could achieve reductions in American emissions in spite of all the side deals and horse-trading. These projected reductions are woefully small in the global scheme of things (if there’s a more optimistic estimate than the one Jim Manzi cites here, please let me know), but they’re substantial in the domestic context.

Yglesias goes on to argue that Republicans are to blame for the giveaways and buy-offs anyway, because it was their intransigence that “made it necessary to forge costly side-deals with coal belt Democrats.” I’m not sure I agree with this: A world where a bloc of Republicans had come on board would probably have been a world where even more Democrats jumped ship (this was not an obviously popular piece of legislation), and you might have just ended up with a slightly different set of side-deals.

Paul Krugman at NYT:

Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they’re still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record.

Of course, you can’t infer trends in global temperatures from one year’s experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say “See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!” Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we’re currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn’t work even on its own terms.

But will any of the deniers say “O.K., I guess I was wrong,” and support climate action? No. And the planet will continue to cook.

So why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let’s talk first about what didn’t cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.

First of all, we didn’t fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.

Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You’ve probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers — allegations of fabricated data, the supposedly damning e-mail messages of “Climategate,” and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action, then bought into by many in the news media. You don’t believe such things can happen? Think Shirley Sherrod.

Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy’s growth rate.

So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

But the truth is that public opinion played a major role as well. It’s not that Americans oppose action on greenhouse gas emissions — most polls show they favor it. It’s that they lack strong enough convictions to support the dislocations that any meaningful bill would impose. An AP poll, for instance, found that 59% of Americans would oppose any climate bill if it would cause their electricity bill to rise by even $10 a month. In an environment like this, opponents have a huge advantage in the battle for public opinion.

None of this is to say that a climate bill would be impossible without stronger public support. It’s the kind of issue that requires responsible elites. You would need Republicans to decide that the issue was vital and work with Democrats to craft a mutually-acceptable solution. Instead they positioned themselves to fan the flames of public opposition to any sacrifice or dislocation. The combination of a public with soft views on the issue and an opportunistic GOP made a bill impossible.

My other difference with Krugman is that I don’t think the failure of a bill means the planet will burn. I think it means that the Environmental Protection Agency will take over the issue. This isn’t ideal from an economic point of view. But it is ideal from Congress’s point of view — or, at least, the conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans who hold the deciding votes in Congress. Decreasing economic efficiency by limiting carbon emissions through regulation, rather then a more efficient cap and trade bill, in order to let the Senate avoid voting on the issue is a win for Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe.

If Obama can hang tough on carbon emissions, he can force the energy industry to put real pressure on Congress to pass a climate bill. Obviously the threat is too abstract right now. But liberals need to get used to the idea that the EPA is the short-term solution and start figuring out how to make that work. the death of legislation in 2010 is not the death of a solution.

David Roberts at Grist:

With the climate bill officially dead, there’s already a trickle of “who’s to blame and what they should have done differently” pieces. I expect it will soon become a flood.

Most of these pieces will focus in the wrong places. Take Lee Wasserman’s new op-ed, “Four Ways to Kill a Climate Bill,” an instant classic of the genre. Wasserman doesn’t like the way Dems talked about the issue and he doesn’t like the policy framework they put forward, which is of course his right. But the implication of the piece is that if Dems had talked the way he wanted them to talk, and put forward the bill he wanted them to put forward, the outcome would have been different. There’s just no reason at all to think that’s true.

Expect to see all sorts of pieces arguing that better “messaging” could have saved the day, e.g., this piece on Daily Kos. Others will argue that their particular policy pony — carbon tax, or cap-and-dividend, or massive R&D money — would have been victorious. Others will argue that demonizing energy incumbents to fire up the base would have worked. Others will blame Obama for not riding to the rescue (Randy’s got a roundup of these).

All this is well-meaning, but it misses the biggest impediments. I don’t think messaging, policy design, or base mobilization are irrelevant — I’ve written plenty about all of them — but their effects were marginal relative to other structural factors. Were I doing an autopsy on the death of the bill, here are the causal factors I’d single out, listed in order of significance:

1. The broken Senate

The U.S. Senate is already an unrepresentative institution: Wyoming’s two senators each represent 272,000 people; California’s two senators each represent 18,481,000 people. On top of this undemocratic structure is a series of rules that have been abused with increasing frequency.

The main one, of course, is the default supermajority requirement that’s been imposed by abuse of the filibuster. I’ll have much more to say on this soon, but suffice to say, the supermajority requirement has perverse, deleterious consequences that extend much farther than most progressives seem to understand.

For a complex, contentious, and regionally charged issue like climate change, the supermajority requirement presents a virtually insuperable barrier to action. I don’t think we would have the climate bill of our dreams if only 51 votes were required, but I’m fairly sure something along the lines of Waxman-Markey or stronger could have made it over the finish line.

2. The economy

You may have noticed that Americans aren’t in a very good mood right now. Unemployment is high and people are suffering. Given that most people don’t follow politics very closely, or at all, that translates to anger and suspicion toward whoever’s in power (despite the fact that, yes, it’s Bush and the Republicans who are responsible for both the economic downturn and the deficit).

Yes, the left could have done a better job of framing a climate/energy bill as an economic boost — mainly by starting earlier and being much more consistent — but the fact is, the environment-vs.-economy frame has been established by a well-funded 40-year campaign on the right. It can’t be overturned in two years. The American people were just bound to be indifferent and/or suspicious of grand environmental initiatives during a time of economic pain.

Those two are the biggies

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment

Their Name Is Mud

Stephen Power at Wall Street Journal:

Oil giant BP PLC told congressional investigators that a decision to continue work on an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after a test warned that something was wrong may have been a “fundamental mistake,” according to a memo released by two lawmakers Tuesday.

The document describes a wide array of mistakes in the fateful final hours aboard the Deepwater Horizon—but the main revelation is that BP now says there was a clear warning sign of a “very large abnormality” in the well, but work proceeded anyway.

The rig exploded about two hours later.

The congressional memo outlines what the lawmakers say was a briefing for congressional staff by BP officials early Tuesday. Company representatives provided a preliminary report on their internal investigation of the April 20 disaster, which killed 11 workers and continues to spill thousands of barrels of oil daily into the Gulf of Mexico.

The new developments come as President Barack Obama, working to tame a political storm over the spill, is expected to announce Thursday that the government will impose tougher safety requirements and more rigorous inspections on off-shore drilling operations.

According to the memo, BP identified several other mistakes aboard the rig, including possible contamination of the cement meant to seal off the well from volatile natural gas and the apparent failure to monitor the well closely for signs that gas was leaking in, the congressmen wrote in their post-meeting memo. An immense column of natural gas, erupting from the oil well, fueled the fireball that destroyed the rig.

Randy Rieland at Grist:

Here’s something to fill you with confidence on the eve of BP’s risky “Top Kill” gambit: Workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig missed warnings that something was seriously wrong before the rig exploded. BP itself, in a memo to a House committee, reveals that crewmen failed to heed signs of a “very large abnormality” underwater. In fact, they apparently missed one warning sign after another that day.

Third time’s the charm?

