TCS Daily


Green Mountain Man

By Ryan H. Sager - March 5, 2002 12:00 AM

Remember Jim Jeffords? Of course you do. He's the Little Senator That Could - America's bravest legislator. At least that's what the press's line was last year when Vermont's Milk-Marxist opportunist saw his chance to become a national media darling by bolting the Republican party (as a matter of conscience of course). In the process of standing up for his principles he incidentally managed to treble his power in the 50-50 Senate by trading his vote to the Democrats for a plum committee assignment as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

So what's he up to these days? Aside from living in the crosshairs of the Republican Party and praying furiously that the GOP doesn't retake the Senate this year, Sen. Jeffords has been busy driving hard to the left on the environment. Whether out of sheer spite, misguided conviction, or a desire to shore up his leftist credentials for a possible 2006 reelection run (the Senator is 67, he may not run again), Jeffords has been pushing a monstrosity of an energy bill that he calls the Clean Power Act.

The bill, which is so extreme that it isn't even included in the Democratic energy package being debated this week in the Senate, would basically seek to implement the disastrous emissions targets set by the Kyoto protocol. It would seek to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 75 percent, nitrogen oxide by 75 percent, mercury by 90 percent and carbon dioxide by 20 percent. All of this would be done by 2007.

While these targets may sound like sunshine and rainbows to environmentalists in hippy-dippy corners of places like Vermont, it's time for them to realize that emissions can't be reduced by turning some magic dial on a giant national control panel located in Washington, D.C. Immense and expensive changes would need to be made in the way Americans produce power and live their lives. Reducing emissions would not simply require forcing energy companies to sit up straight and take their medicine - the harm to American consumers would be quite real.

First of all, at base, it should be understood that this is an anti-coal bill. Currently, about 55 percent of our nation's energy is produced by the combustion of coal. Pretty much all of that production would have to be switched to natural gas or renewable energy to meet Jeffords' targets. America simply doesn't have the capacity to move that much natural gas (not enough pipelines, and try getting those built), and renewables currently only account for 11 percent of U.S. energy production. Even Jeffords' pie-in-the-sky target for renewables in 2020 is for them to make up 20 percent of utility-generated power.

Even assuming that somehow the targets could be met, the cost to American consumers would be tremendous. The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration estimates that the emissions limits in Jeffords' bill would increase electricity prices by as much as 31 percent by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. Annual utility expenditures per household could increase by $158 in 2010 and shoot up another $154 by 2020. Harder to quantify would be the increases in prices on consumer goods that would follow as production costs rose. The EIA estimates that in 2007 these increases in production costs could shave $100 billion off the GDP.

While these costs may sound bearable to the limousine-liberals of the New York Times editorial page, they would be unacceptable to most Americans, who already have enough problems with a sluggish economy and a sporadic energy crisis in the West. Given that global warming due to human factors is a completely unproven phenomenon, it is simply ridiculous to ask Americans to make sacrifices of this magnitude to stave off a possibly imaginary foe. Furthermore, even the reductions Jeffords is pushing for would do almost nothing to mitigate global warming, even using the U.N.'s own computer model.

In a nation that has hundreds of years worth of coal, and currently relies on foreign sources for 60 percent of its oil, Americans should happily burn coal as it keeps our way of life humming.

Luckily, Jeffords' bill, though it has around 20 co-sponsors, is not a serious one. The Senate has proven itself unwilling to implement Kyoto, and is unlikely to take up this Kyoto knockoff. What the bill will do, however, is serve as a bargaining chip in later negotiations. By setting up a worst-case scenario, it will inevitably pull whatever final legislation is passed far to the green left. This is just what the enviros want.

The Bush administration should resist any pull to the left from the Jeffords-types in the Senate. The president might have come into this debate in a stronger position had he not already signaled his vulnerability on the issue last month by offering his own, by comparison ultra-reasonable, proposal - though as things stand he enters the fray limping like a wounded gazelle.

Of course it's the "by comparison" that'll get you every time. Only when sitting next to a terrible bill does a bad bill start to look good. Ultimately, there shouldn't be any bill at all.

Ryan H. Sager is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.
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