Eco Chic & Mau-Mauing the Legislators

Oct 1, 2009

In Parliament of Whores P.J. O'Rourke reminds us that "When the legislature controls what is bought and sold the first thing that is bought and sold is legislators"

In the Wall Street Journal Kimberley Strassel reminds us again:

"Seeking greater competitive advantage through regulatory means is, lamentably, an entrenched fact of life in some corporate boardrooms . . . But breaking with an organization and creating a public stage on which to tout a company's green credentials is overwrought. This is about profit, not Gaia," says Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe.

Speaking of senators, the utility exodus conveniently came only days before Sen. Barbara Boxer released her own draft climate bill. And Mrs. Boxer, also conveniently, left blank the portion allocating credits—all the better to bribe support out of key industry players by dangling precious goods in front of them. Emancipated from the Chamber, Exelon and others are free to play ball. The EPA's new emissions rules were also announced this week in tune with the Boxer bill, reminding companies that if they don't work with Congress, the EPA will make them pay without any compensating emissions credits.

Let's also not forget that Chicago-based Exelon and employees, including Mr. Rowe, contributed tens of thousands of dollars for their home-city presidential aspirant. And that Mr. Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, was once a consultant to Exelon. In an energy world in which winners and losers are picked on the Potomac, there is no harm in reminding the president who his friends are.

The move also keeps the mob at bay. Caught flat-footed by public outrage over health care, liberal interest groups are now attacking opponents of the Democratic agenda in personal terms. For the crime of talking straight about ObamaCare, former House leader Dick Armey and former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey have been targeted and lost jobs in the private sector. The Natural Resources Defense Council is attempting a similar takedown of Chamber President Tom Donahue, in retribution on climate. The utility execs hope to avoid that bull's-eye. As extra insurance, Mr. Rowe this spring taped an ad with the Environmental Defense Fund, the smoothest of the green lobbies, to plump for climate legislation.

Gregg Easterbrook notes that it's not just a few favored companies who would benefit:

Washington, Brussels and other cities are rife with think-tank and NGO types who know that if some super-complex international greenhouse treaty is ever enforced, it will mean a lifetime of high-paid employment for them in the gigantic, stultifying bureaucracies that will be created. That's why they want a super-complex treaty, rather than simply taxing greenhouse gases and letting the market sort out details...That's a practical formula for global warming reform. Sorry that it's not 1,400 pages long and won't guarantee corporate donations to chairmen of congressional committees.

The Chamber believes we need a comprehensive legislative solution from Congress to address climate change and we are not opposed to a carbon tax, nor are we opposed to all cap-and-trade systems.  We are simply opposed to bad legislation and inane regulation -- as highlighted by David Schoenbrod, a former staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Richard Stewart, former chairman of Environmental Defense Fund:

As a candidate for president in April 2008, Barack Obama told Fox News that "a cap-and-trade system is a smarter way of controlling pollution" than "top-down" regulation. He was right. With cap and trade the market decides where and how to cut emissions. With top-down regulation, as Mr. Obama explained, regulators dictate "every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and often-times is less efficient."

It's no wonder that the House advertises its American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (also known as the Waxman-Markey bill) as "cap and trade." And last Thursday a coalition of environmental groups and unions launched a "Made in America Jobs Tour" to sell it as a ticket to "long-term economic prosperity." But the House bill would, if passed by the Senate this autumn, fail the environment and fail the test of economic efficiency. Waxman-Markey is largely top-down regulation dressed in cap-and-trade clothing.

President Obama needs to lead on the principles on which he campaigned and the Republicans in the Senate need to listen. Otherwise, Congress will pass something like the House bill or, worse still, won't legislate at all. In that case, the Environmental Protection Agency would regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. This would involve even more top-down control than Waxman-Markey.

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