Or will it be three strikes you’re out? Later today, BP will try, try, try again to — as the president put it — “plug the damn hole.” This latest attempt is the “top kill,” in which a mix of heavy mud and cement is shot into the well to counteract the upward pressure of leaking oil and gas. If the top kill fails, BP will move on to the “junk shot,” in which a gumbo of rope, tires, and golf balls gets pumped into the leak. If the junk shot doesn’t work, it’s “top hat” time — the smaller of the two containment domes will be lowered over the well to hopefully capture leaking oil and pump it to the surface.

And if that doesn’t work, well, we’re pretty much screwed.

Now that the oil giant relented to pressure from the feds, we can watch it all go down on the BP webcam.

Naked Capitalism:

But the one that got my attention was the exclusive interview of BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg in the Financial Times, in which he remarked:

The US is a big and important market for BP, and BP is also a big and important company for the US, with its contribution to drilling and oil and gas production. So the position goes both ways.

This is not the first time something has gone wrong in this industry, but the industry has moved on.

Yves here. This is simply stunning. First, the BP chairman essentially puts his company on an equal footing as the United States, implying their relation is not merely reciprocal, but equal. BP doesn’t even approach the importance of Microsoft in its heyday, a-not-very-tamed provider of a near monopoly service. And his posture “this is just one problem like others, no biggie” is an offense to common sense and decency.

Many readers have pointed to signs that BP’s order of battle in combatting the leak is seeking to maximize recovery rather than minimize damage, again a sign of backwards priorities. The widely cited gold standard for crisis management, Johnson & Johnson’s 1982 Tylenol tamperings, had the company immediately doing whatever it took, no matter how uneconomical it seemed, to protect the public. BP instead has been engaging in old school conduct: keep a wrap on information as long as possible, minimize outside input, and (presumably) contain costs.

What is worse is the complete lack of any apology or sign of remorse. Even if BP engaged in more or less the same conduct, it would be far more canny for its top officials to make great shows of empathy for all the people who are suffering as a result of the disaster, remind the public that they lost their own men too, and make great speeches about not resting until the leak is plugged, and then add the caveat” “but we have to proceed in a deliberate manner, rushing could make matters worse. We know this is frustrating, and we wish we could hurry the pace.”

The inability to perceive the need to fake remorse shows how wildly out of touch many corporate leaders are with reality. Let’s face it, they are surrounded by sycophants and image-burnishers, they get paid beyond the dreams of mere avarice whether they perform well or abjectly screw up. Unless one happens to be an exception that proves the rule like Jeff Skilling, the worst that might happen to them is a little ritual hazing by Congress for an hour or two and being the subject of the occasional unflattering news story. Real aristocrats, by contrast, at least recognized the importance of noblesse oblige, even if they didn’t always live up to it.

And BP’s outsized institutional ego is making mincemeat of Obama. It is clear that the Administration has NO Plan B if BP continues to get nowhere. And it has tolerated less than comprehensive disaster responses. Why hasn’t BP been asked to do more to contain the oil spill? Given the magnitude of the outflow, even limited success would make a difference. Why hasn’t the Navy been brought in? Trust me, if Al Qaeda had somehow gotten a missile cruise ship with a nuke or two into the Deepwater Horizon location, I’m sure all sorts of military hardware would be dispatched. If the leak turns out to be as bad an many fear, this disaster will be far worse than any readily imaginable terrorist incident, yet our response is sorely wanting.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

BP began Wednesday shooting dense mud into a wellhead 5,000 feet below the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the oil company’s latest attempt to stop a gusher spewing into the Gulf — polluting Louisiana beaches and marshlands.

There were no guarantees the procedure would work, as even the head of BP admitted, and as President Obama also noted during a trip to northern California. The so-called top kill maneuver pumps mud into the well with the aim of damming the spilling oil and then sealing it with cement.

BP spokesman Steven Rinehart said the process would go on for hours, but it may take a couple of days before anyone knows for sure whether it has worked, the Associated Press said

Andrew Moseman at Discover Magazine:

This procedure is no sure bet, because a top kill hasn’t been attempted 5,000 feet down in the sea before. BP’s CEO Tony Hayward estimates the percentage chance of success in the 60s.

The procedure requires an elaborate and precise orchestration among five vessels at the surface, whose duties range from housing pumping equipment to storing a total of 50,000 barrels of drilling mud, and several remote-controlled undersea robots. If all goes as planned, the dense mud will be pumped through a single 6-5/8-inch-diameter drill pipe from one vessel, which will then enter two 3-inch-diameter hoses. Those hoses will deliver the material to the sea floor, where they will intersect with the choke and kill lines of the damaged blowout preventer, which sits atop the well [Christian Science Monitor].

Whether this works may depend on whether the weight of the mud is enough to push the oil back into the well, which isn’t certain. If it fails, the junk shot option—trying to plug up the leak with tires and golf balls and other trash—is still on the table.

Jake Tapper and Huma Khan at ABC:

The White House is seemingly making an increased show of pressuring BP, but President Obama is facing political heat from within his own party for what some say has been a lackluster response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The “political stupidity is unbelievable,” Democratic strategist James Carville said on “Good Morning America” today. “The president doesn’t get down here in the middle of this. … I have no idea of why they didn’t seize this thing. I have no idea of why their attitude was so hands off here.”

On Thursday, Obama will announce new measures the federal government will take to try to prevent any future BP oil spills, administration officials said. And on Friday, the president will visit the Gulf coast, his second trip to the region since the environmental disaster happened last month.

But Carville said the Obama administration’s response to the BP oil spill has been “lackadaisical,” and that rather than place the blame on the previous administration, it should’ve done more to deal with BP and “inept bureaucrats,” which would’ve in turn helped boost Obama’s approval ratings.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

The federal government’s failure to know how to handle the Deepwater Horizon oil spill does not end with the EPA. It goes all the way to the top. Frustrated by his government’s inability to master the problem, President Barack Obama reportedly cut aides short recently, ordering them to “plug the damn hole.” As if no one had thought of that already. But instead of focusing on the problem at hand, President Obama moved to appoint an unaccountable commission to study the problem substituting process for action at a time when leadership was needed. The commission shifts the responsibility from the persons we elect to oversee these issues to unelected bureaucrats.

The Pew Research Center has released a poll showing a majority of Americans give President Obama and his administration bad marks for its handling of a massive oil spill.  To combat this rising discontent, the Obama administration flew Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen up to Washington to provide some clear answers as to who was in charge of the operation. Just this past Sunday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had said of BP: “If we find that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.” But when asked about Salazar’s comments Monday, Allen responded: “Well, I would — I would — I would say that that’s more of a metaphor. … You need equipment and expertise that’s not generally within the government — federal government, in terms of competency, capability or capacity. There may be some other way to get it, but I’m a national incident commander. And right now, the relationship with BP is the way I think we should move forward.”

BP, rather than taxpayers, should be held responsible for the costs of the clean-up and liability, and under current federal law that is the case. BP is currently responsible for every penny it costs to clean the mess up. Furthermore, they are responsible for up to $75 million in liability costs (i.e. the secondary costs incurred by businesses and communities) directly, and up to $1 billion additionally comes from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. And the $75 million cap is waived if the responsible party is found to be grossly negligent. Calls to increase these caps retroactively are not needed and are more political expediency then either stopping the leak or mitigating its consequences. Equally frustrating are calls to raise the gas tax, and transfer the costs of this spill onto American consumers.

