Green goners: Republicans leaving voters green at the gills, red in the face

Christopher Horner Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
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On Sunday, The Washington Post ran a long article noting (gloating?) that in 2010, “Construction did not begin on a single new coal-fired power plant in the United States for the second straight year,” with plans for 38 new plants dropped and even more older plants scheduled for retirement. Apparently we’re leaving that to our supposed “green” model, China, even though we have enough coal to last for centuries. This is reckless, the result of policies, threats and uncertainty out of Washington all tied to “global warming.”

With this hot off the press, incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton took to the airwaves to ever so slightly tweak the tough talk he used to win the gavel. Now the new Republican majority wants to regulate carbon dioxide, but — wait for it — in a reasonable way.

Per The Hill:

Asked whether he believes greenhouse gases are a problem in need of addressing at all, Upton replied, “we want to do this in a reasonable way,” and cited the need to boost development of energy sources like low-emissions coal, nuclear power and natural gas to meet growing demand.

“I don’t think that we have to regulate carbon to the degree that we have a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system,” Upton said, adding that “this regulation process is not the way to proceed” either.

Phew, we’ll find some other way to skin that cat! That’s some fast “growing in office.” I suggest resuming the hoarding of light bulbs might be in order, folks.

But, since Kyoto wouldn’t detectably impact the temperature even if we accept all moonbat assumptions arguendo, maybe there is not a “reasonable way” for the U.S. Congress to ration energy sources in the name of changing the temperature? Aren’t futile gestures, at times like this, facially unreasonable? Anyway, we’ve got our first entrant in the Post‘s “Strange New Respect” sweepstakes.

This comes on top of something similar sticking to the heels of most Republican presidential aspirants, helpfully raised by Politico, whose story begins:

Green skeletons lurk in GOP closets

It may be heresy to conservatives, but a trip down memory lane shows nearly all of the top-tier Republican presidential contenders want to save the planet from global warming.

On the campaign stump, in books, speeches and nationally-televised commercials, aspiring GOP White House candidates such as Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney have warned in recent years about the threats from climate change and pledged to limit greenhouse gases. Some have even committed the ultimate sin, endorsing the controversial cap-and-trade concept that was eventually branded “cap and tax.”

Now, as they prepare for a wide-open primary season, many of the Republicans are searching for ways to explain themselves to a conservative voting base full of hungry tea party activists and climate skeptics who don’t take kindly to environmental issues so closely linked with Al Gore.

“They’re in an odd place,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told POLITICO. “They better have an explanation, an excuse or a mea culpa for why this won’t happen again.”

Pawlenty had threatened to create a real problem when he telegraphed his intention to refine his global warming position, which includes a history of outright activism: no regrets, no abandon-and-explain, but double down on his climate change position. Before flaming out, he would do real damage.

Yet, with some comments he has made in 2010 and now this Politico piece, Pawlenty is actually one of the more advanced candidates in distancing himself from past missteps. He deserves help on that.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s remarks cited by Politico reflect the need for a quick tutorial on the green jobs snake oil — it’s ok to saddle the economy with higher electricity prices if we make the solar panels in Mississippi. Really? The hemming by Mitt Romney, written in a 2010 tract for 2012, indicates he’s the new Pawlenty — except possibly not as educable or adept at reading polls. I actually thought MassCare had settled things. But maybe this was just to make sure.

These aspirants all need to be offered a graceful way out, and be roundly drummed out of the discussion if they are too timid to stake out a principled stance. CPAC, the RNC debate and early presidential debates are good places to start.

Incidentally, one glaring wart on the Politico piece is of the sort that candidates tempted by the siren song of what if I’m “reasonable”? will miss, and might even parrot. It is the statement attributed to someone styled only as George W. Bush’s former environmental advisor. His current job as head of government affairs for a pro-CO2 rationing rent-seeker isn’t mentioned.

Jim Connaughton, who served for eight years as Bush’s top White House environmental adviser, said the slate of possible GOP presidential candidates are displaying collective amnesia in denouncing cap and trade when it “was the invention of conservative Republican economists as a better way to cut pollution than inefficient command and control regulations.

He then predicted the candidates would all grow like Mr. Upton, and sell the scheme as “insurance.”

“Insurance” is unserious since no insurance premium costs more than the loss against which it insures. And if the policy wouldn’t actually do anything, it isn’t insurance.

But Mr. Connaughton’s advocacy elides a not-so-minor distinction: the supposed Republican invention, the EPA cap-and-trade scheme limiting sulfur dioxide (an actual pollutant from imperfect combustion, unlike CO2, which is an intentional product of combustion) was designed to keep the cost of coal-fired power affordable and the industry viable. That was the point.

Meanwhile, you may have heard how our president rather perfectly self-combusted his own effort to impose CO2 cap and trade by admitting on video that this scheme is designed to cause coal-fired power’s cost to “necessarily skyrocket” and to “bankrupt” the industry.

In a more perfect world, any Republican who fell for these “insurance,” “market mechanism” or “it’s worked before” lines would have intellectually and instinctively disqualified himself.

We do know he will receive the slings and arrows that longtime cap-n-trade warrior John McCain did, but worse, as times have changed, for the better, at least among the electorate. And if nominated, he will generate similar excitement. We’ve seen this movie too many times — and will again, soon, in the House.

Chris Horner is a senior fellow at The Competitive Enterprise Institute.