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Monday, June 29, 2009

Waxman-Markey Bill Weak and Meaningless

I'd like to find cause for celebration in the recent passage by the House of Representatives of the Waxman-Markey bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act), but I don't think this is good news. Sadder still, a bad bill is likely to be made worse in the Senate.

Republicans in the House continue their militantly delusional approach to the climate change issue. In today's New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman refers to this as a form of “treason against the planet.”

“If there was a defining moment in Friday’s [Congressional] debate,” he writes, “it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a 'hoax' that has been 'perpetrated out of the scientific community.' I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.”

This rant, Krugman notes, was met with applause, presumably from most of the 212 representatives who voted against the bill (168 Republicans and 44 Democrats—a few of the latter, presumably voting “no” because the bill was not strong enough). Voting breakdown here.

The Republicans, however, are only half of the sad story.

Writing on the op-ed page of the Financial Times, Clive Crook links together President Obama's approach to both climate change and health care reform, in a piece entitled, “Obama is Choosing to be Weak.”

“The cap-and-trade bill is a travesty,” Crook writes. “Its net effect on short- to medium-term carbon emissions will be small to none. This is by design: a law that really made a difference would make energy dearer, hurt consumers and force an economic restructuring that would be painful for many industries and their workers. Congress cannot contemplate those effects. So the Waxman-Markey bill, while going through the complex motions of creating a carbon abatement regime, takes care to neutralise itself.”

On the opposite page, the editors concur, with an editorial titled “Cap-and-trade mess: The US climate bill might be worse than doing nothing.” I think the title is sufficient. . .

This is not “change you can believe in.” This is not change.

The value of Obama's electoral mandate—and his charisma, and his rhetorical gifts—is that it equips him to tell the American public some Inconvenient Truths (Al Gore, btw is in favor of Waxman-Markey; climate scientist James Hansen is against the bill).

But influence dissipates like smoke.

You use it or you lose it. . . and we all lose.