And that right there, in a nutshell, is the problem not only with the Obama administration’s handling of this crisis, but with the entire regulatory state. The Obama administration is set to announce new and stricter regulations on the oil industry tomorrow. But as the NEPA waivers and MMS failures of this accident show, the existing regulatory framework is already not being enforced. So how will new regulations piled on top of the old ones fix the problem? When government micromanages how private enterprises are run, those entities are not incentivized to prepare for the worst outcomes. Now no one has developed a plan or the expertise to deal with this spill.

John Cole:

I know that no matter what I say, some of you are going to claim I am shilling for Obama while others of you will read the same piece and claim I am unfairly attacking Obama, but I have a serious question- what exactly is the Obama administration supposed to do about the oil spill?

I’ve thought about it, and there are some things that really have pissed me off:

1.) BP keeps missing deadlines they themselves set to cap the spill

2.) BP keeps trying to hide the size of the spill anyway they can, whether it be using dispersants to keep the oil under the water so no one can see it, refusing to allow independent sources access, or just flat out lying.

3.) The government is, as we speak, issuing more permits to drill, even though it is perfectly clear we aren’t prepared for this kind of catastrophe.

Of course, the obvious damage to the gulf and the wildlife has me livid, but these are specific things that have pissed me off about the government and BP’s response. I also almost through something at the wall yesterday when I read Jake Tapper report that the Coast Guard called BP their “friends.”

Having said that, I just don’t know what the administration is supposed to do. What can be done? That, I think, is the real lesson from this- that we can’t really do anything about this sort of disaster, and i think the administration has done a really shitty job of getting that message out.

I hear screams to “take over” the operations from BP. And do what? Is there some secret naval division that handles deep-sea drilling that we have not deployed? Does the government have some elite unit with better equipment than BP? I’m as pissed at them as anyone and want the government to make them pay for every penny of the clean-up, but I have to believe that all the people with experience fighting these things and all the equipment to deal with this sort of thing is already there with BP. And that if we “took over” from BP, it would still be the same people.

In short, I just don’t know what kind of federal response there really could be to this kind of disaster. In Katrina, the reason fro anger was clear- there were people who needed food, shelter, water, and medical treatment, things we have a lot of all over the country, and we just dropped the ball getting it to them. But with this- what are we supposed to do?

Leave a comment

Filed under Energy, Environment, Political Figures

How Did John Kerry Find Time To Write A Bill With All The Blogging He’s Been Doing?

John Kerry at Huffington Post:

I don’t think there are many people left who really question that we need a major transformation in the way we produce power, the disaster in the Gulf being the latest wakeup call for anyone who was still sleeping. It was the most recent reminder that 40 years after Richard Nixon started talking about “energy independence,” we’re still stuck or moving backwards — our economy constantly rattled by the volatile price of oil, our planet’s climate increasingly unstable thanks to the pollution we’re pumping into the atmosphere.

And, oh yes, we’re sending billions of dollars a day overseas, with the global oil market enriching some of the most autocratic and anti-American regimes around the world. Here’s one fact to stiffen the spine: as my friend Jon Powers and his band of veterans remind me, every day we keep going with what we’re doing makes Iran $100 million richer and takes over a billion dollars out of our economy. Every single day.

That’s why I’m doubling down on the proposal I’m rolling out today with Senator Lieberman, a work product that reflects six months of contribution from Lindsey Graham, and hundreds of meetings with our colleagues: major energy and comprehensive climate change legislation that meets this big challenge. It’s a practical pathway to finally end our addiction to oil, put Americans back in control of our own power production, and release the innovation and ingenuity of Americans to build the clean energy economy we need to build prosperity in the 21st century.

It’ll help us create nearly 2 million new jobs, develop new products, and support the research and development to help us maintain leadership in the global economy. And it’ll even reduce the deficit by about $21 billion in nine years.

And we’ve got to pass it this year.

I’m asking you to look at it on the merits, but also knowing that we have to find 60 votes in a tough atmosphere in Washington, on an issue where even a lot of good Democrats have been reluctant to act over the years.

The big details:

In the bill, we finally start to bring down carbon pollution by sending a clear price signal on that pollution. This market is tightly controlled, with only folks who need the permits able to buy the permits in the initial auction. No Wild West of speculation, no big banks coming in to buy up permits. Then the corporations who buy those permits can trade among themselves, so if a company makes great strides in bringing down their carbon pollution, they get the benefit of being able to sell off their permits, and if they don’t, they need to buy more. It’s simple, fair, and rewards those American companies who work hard to bring down their emissions of carbon pollution. And much of the proceeds of that carbon auction get sent straight to the American people, helping out consumers with their energy bills. Bottom line: it does what President Obama told the world we’d do — it reduces greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 2005 levels at 2050.

We also set up a tough, WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism so that there won’t be any “carbon leakage” of companies manufacturing things overseas in countries that don’t manage their emissions. Imports from those countries will have to pay a fee at the border. This will protect American industry and make sure jobs stay here at home. And we threaded that needle in a way that President Obama can support — you’ll remember he was concerned about the way it’s been handled in previous bills.

Next, we know we’re in the middle of a major catastrophe in the Gulf, and we need to learn all the right lessons. The big lesson? Get us to the day when oil spills are infinitely less likely because we’re not scrambling to pump every last barrel of oil out of every inch of the earth. You do that by transforming energy in America.

But there’s more we do in the short term. This bill starts tightening up federal law around offshore drilling, adding two major reforms. First, any state can veto drilling less than 75 miles off their coast. Second, each new rig needs to be studied for the effects of any potential spill, and any state that could be affected has the right to call a halt to the project. This creates important local control over the beaches and waterways of our country.

More John Kerry at Grist:

Busy day here — started early with some curtain-raising morning television to kick off the discussion a bit about the American Power Act that Joe Lieberman [I-Conn.] and a unique coalition are talking about later today.

But sometimes those morning-show interviews are a bit of a reminder of how much detailed discussion we lose when we’re crammed into a two- or three- or five-minute back-and-forth, which is especially tough on an issue like a comprehensive approach to climate and energy.

Which brings me to why I wanted to come by Grist — because of the in-depth discussions you’ve already had here again and again on this issue.

But — and here’s the but — I don’t want to swing by and just sort of preach to the choir. We’re true believers — we already get the imperative of the threat our addiction to carbon-emitting energy poses. You know the science, you know the reality, and so do I.

So, what I do want to talk about is this: We need to take a deep dive together on the Senate strategy, and on the real details of the bill that make it important for the things you and I care about. So, I hope I bring something new to that discussion that we can use as a jumping-off point.

First, the Senate dynamic — the politics of this place. I want to be candid about this, and I do so with a record on this issue that I think earned me the spurs to say this. We’ve been at this a long time. Al Gore and I held the Senate’s first climate-change hearings in the Commerce Committee way back in 1988. Since then, precious little progress has been made and ground has been lost internationally, all while the science has grown more compelling. I can barely even count any more the number of international summits I’ve attended, or press conferences we’ve held after losing climate-change votes in the Senate where our message was, “Next year, we can get this done — don’t give up on the United States or the Senate.” Two Congresses ago, we had 38 votes for a bill. Last Congress, we had 54 votes for cloture out of 60 needed — and we said then — me, Joe, Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.] — that this Congress we could get to 60 and pass a bill.

