TCS Daily

The AGs' Power Grab

By Duane D. Freese - December 12, 2003 12:00 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The big danger from greenhouse gases isn't what those being emitted by SUVs and other motor vehicles may do to the climate. It's what the hot air being emitted by some attorney generals threatens to do to the nation's system of federalism and to the economy by playing politics with the issue of global warming.

That was the message of California State Assemblyman Ray Haynes, State Sen. Tony Strickland and Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute at a news conference in California's State Capitol this week. The three stood together in denouncing California Attorney General Bill Lockyer for joining 11 other state attorneys general, two cities and a group of environmental groups in petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles.


The petitions claim that CO2 -- which is non-toxic and essential to life on the planet -- is causing global warming and should be regulated on motor vehicles as are those for toxic pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.


In a letter to Lockyer demanding that he withdraw from the AGs' petitions released at the news conference, Strickland said the petitions are based upon "a faulty reading of the scientific evidence, a faulty claim of scientific consensus on the effects of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, a false interpretation of the Clean Air Act and, to be blunt... nothing more that the beginning of your [Lockyer's] campaign for the Democratic nomination for the California Governorship in 2006."


"The only thing Lockyer is doing is trying to help get support of the Howard Dean wing of the Democratic Party," Strickland asserted.


Haynes echoed Strickland's remark. Lockyer and the other attorneys general, he said, are "killing a lot of trees, emitting a lot of hot air" in publicizing and promoting the petitions. If they succeed, he said they will be "destroying the environment -- the economic environment of California."


"The only greenhouse gases that require regulating as such are the emissions from the attorney general," Haynes said.


Sally Pipes, president of PRI, released a white paper by the institute. It found that there was no scientific consensus on whether human activity through the emission of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was causing global warming and that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant under any reasonable interpretation of the Clean Air Act.


The AGs' action, though, Pipes said, "is the first step in the erosion of federalism."


The white paper noted that "many attorneys general have ambitions for higher office." The petitions on CO2, the white paper said, were "an obvious attempt to force a federalization of 'environmental' policy that (economic) competitive forces would eviscerate at the state level."


No state could afford to enact the kind of CO2 emissions controls on vehicles alone without suffering severe economic consequences, Pipes said. She said CO2 controls would prove particularly costly to the poor, raising not only the cost of motor vehicles but also other goods they buy.


The AGs' petitions to the EPA come just as new studies in science publications have raised doubts about claims that the 20th Century was the warmest and CO2 produced by industrialization the primary cause. They also come after Congress this year rejected a proposal -- the McCain-Lieberman Act -- to designate CO2 as a pollutant and require severe reductions. The proposal mimicked the international Kyoto protocol of 1997 -- and was even nicknamed Kyoto lite. That protocol, which Vice President Al Gore signed on behalf of the United States, was never submitted to Congress for ratification by the Clinton administration as its own Energy Department's studies found the requirements for reducing CO2 emissions below 1990 levels would cost the U.S. economy $300 billion a year.


President Bush in 2001 rejected Kyoto, saying it was "fatally flawed," both in its timetables and in its failure to include developing nations, such as China and India where CO2 emissions are growing fastest.


Now, Russia is raising the same questions about Kyoto, thus far refusing to ratify the agreement until both its scientific and economic concerns about the protocol have been answered. Without Russia's support, the protocol -- favored primarily by the European Union and Japan -- can't be implemented.


Lockyer, the other attorneys general and the environmental groups that support them are thus demanding the EPA go where neither Congress nor the United Nations has gone. They are agitating to short-circuit the legislative process at both the state and federal level and essentially have it convolute existing law to do what they want.


And even if one believes CO2 is causing global warming, CO2 controls are likely not the best answer to the problems global warming may cause.


As the PRI white paper noted, what the AGs' petitions seek is to weaken immediately the current U.S. infrastructure -- its capital stock -- for motor vehicle transportation in a vain attempt to avoid the gradual replacement of infrastructure needed to accommodate a modestly warmer world.


"To say that massive resources should be invested in a regime of carbon dioxide control, in the face of massive uncertainties, with little thought to the alternative uses to which those resources could be put, is an error of the highest magnitude," PRI's white paper argues.


Unlike the AGs' successful power grab in creating a new tobacco control regime, limiting choices and raising prices for consumers with motor vehicles won't feed state coffers but could well bankrupt them for no purpose.


The Bush administration is putting billions into developing alternative fuels, but developing safe, affordable and replenishable ones to replace gasoline will take not years but decades. Meanwhile, motor vehicles produce only 18 percent of CO2 emissions nationally, and the totals are swamped by the overall emissions in other countries.


The PRI white paper concluded that the AGs' petitions have "little to do with science or environmental protection or other high-minded goals displayed prominently on fundraising letters, evening news sound bites and the like." Instead, they amount to "an effort at taxation and redistribution by regulation."


Strickland, Haynes and Pipes were raising in sound bites of their own serious questions about the course that Lockyer and the other attorneys general are plotting to get around legislative oversight of vital economic and environmental policies.


Indeed, if they were true democrats the attorneys general and environmental groups would try to persuade lawmakers rather than seek a dictatorial solution to climate change that bypasses law-making's checks and balances.


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