TCS Daily

Senseless in the Senate

By Jon Reisman - July 19, 2005 12:00 AM

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 recently passed by the U.S. Senate features a big push for domestic energy production, including fossil fuels, nuclear power, ethanol and some small carrots for politically correct solar and wind. As sausage making goes, it looks to be a fairly significant victory for the President and those opposed to environmentalist alarmism, particularly on climate change, right? Not so fast.

While voting against all the specifically proposed mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions demanded by greens and their allies in Congress, the Senate nonetheless supported a figleaf resolution calling for mandatory reductions. During debate on the energy bill, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) successfully pressed for passage of the following motion by voice vote:


        (a) FINDINGS.--Congress finds that--

        (1) greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere are causing average
        temperatures to rise at a rate outside the range of natural variability 
        and are posing a substantial risk of rising sea-levels, altered patterns 
        of atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and increased frequency and 
        severity of floods and droughts;

        (2) there is a growing scientific consensus that human activity is a
        substantial cause of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere; 

        (3) mandatory steps will be required to slow or stop the growth of
        greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

        (b) SENSE OF THE SENATE.--It is the sense of the Senate that Congress 
        should enact a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, 
        market-based limits and incentives on emissions of greenhouse gases 
        that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of such emissions at a rate and 
        in a manner that--

        (1) will not significantly harm the United States economy; and

        (2) will encourage comparable action by other nations that are major 
        trading partners and key contributors to global emissions.

Environmental groups were quick to trumpet this "success." The Natural Resources Defense Council hailed the vote as a reversal of the U.S. Senate's 1997 rejection of the Kyoto Protocol by a 95-0 vote. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), co-chair of the International Climate Change Task Force, warned the G-8 leaders at Gleneagles, Scotland that "As the US Senate officially recognized for the first time... there is no doubt that greenhouse gases are irrevocably impacting our climate and that mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions are necessary."

Fortunately, New Mexico's Senior Senator, Pete Domenici (R), spoke to the flaws in a mandatory emissions cuts approach:

"How do you allocate the winners and the losers? ...Someone has to ratchet down more, somebody has to ratchet down less, somebody has to ratchet down one, and somebody has to get credit because they are so good. And some have to pay penalties because they are not so good... I don't think you can change that mix no matter what you call the bill. I think McCain-Lieberman finds an American environment with utility companies -- some of which have to reduce a lot, some of which do not have to reduce any, some of which are so good they have to get compensated for being so good -- so that when we add it up, you get reduction across the Nation... I submit to the Senate I do not see how there can be a mandatory reduction program that does not have a very detailed approach to who gets allocated what -- who wins, who loses, who reduces, and who gets compensated because they already         reduced... How we go about doing that in statute without causing extreme, hard unfairness, inequities, is beyond me."

A decade ago Maine implemented the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments championed by our own then-Senator George Mitchell. The State adopted mandatory car testing, at the urging of our environmental establishment, as the most efficient way to reduce emissions. The distributional and equity issues were ignored. The resultant firestorm over what was viewed as a very unfair and environmentally ineffective program led to the defeat of the gubernatorial candidates who supported the mandatory policy (one of whom was current Maine Senator Susan Collins) and a significant challenge to federal environmental policy. The recent senselessness of the Senate suggests that the country is poised to repeat that scenario with climate change policy. It also explains why the Senate avoided leaving any roll call fingerprints.

On July 21, Senators Domenici and Bingaman will follow up with a hearing regarding the current state of scientific research on climate change and the economics of strategies to manage climate change. Issues to be discussed include the relationship between energy consumption and climate change, new developments in climate change research and the potential effects on the U.S. economy of climate change and strategies to control greenhouse gas emissions. Given the Sense of the Senate and the recent Appellate Court decision that the EPA has no obligation to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, it should be an interesting hearing.

Jon Reisman teaches environmental policy at the University of Maine at Machias. He is also a Maine Public Policy Institute scholar and a Maine Heritage Policy Center fellow.


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