So what have we done? A lot of meeting and listening — between me, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.], hundreds of meetings one-on-one with our colleagues to find out what they needed to support a bill. And I absolutely believe we’re closer than ever to getting across the finish line — but make no mistake, it remains difficult, even with President Obama in the White House, and even with the House of Representatives having passed their bill by the slimmest of margins last summer. But we’re going full-steam ahead because, in my judgment, this may be the last and certainly the best chance for the Senate to act, especially with the fact that I think the next Senate — given a 2012 presidential campaign added to the dynamic and a lot of new senators — is going to be less likely than this one to find a path to the 60 votes needed for passage. So we’ve got to get it done this year.

Hear me out on this one — you know where I’ve been and continue to be on all the major environmental fights since even before I became a senator. As a lieutenant governor, I focused on acid rain and we laid the groundwork for the successful fight on the Clean Air Act in 1990, with the support of the first President Bush and bipartisan support from Congress. In stark contrast to that effort to find a bipartisan way forward, I led the successful filibuster — against the urging of many in our Democratic caucus — to defeat the second President Bush’s plan to drill in and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I point to these twin examples because I think they’re evidence that I know when to dig in and fight, and I also know when and how to find the path to getting something done across the aisle.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress, yesterday:

You can read the leaked 21-page draft Section-by-Section description of the American Power Act here (big PDF).  You can read the leaked 4-page “draft short summary” by clicking here.

Before offering my thoughts on individual sections, here’s Dan Weiss, CAPAF’s Director of Climate Strategy:

“The Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act jump starts efforts to adopt comprehensive clean energy and climate polices that would cut oil use, increase security, reduce pollution and create jobs.  The BP oil disaster is like a signal flare warning us that we must reduce our oil use via investments in more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.  President Obama and Senate leaders must work together to craft a comprehensive program that achieves these goals.”

Many analysis have shown how clean energy legislation will create 1.7 million jobs and opportunities for low-income families, including lower energy bills.

So let’s go through this, starting with the summary.

“From day one, two-thirds of revenues not dedicated to reducing our deficit are rebated back to consumers.”  The rest goes to low-carbon energy development and deployment along with things to aid industries in transition to a low carbon economy.

In the later years, every penny not spent to reduce the deficit will go directly back to consumers.

You might call it cap-and-dividend, were the name not taken.

Yes, much of this money goes back to consumers through the local regulated utilities, but that was not only inevitable from a political perspective — to keep utilities and Senators from the mid-west and south from immediately bolting — it’s actually a good idea from the perspective of regional equity (see here and here).  There’s just no other way to construct a bill that could have any chance whatsoever in either house of Congress.

The auctioning is done along the lines I suggested here:  How the Senate can fix cost containment in the climate bill with ‘price collar plus’.  The floor price starts at $12 in 2013 and rises 3% plus inflation each year.  The ceiling starts at $25 increasing 5% plus inflation annually.

The bad news is that, after the regular allowances are auctioned off — and then after the strategic reserve is auctioned off (explained here) — the hard ceiling is maintained by providing unlimited new allowances.  The “good news” is that I can’t see us getting near the ceiling price until well into the 2020s since  the emissions targets are so weak compared to where we are today — EIA Stunner: Energy-related CO2 emissions are now down nearly 10% from 2005 levels — and since there are so many low-cost clean energy strategies available, many of which are directly incentivized by this bill (see “Game changer part 2: Unconventional gas makes the 2020 target of a 17% reduction so damn easy and cheap to meet).”

I will do a post soon on why these floor and ceiling prices are sufficient to drive significant clean energy into the marketplace, including fuel switching from coal to natural gas.

Yes, there are still 2 billion offsets, but they won’t vitiate the 2020 target because, again, it’s too easy to meet with efficiency, conservation, renewables, and natural gas fuel switching.  Large quantities of offsets aren’t gonna be cheaper those solutions.  As I wrote here, I doubt offsets will comprise even 3% out of the 17% target achieved by emitters in 2020.  And yes, I would take a bet on that.  The oversight provision seems pretty solid to me.

Moreover, I expect most of the offsets sold will be domestic ones — if we get an international deal (which is really only possible if we can pass a climate bill), then I expect international offsets will be fairly pricey by 2020.  And CBO said half of the domestic offsets are actual emission reductions in uncovered sectors.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

The perversely-named “American Power Act” retains the cap on carbon emissions “credits” and a tax of at least $12-per-ton on carbon produced by large emitters, while imposes broad new regulations on industrial, transportation, and energy infrastructure. It aims to reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent over 10 years and 83 percent over 40 years. The tax “floor” of $12 would indexed at inflation plus 3 percent, while the tax “ceiling” would be set at $25 and be indexed to inflation plus 5 percent. The proposed federal cap-and-tax system would eliminate existing state-run efforts, and pay off those states for lost revenue.

At the same time, the bill includes a grab-bag of costly subsidies to affected industries, including billions in cash subsidies and tax credits to the transportation industry, loan guarantees for nuclear plant builders, and a number of exemptions from emissions caps and other protections for favored industries like steel and Big Ag. The bill also appears to contain a plethora of government-funded “pilot programs” for the green tech sector in which so many high-profile supporters of cap-and-trade hold large financial stakes.

In light of the Gulf spill, Kerry-Lieberman makes a complete 180 on offshore drilling. While earlier drafts of the bill were aimed at expanding offshore drilling, the released version makes it more difficult — if not impossible — for the federal government to pursue such efforts, allowing states to opt out of drilling up to 75 miles off their coasts. States will also be able to veto any drilling efforts that would have a major adverse impact in the event of a drilling accident.

Reactions from usual-suspect stakeholders have been slow to come in, as their lobbying and policy arms are no doubt balancing the bevy of direct and indirect taxes against the dollar-value of the subsidies and giveaways.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Basically, the bill bribes just about every player in the energy sector in the hopes that they will set a price for carbon and allow a cap. It’s nearly impossible to see how this cap would be enforced, however, given all the allowances and exemptions and giveaways. Over time, this may push us toward a new regime of cleaner energy. In the near term, it kind of looks like a mess. And because the other two major planks, energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, are so poor in this bill, it makes it much harder to say that it will usher in a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions. If those pieces were significantly strengthened, those willing to lay down for this bill would at least have an argument.

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

Not having had time yet to analyze 987 pages of proposed legislation, it is still the case that what government is likely to do about global warming will be worse than global warming.

Steve Benen:

As for the APA’s prospects, as we’ve discussed before, getting a climate/energy bill through the Senate was going to be tough under normal circumstances. Now, the challenge is arguably even greater — Kerry and Lieberman have to find a way to break a Republican filibuster; they have to keep business interests on board; they have to keep Midwestern Dems from jumping ship; they have to thread a needle on increased oil drilling; and they have to consider what happens in the House in the event the Senate actually passes their bill. Oh, and they have to do it all rather quickly, while Republicans try to run out the clock, and with other agenda items battling for attention.

