Lessons from the "Enlightened Eight": Republicans Can Vote Pro-Environment and Not Get "Tea Partied

On June 26, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219-212 in favor of HR 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). Only eight Republicans – we'll call them the “Enlightened Eight” – voted “aye.” These Republicans were Mary Bono-Mack (CA-45), Mike Castle (DE-AL), John McHugh (NY-23), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2), Leonard Lance (NJ-7), Mark Kirk (IL-10), Dave Reichert (WA-8), and Christopher Smith (NJ-4).

Republicans voting for cap and trade in the year of the Tea Party? You'd think that they'd be dumped in the harbor by now. Instead, they're all doing fine. In fact, to date, not a single one of these Republicans has been successfully primaried by the “tea party” (or otherwise). Instead, we have two – Castle and Kirk – running for U.S. Senate, one (McHugh) who was appointed Secretary of the Army by President Obama, and five others – Bono-Mack, LoBiondo, Lance, Reichert, Smith – running for reelection.

Rep. Lance actually was challenged by not one, not two, but three “Tea Party” candidates. One of Lance's opponents, David Larsen, even produced this nifty video, helpfully explaining that “Leonard Lance Loves Cap & Trade Taxes.” So, did this work? Did the Tea Partiers overthrow the tyrannical, crypto-liberal Lance? Uh, no. Instead, in the end, Lance received 56% of the vote, easily moving on to November.

Meanwhile, 100 miles or so south on the Jersey Turnpike, Rep. LoBiondo faced two “Tea Party” candidates – Donna Ward and Linda Biamonte – who also attacked on the cap-and-trade issue. According to Biamonte, cap and trade “is insidious and another tax policy… a funneling of money to Goldman Sachs and Al Gore through derivatives creating a carbon bubble like the housing bubble.” You'd think that Republican primary voters in the year of the Tea Party would agree with this line of attack. Yet LoBiondo won with 75% of the vote.

Last but not least in New Jersey, Christopher Smith easily turned back a Tea Party challenger – Alan Bateman – by a more than 2:1 margin. Bateman had argued that “Obama knows he can count on Smith to support the United Nations' agenda to redistribute American wealth to foreign countries through international Cap & Trade agreements and other programs that threaten our sovereignty.” Apparently, Republican voters in NJ-4 didn't buy that argument.

Across the country in California's 45th District, Mary Bono-Mack won 71% of the vote over Tea Party candidate Clayton Thibodeau on June 8. This, despite Thibodeau attacking Bono-Mack as “the only Republican west of the Mississippi to vote for Cap and Trade.” Thibodeau also called cap and trade “frightening,” claiming that government could force you to renovate your home or meet requirements before you purchase a home. Thibodeau's scare tactics on cap-and-trade clearly didn't play in CA-45.

Finally, in Washington's 8th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert has drawn a Tea Party challenger named Ernest Huber, who writes that Cap and Trade “is widely viewed as an attempt at Soviet-style dictatorship using the environmental scam of global warming/climate change… written by the communist Apollo Alliance, which was led by the communist Van Jones, Obama's green jobs czar.” We'll see how this argument plays with voters in Washington's 8th Congressional District, but something tells us it's not going to go over any better than in the New Jersey or California primaries.

In sum, it appears that it's quite possible for Republicans to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation and live (politically) to tell about it. The proof is in the primaries.

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Remember, Cap-and-Trade Was Originally a Free-Market, Conservative Idea

Once upon a time, “cap-and-trade” wasn't an object of conservative Republican opprobrium (e.g., as a “big government cap-and-tax scheme that will destroy our economy and end our way of life as we know it”). Actually, once up on a time, “cap-and-trade” was…wait for it…a conservative Republican idea! That's right, let's head to the “way back machine” and briefly review the Political History of Cap and Trade.

John B. Henry was hiking in Maine's Acadia National Park one August in the 1980s when he first heard his friend C. Boyden Gray talk about cleaning up the environment by letting people buy and sell the right to pollute. Gray, a tall, lanky heir to a tobacco fortune, was then working as a lawyer in the Reagan White House, where environmental ideas were only slightly more popular than godless Communism. “I thought he was smoking dope,” recalls Henry, a Washington, D.C. entrepreneur. But if the system Gray had in mind now looks like a politically acceptable way to slow climate change-an approach being hotly debated in Congress-you could say that it got its start on the global stage on that hike up Acadia's Cadillac Mountain.

People now call that system “cap-and-trade.” But back then the term of art was “emissions trading,” though some people called it “morally bankrupt” or even “a license to kill.” For a strange alliance of free-market Republicans and renegade environmentalists, it represented a novel approach to cleaning up the world-by working with human nature instead of against it.

Despite powerful resistance, these allies got the system adopted as national law in 1990, to control the power-plant pollutants that cause acid rain. With the help of federal bureaucrats willing to violate the cardinal rule of bureaucracy-by surrendering regulatory power to the marketplace-emissions trading would become one of the most spectacular success stories in the history of the green movement

In the end, the conservative Republican-inspired “cap-and-trade” system for acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide was put into place by Republican President George HW Bush, who “not only accepted the cap, he overruled his advisers' recommendation of an eight million-ton cut in annual acid rain emissions in favor of the ten million-ton cut advocated by environmentalists.” And it worked incredibly well, “cost[ing] utilities just $3 billion annually, not $25 billion… [and] by cutting acid rain in half, it also generates an estimated $122 billion a year in benefits from avoided death and illness, healthier lakes and forests, and improved visibility on the Eastern Seaboard.”

