REVIEW & OUTLOOK
OBAMA’S CARBON ULTIMATUM
October 20, 2008
"Would-be President intends to blackmail -- or rather, greenmail -- Congress into falling in line with his climate agenda."
The coming offer you won't be able to refuse.
Liberals pretend that only President Bush is preventing the U.S. from adopting some global warming "solution." But occasionally their mask slips. As Barack Obama's energy adviser has now made clear, the would-be President intends to blackmail -- or rather, greenmail -- Congress into falling in line with his climate agenda.
AP Jason Grumet is currently executive director of an outfit called the National Commission on Energy Policy and one of Mr. Obama's key policy aides. In an interview last week with Bloomberg, Mr. Grumet said that come January the Environmental Protection Agency "would initiate those rulemakings" that classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant under current clean air laws. That move would impose new regulation and taxes across the entire economy, something that is usually the purview of Congress. Mr. Grumet warned that "in the absence of Congressional action" 18 months after Mr. Obama's inauguration, the EPA would move ahead with its own unilateral carbon crackdown anyway.
Well, well. For years, Democrats -- including Senator Obama -- have been howling about the "politicization" of the EPA, which has nominally been part of the Bush Administration. The complaint has been that the White House blocked EPA bureaucrats from making the so-called "endangerment finding" on carbon. Now it turns out that a President Obama would himself wield such a finding as a political bludgeon. He plans to issue an ultimatum to Congress: Either impose new taxes and limits on carbon that he finds amenable, or the EPA carbon police will be let loose to ravage the countryside.
The EPA hasn't made a secret of how it would like to centrally plan the U.S. economy under the 1970 Clean Air Act. In a blueprint released in July, the agency didn't exactly say it'd collectivize the farms -- but pretty close, down to the "grass clippings." The EPA would monitor and regulate the carbon emissions of "lawn and garden equipment" as well as everything with an engine, like cars, planes and boats. Eco-bureaucrats envision thousands of other emissions limits on all types of energy. Coal-fired power and other fossil fuels would be ruled out of existence, while all other prices would rise as the huge economic costs of the new regime were passed down the energy chain to consumers.
These costs would far exceed the burden of a straight carbon tax or cap-and-trade system enacted by Congress, because the Clean Air Act was never written to apply to carbon and other greenhouse gases. It's like trying to do brain surgery with a butter knife. Mr. Obama wants to move ahead anyway because he knows that the costs of any carbon program will be high. He knows, too, that Congress -- even with strongly Democratic majorities -- might still balk at supporting tax increases on their constituents, even if it is done in the name of global warming.
Climate-change politics don't break cleanly along partisan lines. The burden of a carbon clampdown will fall disproportionately on some states over others, especially the 25 interior states that get more than 50% of their electricity from coal. Rustbelt manufacturing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania will get hit hard too. Once President Bush leaves office, the coastal Democrats pushing hardest for a climate change program might find their colleagues splitting off, especially after they vote for a huge tax increase on incomes.
Thus Messrs. Obama and Grumet want to invoke a political deus ex machina driven by a faulty interpretation of the Clean Air Act to force Congress's hand. Mr. Obama and Democrats can then tell Americans that Congress must act to tax and regulate carbon to save the country from even worse bureaucratic consequences. It's Mr. Obama's version of Jack Benny's old "your money or your life" routine, but without the punch line.
The strategy is most notable for what it says about the climate-change lobby and its new standard bearer. Supposedly global warming is the transcendent challenge of the age, but Mr. Obama evidently doesn't believe he'll be able to convince his own party to do something about it without a bureaucratic ultimatum. Mr. Grumet justified it this way: "The U.S. has to move quickly domestically . . . We cannot have a meaningful impact in the international discussion until we develop a meaningful domestic consensus.”
Normally a democracy reaches consensus through political debate and persuasion, but apparently for Mr. Obama that option is merely a nuisance. It's another example of "change" you'll be given no choice but to believe in.