But I give Kerry and Lieberman credit for tackling this, despite the odds, because it’s absolutely necessary. Republicans will almost certainly make significant gains in the midterms, and much of the GOP considers climate science some kind of nefarious plot cooked up by communists. If the bill dies this year, after having already passed the House, we may not see another vote on the issue at all until 2013, at the earliest.

And we really can’t wait that long.

Leave a comment

Filed under Energy, Environment, Legislation Pending

We’ve A Super Weed, Super Weed, We’re Super-Weedy, Yow

William Neuman and Andrew Pollack at NYT:

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.

To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

“We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson, who will plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring, more than he has in years. “We’re trying to find out what works.”

Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.

“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn.

The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds.

Roundup — originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate — has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact.

Sales took off in the late 1990s, after Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.

But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.

Some Room For Debate at NYT:

American farmers’ broad use of the weedkiller glyphosphate — particularly Roundup, which was originally made by Monsanto — has led to the rapid growth in recent years of herbicide-resistant weeds. To fight them, farmers are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

What should farmers do about these superweeds? What does the problem mean for agriculture in the U.S.?

Michael D.K. Owen:

The solution to the problem for farmers who have yet to cause the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds is to adopt a more diverse weed management program that includes tactics other than glyphosate. By altering the selection pressure on the weeds, glyphosate resistance will be slow to evolve.

For those increasing number of farmers who have glyphosate-resistant weeds, the solution is similar but more difficult: adopt alternative tactics that will control those weeds. Of course, often these weeds have also evolved resistance to other herbicides, which, again, is attributed to the historic use of one herbicide as the sole management tactic. In this case, weed control may be more challenging and costly.

Michael Pollen at Room For Debate:

A few lessons may be drawn from this story:

1. A product like Roundup Ready soy is not, as Monsanto likes to claim, “sustainable.” Like any such industrial approach to an agronomic problem — like any pesticide or herbicide — this one is only temporary, and destroys the conditions on which it depends. Lucky for Monsanto, the effectiveness of Roundup lasted almost exactly as long as its patent protection.

2. Genetically modified crops are not, as Monsanto suggests, a shiny new paradigm. This is the same-old pesticide treadmill, in which the farmer gets hooked on a chemical fix that needs to be upgraded every few years as it loses its effectiveness.

3. Monocultures are inherently precarious. The very success of Roundup Ready crops have been their undoing, since so many acres were planted with the same seed, and doused with the same chemical, resistance came quickly. Resilience, and long-term sustainability, comes from diversifying fields, not planting them all to the same kind of seed.

Marion Nestle at The Atlantic:

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article disclosing the rise and spread across the United States of “superweeds” that have developed resistance to the herbicide Roundup. The article comes with a nifty interactive timeline map charting the spread of Roundup resistance into at least 10 species of weeds in 22 states. Uh oh.

Roundup is Monsanto’s clever way to encourage use of genetically modified (GM) crops. The company bioengineers the crops to resist Roundup. Farmers can dump Roundup on the soil or plants. In theory, only the GM crops will survive and farmers won’t have to use a lot of more toxic herbicides. In practice, this won’t work if weeds develop Roundup resistance and flourish too. Then farmers have to go back to conventional herbicides to kill the Roundup-resistant weeds.

In 1996, Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote “The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops” (based on a report they wrote in 1993). In it, they predicted that widespread planting of GM crops would produce selection pressures for Roundup-resistant weeds. These would be difficult and expensive to control.

At the time, and until very recently, Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, dismissed this idea as “hypothetical.”

I know this because in the mid-1990s, I traveled to Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis to talk to company scientists and officials about the need for transparent labeling of GM foods. Officials told me that Roundup had been used on plants for 70 years with only minimal signs of resistance, and it was absurd to think that resistance would become a problem. I pointed out that Roundup resistance is a “point” mutation, one that requires minimal changes in the genetic makeup of a weed.

Carl Zimmer at Discover:

Neuman and Pollack left the story of this fast-forward evolution at that–but it’s actually a fascinating tale. A century ago, Melander could only study natural selection by observing which insects lived and died. Today, scientists can pop the lid off the genetic toolbox that insects and weeds use to resist chemicals that were once thought irresistible. Stephen Powles, a scientist at the University of Western Australia, has been studying the evolution of Roundup resistance for some years now, and he’s co-authored a new review that surveys what we know now about it.

What’s striking is how many different ways weeds have found to overcome the chemical. Scientists had thought that Roundup was invincible in part because the enzyme it attacks is pretty much the same in all plants. That uniformity suggests that plants can’t tolerate mutations to it; mutations must change its shape so that it doesn’t work and the plant dies. But it turns out that many populations of ryegrass and goosegrass have independently stumbled across one mutation that can change a single amino acid in the enzyme. The plant can still survive with this altered enzyme. And Roundup has a hard time attacking it thanks to its different shape.

Another way weeds fight off Roundup is through sheer numbers. Earlier this year an international team of scientists reported their discovery of how Palmer amaranth resists glyphosate. The plants make the ordinary, vulnerable form of the enzyme. But the scientists discovered that they have many extra copies of the gene for the enzyme–up to 160 extra copies, in fact. All those extra genes make extra copies of the enzyme. While the glyphosate may knock out some of the enzymes in the Palmer amaranth, the plants make so many more enzymes that they can go on growing.

It’s also possible for weeds to evolve resistance to Roundup without any change whatsoever to the enzyme Roundup attacks. When farmers spread Roundup on plants, the chemical spreads swiftly from the leaves all the way down the stems to the roots. This fast, widespread movement helps make Roundup so deadly. It turns out that some species of horseweed and other weeds have evolved a way to block the spread. Scientists don’t yet know how they manage this. It’s possible that cells in the leaves suck the Roundup in through their membranes and then tuck it away in safe little chambers where they can’t cause harm. However they do it, the weeds can continue to grow with their normal enzymes.

What makes the evolution of Roundup resistance all the more dangerous is how it doesn’t respect species barriers. Scientists have found evidence that once one species evolves resistance, it can pass on those resistance genes to other species. They just interbreed, producing hybrids that can then breed with the vulnerable parent species.

In a recent interview, Powles predicted that the Roundup resistance catastophe is just going to get worse, not just in the United States but everywhere where Roundup is used intensively. It’s not a hopeless situation, however. Farmers may be able to slow the spread of resistance by mixing up the kinds of seeds they use, even by fostering vulernable weeds in the way Melander suggested. Resistance is a manageable problem–once you recognize the problem and its evolutionary roots.

Tom Laskawy at Grist:

Grist coverage on the issue of superweeds can be found here, here, here, here and here. Strangely, given that the New York Times Magazine recently did a story about a pair of commodity rice growers who switched over to organic methods for some of these very reasons, the current Times piece omits discussion of any organic or agro-ecological alternatives to chemically intensive agriculture.

For example, the Rodale Institute has for years been growing commodity crops in an organic, no-till style with the same or better yields as conventional and genetically engineered seed. Much of the problem relates to a lack of information on the benefits or techniques required to convert. The “conventional wisdom” among growers is that it’s too costly, in terms of labor and reduced yields, to convert to organic. Kurt and Karen Unkel, the farmers featured in the Times Magazine piece, used a sophisticated custom-built software application to arrive at the financial benefits to conversion.

