BASTASCH: Podesta’s White House return means a more aggressive green agenda

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

John Podesta’s return to the White House should have oil, gas and coal producers worried. The White House has already shown its willingness to go it alone on global warming and environment issues, but Podesta will only embolden the administration to go further to implement a progressive environmental agenda.

After spending years at his liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) studying how the president could use his executive authority to put the country on a path to use less oil, gas and coal, Podesta has been tapped to advise Obama on environmental and climate issues.

A lot of the worry surrounding Podesta’s return has to do with the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — which he has criticized. But Keystone is a minor concern when compared to the potential regulatory onslaught that Podesta could unleash from the White House.

“Since the Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections, he has criticized the Obama White House for wasting time on legislation that won’t pass, instead of using executive authority to push the left’s agenda, which is incredible considering how far Obama has gone to abuse his authority,” Myron Ebell, director of the Center of Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In 2010, Podesta wrote the foreword for a CAP report on how the president could use his executive authority to advance a progressive agenda, including actions to unilaterally force the U.S. economy to become greener.

In this policy brief, CAP offers suggestions on how to unilaterally reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent by 2020. Specifically, the brief urges the president to instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to “spur the retirement of coal-fired power plants” and replace them with natural gas plants by imposing stricter emissions controls.

While Obama has already begun to use executive orders to clamp down on the coal industry by having the EPA impose carbon emissions limits on coal-fired power plants, Podesta’s return to the White House would mean an even more aggressive push to get the country off fossil fuels.

“I expect that Podesta will push the EPA to move more quickly to kill coal and regulate fracking and will push the Interior Department to lock up more federal lands in the West by executive order,” Ebell said. “My guess is that it’s now certain that Obama will delay a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until TransCanada gives up or a new president is sworn in.”

The former Clinton chief of staff could also renew the push for a carbon tax or carbon pricing scheme behind the scenes. CAP scholar Richard Caperton wrote an issue brief last year detailing the benefits of a progressive carbon tax “to create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and have fair impacts across all regions and income groups.”

Environmentalists and progressives have been pushing for a carbon tax since the failure of the 2009 effort to pass cap-and-trade, which CAP and Podesta thoroughly supported. Podesta even testified in favor of cap-and-trade before Congress in 2008.

“The challenge we face now is nothing short of the conversion of an economy sustained by high-carbon energy — putting both our national security and the health of our planet at serious risk — to one based on low-carbon, sustainable sources of energy,” Podesta testified.

Luckily, a carbon tax has no political legs at the moment as virtually every Republican in Congress opposes it. However, there’s no telling what could happen during tax-reform negotiations.

Moreover, the White House doesn’t need congressional approval to tax carbon, as it can just use the EPA to implement a backdoor carbon tax through clean air regulations. Obama essentially did this when he ordered the EPA to set emissions limits on coal plants, but Podesta could push the administration to do more to reduce carbon — forcing energy costs even higher.

The New York Times editorial board has also suggested that Podesta could help Interior Secretary Sally Jewell promote conservation on federal lands, which would stymy energy development. Jewell also promised environmentalists that she would act without Congress to keep federal lands off limits to energy producers. Podesta could help the inexperienced Jewell accomplish this.

Podesta is also an ardent UFO buff who has long pressed for declassification of government information on mysterious sightings in the sky.

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