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ObamaCare to ObamaEnergy: Questioning ‘Telephone-Book-Sized Legislation’

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 21, 2009

“The Republicans are right — it’s a cap-and-tax bill. That’s what it is because they are raising revenue to do all sorts of things, especially to take care of the coal industry, and it makes no sense.”

– Tim Wirth, “Climate Bill ‘Out of Control,’ Former Senator Says,” Bloomberg,  August 18, 2009.

“Trading of rights to pollute … introduces speculation and makes millionaires on Wall Street. I hope cap and trade doesn’t pass, because we need a much more effective approach.”

–  Remarks of James Hansen, 350 Climate Conference, Columbia University, May 4, 2009 [Speech writeup in Appendix below]

Left commentators are interpreting what has gone wrong with the Obama healthcare plan. One explanation is the sheer complexity of the legislation. “[Obama] had a near-Depression to deal with, and a banking crisis of mammoth proportions,” stated MSNBC’s Howard Fineman. “But all the telephone-book-sized legislation and proliferation of czars left a lot of independent voters scared — and they are running from him now.”

The Waxman-Markey climate bill (HR 2454) is part of the same problem. Explained  Fineman:

“Against that backdrop, the decision of the White House to jam through the House a colossal cap-and-trade energy bill might have been a mistake.

The president used up a lot, if not all, of his political capital with conservative Blue Dog Democrats when he made them vote for it. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wanted to “put points on the board,” and he did, brilliantly, but then the Senate Democrats balked, making the House guys feel abandoned — and wary of the next ‘Rahmbo’ deal.”

Log-Rolling at Its Worst

The now-infamous Waxman-Markey climate bill (HR 2454) is a case study of what political scientists call log-rolling, defined as “the trading of favors … by legislative members to obtain passage of actions of interest to each legislative member.”  Davy Crockett of Alamo fame, Wikipedia notes, was an originator of the term:

“The first known use of the term was by Congressman Davy Crockett, who said on the floor (of the U.S. House of Representatives) in 1835, ‘my people don’t like me to log-roll in their business, and vote away pre-emption rights to fellows in other states that never kindle a fire on their own land’.”

Waxman-Markey was just political sausage-making, noted Joe Romm about a bill that got worse and worse as it garnered the votes to squeak by in the House. But Romm, blogging at Climate Progress (Center for American Progress), had to swallow his principles if not pride when he went from critic to cheerleader of the sausage bill. Al Gore caved too to side with Obama and House leaders.

But James Hansen, who does not report to John Podesta (as does Romm at CAP), rebelled early in Waxman-Markey’s sausage making (it would end up at 1,428 pages). The NASA scientist and former Al Gore mentor on climate complained:

“Governments are retreating to feckless ‘cap-and-trade’, a minor tweak to business-as-usual…. The 648-page cap-and-trade monstrosity that is being foisted on the U.S. Congress provides the answer.  Not a single Congressperson has read it.  They don’t need to – they just need to add more paragraphs to support their own special interests.  By the way, the Congress people do not write most of those paragraphs—they are ‘suggested’ by people in alligator shoes.”

And even cap-and-trade’s own creators are dubious about the effectiveness of this approach to a globally produced commodity like carbon dioxide.


It is no exaggeration to look at both ObamaCare and ObamaEnergy as moving large parts of the American economy down the road to serfdom. Average Americans are rebelling against the smartest-guys-in-the-room national planning explicit in the ‘telephone-book- sized legislation’ that they cannot read much less understand.

Appendix: Review of James Hansen’s keynote address at Colombia University’s 350 Climate Conference, May 4, 2009 by E&E Publishing

“POLICY: Hansen hopes lawmakers’ cap-and-trade approach to climate will fail” (Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter)

NEW YORK –NASA’s leading climate scientist says he hopes that climate legislation proposed by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Edward Markey (Mass.) to introduce carbon emissions trading to the United States fails. He says lawmakers should abandon cap-and-trade initiatives altogether and implement a simple carbon tax instead.

James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a vocal advocate for action on global warming, told an audience at a conference hosted by Columbia University climate policy students that cap and trade is a scheme devised by Wall Street that will do nothing to alleviate the global warming problem.

“Trading of rights to pollute … introduces speculation and makes millionaires on Wall Street,” Hansen said in his keynote lecture at Columbia University’s 350 Climate Conference held here Saturday. “I hope cap and trade doesn’t pass, because we need a much more effective approach.”

Hansen also stands opposed to so-called “cap and dividend” proposals that would introduce pollution trading and a near full auctioning of emissions, with proceeds from the auctions going back to the public. Instead, Hansen proposed a “tax and dividend” approach to tax fossil fuels at the point where they are extracted from the ground, to set a firm price on carbon. Proceeds from the tax, rather than from the auctioning of allowances, would then be distributed to consumers.

“It could be implemented in one year, as opposed to decades with cap and trade,” he said. “The bureaucracy is very simple.”

Public remains apathetic about climate Hansen also said climate activists need to be more vocal and strategic in getting the public to lobby harder for action to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. He pointed to recent public opinion polls showing that among Americans’ concerns, climate change ranks nearly last in the order of priority, well behind the economy and the United States’ dependence on foreign oil.

“It’s hard for people to realize that we have a crisis, because you don’t see much happening,” he said. “If people understood the implications for their children and grandchildren, they would care.”

Hansen also urged conference participants to press the United States to negotiate a robust international agreement by the final negotiating round of U.N. climate change talks this year at Copenhagen. He said the new agreement has to be much more far reaching than the Kyoto Protocol, which he deems to have been entirely ineffective, and the Copenhagen talks should emphasize action by the United States and China.

The Kyoto Protocol “didn’t do anything to global emissions,” said Hansen. “We need real action, not just another Kyoto Protocol.”

But ultimately, an effective response to climate change will require a variety of actions, he argued. That includes a new, much stronger international agreement, action by U.S. lawmakers to finally put a price on carbon through a tax, and new policies designed to ultimately phase out fossil fuel consumption.

“We’re going to have to make the decision to leave coal in the ground” or burn it only at power plants utilizing carbon capture and sequestration technology, Hansen said. “Perhaps the best chance is in the courts,” he added.

Speaking before Hansen’s attack on cap-and-trade legislation, Mark Crane, director of Columbia University’s graduate degree program in climate and society, suggested that climate activists start adopting more strategic language to get the public more engaged in the issue.

The term “climate change” is better than “global warming,” he said, but Crane suggested “deteriorating atmosphere” as a much more visual term to employ. If “cap and trade” does move forward in Congress, proponents should consider calling it a “pollution reduction refund” to gain public acceptance, he said.


  1. Ed Reid  

    What, pray tell, is the carbon tax rate which would reduce US emissions by 83% by 2050?

    Is it a single rate, which strangles the economy immediately; or, is it a progressively increasing rate which progressively drives fossil fuels out of the market?

    Enquiring minds want to know.


  2. Why Natural Gas Should Not Play the Cap-and-Trade Game (the real enemy is mandated renewables/conservation, not coal) — MasterResource  

    […] the oil and gas industry, like the American public in general, are protesting the Left on bailouts, health care, and energy. Joining Big Government for narrow, transient gains–and thus revitalizing the […]


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