Rodale itself supplies a conversion calculator right on its website. The costs of new, patented seeds from Monsanto, plus a whole host of new chemicals, plus the additional fuel costs from the need to abandon chemical no-till farming are high — the future of seeds genetically engineered to withstand six different pesticides is a particularly bleak one for eaters as well as farmers. Indeed, the competitive advantage for conventional ag may no longer exist, if it ever did.

Jack Kaskey at Bloomberg:

Dow Chemical Co. plans to add a gene to its corn, cotton and soybean seeds that will allow growers to use a second herbicide to control weeds not killed by Monsanto Co.’s Roundup product.

DHT, or Dow Herbicide Tolerance, will be combined with Roundup tolerance, allowing growers to kill problem weeds with Dow’s 2,4-D herbicide, Antonio Galindez, president of Dow AgroSciences, said today in a webcast of a UBS AG conference presentation. DHT may be available by 2012 in SmartStax corn, by 2013 in soybeans and by 2015 in cotton, he said.

“DHT will bring an unsurpassed solution for weeds that are hard to control,” Galindez said. “We want to see our DHT trait in as many acres as possible.”

1 Comment

Filed under Food, Science

Mrs. Cape Wind Project And The Cape Cod Of NIMBY

Department Of Interior:

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today approved the Cape Wind renewable energy project on federal submerged lands in Nantucket Sound, but will require the developer of the $1 billion wind farm to agree to additional binding measures to minimize the potential adverse impacts of construction and operation of the facility.

“After careful consideration of all the concerns expressed during the lengthy review and consultation process and thorough analyses of the many factors involved, I find that the public benefits weigh in favor of approving the Cape Wind project at the Horseshoe Shoal location,” Salazar said in an announcement at the State House in Boston. “With this decision we are beginning a new direction in our Nation’s energy future, ushering in America’s first offshore wind energy facility and opening a new chapter in the history of this region.”

The Cape Wind project would be the first wind farm on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, generating enough power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined. The project would create several hundred construction jobs and be one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the nation, cutting carbon dioxide emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually. That is equivalent to removing 175,000 cars from the road for a year.

Jonathan Hiskes at Grist:

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and Ian Bowles, secretary of the Massachusetts executive office of environmental affairs, have long championed Cape Wind and are claiming the administration’s decision as a victory.  Bowles called the announcement “the shot heard ’round the world for American clean energy.”

Of course, other countries are already far ahead of the U.S. in offshore wind: farms are churning off the coasts of Denmark, the U.K., and other coastal European nations. In fact, Germany’s first offshore farm was just launched.

And even now, it’s not clear how quickly the U.S. will catch up. Cape Wind faces several more regulatory hurdles and court challenges that could take years to resolve.  And other offshore-wind proposals are likely to face serious scrutiny and opposition to

Suzanne Merkelson at The Atlantic:

Salazar included a few modifications to help protect the historical, cultural, and environmental assets of Nantucket Sound. The farm was originally intended to include 170 turbines, but he dropped the number to 130 to help reduce visual impact. He also stipulated that developers need to take additional marine archaeological surveys and other “commonsense measures” to “minimize and mitigate” potential adverse effects of the project.

“This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast which I expect will come online in the years ahead as we build a new energy future for our country,” Salazar said. He acknowledged the project’s opponents, including local Native American tribes, noting that he believes the project will be sensitive to their concerns.

Supporters have touted the project as a source of green jobs and clean, reliable domestic energy that would meet up to 75 percent of the power needs on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. The commitment to Cape Wind also marks the United States’ intent to catch up in this facet of the renewable energy industry, now dominated by Europe and China.

Jared Keller at The Atlantic:

But the underlying political principles of the anti-Cape Wind movement speak to tougher challenges facing Obama’s energy agenda, starting with NIMBY.

The American Wind Energy Association says opposition to wind power arises most commonly when “some people perceive that the development will spoil the view that they are used to,” and Cape Wind is exhibit A. “The right project in the wrong place,” sums up the view of key Cape Wind opponents, most notably, members of the Kennedy family, whose famous Hyannisport compound overlooks Nantucket Sound. The late Senator Edward Kennedy twice nearly killed the project with legislative sleight-of-hand. Eco-activist Robert Kennedy Jr. has railed against the wind farm, rationalizing his logic in a strained op-ed in the New York Times.

The fallout from this project transcends just a few powerful opponents. Waves of litigation surrounding Cape Wind have prompted some wind farm developers to seek plots farther offshore and in deeper waters. The need to address visual-impact complaints adds to the technical complexity and cost of offshore wind power, potentially deterring large-scale investment. As Karen Ferenbacher puts it on the website earth2tech, the litigation surrounding Cape Wind is “representative of how NIMBY-ism and political interests can crush clean power projects.”

While Americans were reminded after Scott Brown’s surprise Senate victory exactly how complex the politics of Massachusetts can be, the long struggle of Cape Wind underscores how opposition to wind power, apart from state-by-state preservation issues, will come down to local preferences and the concerns of citizens, rather than major policy points.

If the future of offshore wind farming looks like the Cape Wind story, efforts to expand the industry through national policymaking seem headed for guerilla warfare at the local level. And obstacles to offshore wind farms at the local level provide fodder for opposition to Obama’s national energy reform package. Wind energy sounds fantastic on the national level, but no number of tax credits, economic incentives, and inspirational speeches touted by President Obama can trump local concerns over the erosion of majestic scenery or a much-loved vacation spot. Local NIMBY-ism, while a marginal issue in the grand scheme of national public policy, lends itself to influence from outside interests. Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones outlined the role of William Koch — president of the Oxbow Group, where he “made his fortune off mining and marketing coal, natural gas, petroleum, and petroleum coke products,” and Cape Cod property-owner — in bankrolling the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the major Cape Wind opposition group. It’s a clinic on how a handful of well-placed local interests can undermine a national wind power initiative

Jonathan Adler:

Secretary Salazar’s approval is hardly a total victory for Cape Wind.  The project is years behind schedule.  In 2002, federal regulators predicted the project could be approved within 18-months, but it’s only now happening eight years later.  In green-lighting the project, Secretary Salazar ordered it to be scaled down significantly and will require the developers to take additional steps to mitigate potential impacts of the development.  These conditions, combined with the delays, increase the project’s costs, and could discourage some potential investors in offshore wind and other alternative energy projects.

Approval of Cape Wind was long overdue.  If the Obama Administration is serious about promoting wind and other forms of alternative energy, it needs to do more to create a favorable regulatory climate for future projects.  In particular, it needs to lay out clear standards and guidelines for future projects and prevent last-minute efforts to sabotage the approval process so investors and developers can more accurately gauge the time and costs involved in siting new facilities.  The Administration appears to get this.  Secretary Salazar acknowledged concerns about the time and expense involved with approving Cape Wind and highlighted administration initiatives to streamline and rationalize future permit approvals.  If it follows through, there is no reason why Cape Wind should not be the first of many offshore wind projects on our shores.

Nick Loris at Heritage:

Let’s set aside the $2 billion cost of the project and the federal subsidies Cape Wind receives and focus on the problems that will occur as we attempt to replace fossil fuel-based energy with renewables – both on-shore and off-shore. To replace one offshore natural gas platform we would need 59 Cape Wind projects, which means more than 7,700 turbines covering an area the size of Rhode Island. We would need 24 of these projects to replace one of the 104 nuclear plants we have in the United States.

