The Sciences

Waxman: "You Can't Amend the Laws of Nature"

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyFeb 3, 2011 1:26 PM

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Greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. How could it be otherwise? They cause climate change and all its consequences. And those endanger public health and welfare. QED. What that means is that as long as you have an EPA and a Clean Air Act--and a Supreme Court--greenhouse gases are going to trigger government action. That's what the newly empowered Republicans want to prevent and are trying to change. One approach is of course to get rid of the EPA, which Gingrich is calling for. That's more than a little extreme. Another is to weaken the Clean Air Act, and Reps. Waxman and Markey have just exposed a draft of a Republican bill that would do just that. But as Waxman observes,

The Republicans have a lot of power, but they can’t amend the laws of nature. Gutting the Clean Air Act is only going to make our problems worse. This proposal threatens public health and energy security, and it undermines our economic recovery by creating regulatory uncertainty.

That last point is, basically, the one that matters. At a time when companies like GE want greenhouse gas regulation, and even Exxon Mobil isn't the supporter of climate denial that it used to be, the question is....what is driving this GOP push? The new bill in question is called the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011," which gets at some of the ideological underpinnings--this is about weakening government far more than it is about helping industry. It's about ideology, not pragmatism. Now more than ever, those two aren't the same thing. And as for energy taxes...well, the economic analyses don't support that either. According to the CBO, a cap and trade bill like the one we didn't get would actually slightly benefit the poorest Americans in terms of their energy bills, and on average, would raise our bills by 48 cents per day by 2020. That's a cost, but it's not a massive one, and it's a cost that comes with many benefits, including the growth of jobs in clean energy industries. Furthermore, as Joe Romm notes, gains in energy efficiency (which aren't taken into account here) can probably offset the basic cost of cap and trade. Hence, there would essentially be no "energy tax" worth speaking of. But why argue all this--this is not a fact based fight we're about to have. And it isn't going to be pretty.

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