This certainly isn’t unique to wind and clear doesn’t follow party line dissent. Just last December California Senator Diane Feinstein introduced legislation to block a large scale solar and wind project in the Mojave Desert. The NIMBY crowd is everywhere contesting everything, which makes for an exceptionally long time for energy projects to come online.

If wind or solar can compete absent subsidies, mandates or tax credits, then Americans will benefit from a more robust, competitive energy market. Years of subsidies and tax credits haven’t helped wind and solar projects compete with more reliable sources of energy. Solar power supplies less than one percent of the country’s electricity demand; wind does slightly better. That’s not necessarily a red flag to stop building more, but it is indicative of how far we have to go and how costly (in terms of pricier electricity and competing special interests) and contentious it would be to transform to our government’s vision of a clean energy economy. When you add in the necessary transmission lines to transfer the power from where it is generated to where it is needed, it becomes all that more costly and contentious.

The process could smoothen out as more projects come online but reform that calls for a quicker, efficient review process for all energy projects would be a welcoming step, as would peeling back the subsidies to determine whether these projects can stand on their own two feet.

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:

The project’s approval was especially salient in light of the current drilling catastrophe off the coast of Louisiana, where the Coast Guard today announced that it is planning to light the oil spill on fire in order to protect the sensitive coastline. The spill has sparked concerns over the administration’s plans to expand offshore drilling, which Salazar and President Barack Obama announced last month.

The juxtaposition didn’t seem lost on Salazar. “Cape Wind is the opening of a new chapter,” he said.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

As a frequent visitor to , and devoted admirer of, Cape Cod–the herring were running last weekend (one of Ted Kennedy’s favorite events)–I am thrilled that the nation’s first offshore wind farm will be located in Nantucket Sound. This was opposed by fair-weather environmentalists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (and, sadly, by his uncle) because it would occlude their water views. Tough luck!

I look forward to more wind farms in the neighborhood, perhaps one in Cape Cod Bay–on my favored side of the peninsula. I love the way windmills look. Even more, I love the non-carbonated energy they generate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Energy, Environment

Liberal Bloggers Let Loose About Lindsey

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Lindsey Graham effectively killed the Senate’s looming cap-and-trade package by yanking his support from the bill–and thereby did the Democrats a favor. I’m all in favor of combating global warming, although I think a straight-ahead carbon tax (refundable in the form of reduced payroll taxes) would do the job far more efficiently than cap-and-trade. But if I’m a Democratic strategist, I’m thinking Augustinian thoughts: Lord, make me energy independent, but not just yet.

Why? Because the public has had quite enough, thank you, of government activism this year…and, after Wall Street reform is passed, any further attempts to pass major legislation will add to legitimate conservative arguments that the federal government is attempting to do much to do any of it well. Health care and Wall Street reform were certainly worth doing–but only if caarefully managed and it remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration, which has succeeded in legislating, will have equal or better luck when it comes to actually governing. In any case, public skepticism about the Democratic Party is bound to increase if another humongous piece of legislation, which effectively guarantees higher energy prices, is passed this year.

A more difficult decision looms on immigration. I am a huge, unabashed supporter of immigration reform, including a major expansion of the number of newcomers we allow in each year, especially those with skills. It is a matter both of simple justice and economic wisdom. The more immigrants who arrive, historically, the more the country thrives. They start businesses. They pay taxes. They buy things. Their children work hard in school and go to college. It’s the essential process of this nation’s history. The more mongrelized we come, the stronger we become. (And regular Swampland readers know that I’m also a huge fan of mongrelization, the creation of a new American identity that supercedes and renders irrelevant the notion of race.)

For Democrats, however, an immigration push that comes as the white working class is suffering major job losses and anxieties, is a recipe for disaster. It is said that Harry Reid wants immigration reform to mobilize Nevada Latinos to vote for him in his difficult reelection campaign. It’s the right policy for the wrong reason.

Steve Benen on Klein:

I see the political landscape much differently. For one thing, I’ve seen no evidence to suggest Americans want policymakers to stop having so many successes. This came up a bit last year — many pundits insisted that President Obama was doing “too much, too fast” — but it was never borne out by the polls. I tend to think the electorate will be more impressed by Democratic successes than by relative inaction over the six months preceding the midterm elections.

Put it this way: when was the last time a party was punished by voters for successfully passing too much of its policy agenda, and fulfilling too many of its campaign promises?

For another, to characterize the climate/energy bill as “effectively guaranteeing higher energy prices” isn’t entirely fair — with various incentives and tax credits, most consumers wouldn’t see a price increase, and many would actually see their energy bills drop.

But perhaps most importantly, I think Klein underestimates what the lawmaking process will be like in 2011 and 2012. He wants to see bills on climate and immigration pass — and so do I — but Klein seems to believe policymakers can just pick this up again in the next Congress.

That’s almost certainly not the case. In the Senate, the Democratic majority is poised to shrink quite a bit, making it nearly impossible to overcome Republican filibusters. In the House, the Democratic majority may very well disappear entirely, and a GOP-led House will immediately ignore every policy request made by the administration.

It’s why I think Klein has it backwards — those who want to see progress on climate and immigration have to act quickly, because this is likely the last chance policymakers will have on either effort for quite a while.

Matthew Yglesias:

Realistically, moving forward on this issue poses a lot of political risks to a lot of Democrats and objectively the odds of success are low. But to simply tell environmental activists that you’re not going to even attempt to address the biggest problem facing the world because you’re too lazy would be unacceptable. Everyone recognizes, however, that without someone to pick up the torch abandoned by John Warner and John McCain of “Republican advocate for climate change bill” that it’s totally hopeless. So if Graham refuses to play, the party leadership is in effect getting a bailout—they can tell activists to go complain to him. This is a terrible outcome for the world, but I think a decent short-term political outcome for the Democratic leadership.

Meanwhile, if it’s really true that Harry Reid essentially pushed Graham in this direction by saying he wants to move an immigration bill first, then that really makes very little sense. Obviously the House of Representatives already passed a climate bill so failing to even try in the Senate will lead a lot of people’s work to go to waste. And long as the Senate odds for a climate bill looked, there’s no particularly reason to think the outlook for immigration reform is any better. Under the circumstances, dropping climate midstream is nuts.

More Benen:

In terms of the calendar, I’m generally inclined to agree with Graham’s larger point — given that the climate bill has already passed the House, and so much of the legwork has already been done for the next round, it makes sense to me for the Senate to finish Wall Street reform, then tackle energy, then immigration. I’m even inclined to agree with Graham that Dems are using political considerations, not policy goals, to prioritize between the competing policies.

But by threatening to kill both of the efforts he’s already invested so much time in, Graham is overreacting on an almost comical scale. Graham can’t call on the president to step up on immigration, and then throw a fit when the president does as he asks.

It’s enough to make me wonder if, perhaps, Lindsey Graham wasn’t really serious about either initiative, and last night’s tantrum is the result of a senator who’s negotiated in bad faith.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it seems unfair to accuse him of having “negotiated in bad faith.” Graham has been painstakingly attempting to assemble a political and business coalition for legislation to mitigate climate change. He has also been working on immigration reform, but the Democrats’ weak signals of interest before last week have helped contribute to an atmosphere where nobody expected a bill to advance this year, and thus little headway has been made. There has been no House immigration bill, whereas the House has passed a climate bill already. Graham was set to unveil his bill on Monday when Harry Reid pulled the carpet out from under him by announcing that immigration would come first and climate — which gets harder to do as the elections gets closer — probably never.

As for bad faith, Graham is a Republican Senator from South Carolina. His highest risk of losing his seat, by far, comes from the prospect of a conservative primary challenger. Indeed, I’d say that prospect is far from remote, and Graham is displaying an unusual willingness to risk his political future. He has little incentive to negotiate on these issues except that he believes it’s the right thing to do. So when Democrats put climate change on the backburner to take up immigration, and so so for obviously political reasons, Graham has every right to be angry. He’s risking his political life to address a vital issue, and Harry Reid is looking to save his seat.

David Roberts at Grist:

It’s stupid to have a Dem majority leader from a red state, for the simple reason that his personal political fortunes are frequently going to run counter to the party’s. Reid is facing a perilous reelection battle in Nevada this year. He’s behind by double digits and desperately needs to mobilize his state’s large Hispanic population. So he’s trying to jam immigration through next, despite the fact that there’s no legislative language and nobody thinks it has a chance of passing. As Jon Chait says, Reid’s flail could end up sinking both bills.

I can’t imagine Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — who’s been working long and hard with Graham and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the legislation — is happy about this. And I can’t believe Obama (or White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel) will stand by and let Reid do it. The administration has reaffirmed multiple times in past weeks that they want a comprehensive climate/energy bill this year. Obama himself called it a “foundational priority.” Is he willing to let it get lost in the shuffle in a futile bid to save Reid’s ass? If he does he’ll either look powerless over his own party or insincere about his own professed values and priorities. This is a test of leadership.

——

UPDATE: A source close to the administration told me that Graham ran his letter by Reid before he released it; Reid still wouldn’t give him assurances that climate would come first.

Josh Nelson at EnviroKnow:

How exactly is Senator Reid responsible for Senator Graham’s decision to reverse course?  That decision was Senator Graham’s alone, regardless of how he frames it or who he tries to pin the blame on.  Even after rumors began circulating that immigration was being prioritized over climate, Senator Kerry indicated that he still intended to move forward with his bill.  And indeed, if Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman had introduced their bill on Monday and managed to cobble together 60 votes, Harry Reid would have brought it to the floor for a vote.  I’m quite certain of that.  Yes, Senator Reid hurt the cause by making a foolish and politically selfish decision.  But Senator Graham was the one who put the nail in the coffin, and he probably would have come up with some other excuse to do so if this hadn’t come along.

Chait responds:

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking. Health care reform had been building up steam for years, Democrats had been committed to it for decades, it had extensive interest group buy-in — in short, there was a lot of reason to think it would happen with or without GOP support. Therefore, the Chuck Grassley slow-walk retreat from bipartisanship was an effective way to kill it.

Climate change is altogether different. Many Democrats from resource-producing states oppose it. The sense all along was that it needs extensive Republican support to pass, and may not happen at all. If Graham really wanted to weaken climate legislation, he’d have just opposed it outright from the beginning.

Moreover, the notion that he was trying to “bolster his image as somewhat of a maverick” is crazy. The guy is from South Carolina. They don’t like mavericks. He may well lose his seat because of his maverick image. There are Republican Senators who stand to gain by posturing as moderates, but Graham is emphatically not one of them.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Graham, who actually said “Am I going to write every bill in this Congress?” in response to this, thinks that the push for immigration reform is an election-year gambit and that the bill is being rushed with no legislative language. But that’s not entirely true; Graham has been working for months on an immigration bill with Schumer, and what’s more the McCain-Kennedy language from four years ago provides the basic framework for a bill.

The climate bill, on the other hand, has legislative language that oil companies support and Greenpeace opposes. The bill would exempt agriculture and, seemingly, oil producers from the carbon cap, and would pre-empt both the EPA and state and local laws that regulate carbon emissions. It’s a harmful bill and dropping it is no great loss. The EPA can and should step into the breach.

Graham probably isn’t wrong that immigration is being rushed ahead of energy for a variety of reasons, some of them politically related. But let’s face it – the energy bill didn’t exactly have a slam-dunk 80 votes in hand or anything. And the concessions were so ridiculous that even its core supporters would have bolted. As for immigration, everyone knows the basic contours of that debate, and if Republicans want to vote against the Latino community one more time, Democrats don’t have to respect their willingness to hide it. In addition, Graham just last month challenged the President to write the immigration bill and get co-sponsors. Now, when the White House appears to be doing that, he gets all bent out of shape.

[…]

I think Graham was dying for a reason to kill these bills where he was the “sensible Republican moderate” on them. This has been his pose for some time, to show to Washington that he’s willing to work across the aisle, but to never actually do it.

In addition, why key issues that even Graham acknowledges are crucial have to take a number to go to the floor of the Senate, with no one allowed to cut the line, is beyond me.

Ezra Klein:

But Graham has a legitimate beef here. Climate change is much likelier to pass than immigration reform. For one thing, it’s already passed the House. For another, Graham, Kerry, Lieberman and others have spent an extraordinary amount of time sounding out key legislators, business groups, advocacy organizations and pretty much everyone else with a loud voice or an important vote. This is going to be a hard bill to move, but they’ve spent months doing the hard work necessary to have a chance. (Whether the bill is a good bill worth moving is, I should say, another story entirely.)

The same cannot be said for immigration reform. The House has not considered legislation on the subject. There have not been endless stakeholder meetings or sessions with key legislators. Indeed, when I talk to people about the two issues, the difference is this: When people talk about climate change, they talk about passing a bill. When they talk about immigration reform, they talk about the electoral usefulness of bringing up the issue. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who is not paid to be optimistic about an immigration bill passing who thinks that an immigration bill will pass.

And this is why Graham is angry: He’s taken a huge risk to be the lone Republican on climate change. Patrick Creighton, a flack for the conservative Institute for Energy Research, says that Graham’s involvement makes him “part of one of the most economically devastating pieces of legislation this country has ever seen, no more, no less.” And now it looks like Democrats are going to leave that hanging there, moving to an immigration reform effort that won’t pass but might split the Republican Party — creating massive problems for pro-reform Republicans like, well, Lindsey Graham.

Moreover, Graham is right on the merits: Moving a climate change bill this year is more important than moving an immigration bill. There’s a point-of-no-return on climate change: If you don’t start getting carbon emissions down in the near future, it’ll be too late. Immigration, conversely, is bad, but it’s not getting dramatically worse or harder to fix with each passing month.

UPDATE: Alex Pareene at Salon

More Chait:

A couple months ago, Harry Reid announced a plan to delay climate legislation in favor of immigration reform. Lindsey Graham protested that this was a nakedly political move. I defended Graham. Now Democrats are moving on climate first and.. . Graham is saying he won’t support his own bill. So while I think I was right to defend Graham’s basic objection, I greatly overestimated his sincerity.

1 Comment

Filed under Environment, Immigration, Legislation Pending, Political Figures