In short, good things happened when we harnessed the tremendous power of the market to solve environmental problems. Today, the biggest and most pressing of those problems – identified, once again, by a massive amount of scientific research and evidence over several decades – is not acid rain, but global warming. And the proposed solution, once again, is the conservative, market-based “cap-and-trade” system. Strangely, however, it's conservative, market-based Republicans who have morphed into the loudest and most vociferous opponents of “cap-and-trade,” while Democrats have become its biggest proponents.

Even stranger, as Climate Progress points out, many Republicans are now opposing – even “demagoguing” – against an idea they once supported! A short list includes: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who once said she supported cap-and-trade because she believed “it offers the opportunity to reduce carbon, at the least cost to society;” Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who once bragged that voting for “cap-and-trade” in Massachusetts was an “important step … towards improving our environment;” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who once asserted that cap-and-trade “will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy;” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who used to believe that we should “set emission standards and let the best technology win.” Actually, as Steve Benen at Washington Monthly points out, the McCain-Palin official website in 2008 promised that a McCain administration would “establish…a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

My, how times have changed in less than 2 years.

The point of all this is simple. Cap-and-trade is not some dastardly scheme to destroy the U.S. economy. Cap-and-trade is not radical, either. In fact, cap-and-trade is a tried, true, tested and proven, market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost. It worked with acid rain, far faster and cheaper than anyone predicted. Why would it be any different with carbon dioxide than sulfur dioxide? And why would Republicans oppose their own idea, after watching it produce one of the biggest environmental victories in U.S. history, on the gravest environmental threat facing our country and our planet? Even more, why would Republicans oppose an idea that — even if you put aside the issue of global warming — is still imperative – for urgent economic (e.g., sending $400 billion overseas every year to pay for imported oil) and national security (sending that $400 billion to a lot of countries that aren't our friends, are building nuclear weapons programs, etc.) reasons?

It's hard to think of any good reasons, how about some bad ones? Because, in the end, that's about all the cap-and-trade naysayers have left.

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Give up on passing cap-and-trade in the Senate

I have been ready to pull the plug on the climate change bill for a while now. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which narrowly passed the House last June, gave too much away to polluting industries and wouldn’t increase renewable energy production beyond what we are likely to see if no bill passes. More broadly, Mark Schapiro’s recent piece in Harper’s Magazine argues persuasively that a cap-and-trade system lets some people make a lot of money selling fake emission reductions.

Climate change legislation can only get worse in the Senate, where too many senators are beholden to corporate interests in the energy and agricultural sectors. Even before the Massachusetts special election brought the Democratic caucus down to 59 seats, key Senate Democrats were either asking for more giveaways to coal-burning utilities or begging the White House not to pursue the cap-and-trade system at all.

This month Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan predicted that the Senate will pass a stand-alone energy bill to expand energy production in various ways without capping greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, you can count on the Senate to throw more money toward boosting fossil fuel production than renewable energy.

I agree with those who say we need comprehensive federal action to fight global warming, but the environmental movement needs to adapt to the realities in Congress.

Last year dozens of environmental groups focused their staff energy and mobilized volunteers to advocate for a sweeping climate change bill. This year we need to focus resources on where the real battle lies. Instead of urging citizens to sign petitions and call their senators about cap-and-trade, which is looking like a dead letter, we need to fight for the strongest possible renewable electricity standard in the energy bill.

More important, we need to block efforts to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Last month the EPA took a big step toward regulating global warming pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has introduced a resolution to overturn the EPA rules and has three Democratic co-sponsors so far. Stopping Murkowski’s effort should be a top priority for environmentalists.

One complicating factor: some environmental groups have received grants to support advocacy on climate change legislation. I would encourage charitable foundations and other large donors to be flexible about how such money is spent. Cap-and-trade is going nowhere. Let environmentalists focus on the real fights in Congress this year.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

Final note: Murkowski is at war with the EPA even though she represents Alaska, one of the states most affected by global warming. Is she stupid, corrupt or both?

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A Big Breakthrough on Green Jobs

The New York State Senate and Assembly, too often a model of corruption and dysfunctionality, rose above petty politics last week to pass forward-thinking legislation on climate and energy, setting a precedent for bipartisanship and a sensible cap and trade system.  The State Senate passed the groundbreaking Green Job/Green New York Act, with strong support from Republicans, Democrats, and the Working Families Party, which spearheaded the legislation. The bill — expected to be signed into law this week by Gov. David Patterson leverages $112m in revenue from the Northeasts's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) into $5 billion of private investment to finance home weatherization, energy efficiency projects, and green jobs creation.

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Tell Bruce Braley He Got It Right

With the passage of The American Clean Energy and Security Act, The House of Representatives has made a dramatic breakthrough for America's future by choosing to create jobs, move to clean energy, and reduce global warming pollution. This legislation, which was almost unimaginable six months ago, will help set our country in a new direction by shifting to a clean energy economy and reducing the carbon pollution that causes global warming.

For some in Congress, this was a vote which carried serious political risk. Representatives from states with powerful coal interests will face stronger opposition in their reelection bids in 2010, and newly elected Representatives who won by small margins in November will face ammunition from their opponents over this contentious legislation, which passed by a mere seven votes.

Bruce Braley is among those who sacrificed political expediency for the good of the country's economy and the Earth's environmental health by voting YES. Please come to his events in Dubuque, Olewein, Davenport and Waterloo to say thanks, and to show your support for this historic legislation as it moves to the Senate, where it needs to be strengthened, so we can reach the full potential of our clean energy future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

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Everything You Know About Environmentalism Is Wrong

Way back in 2005, I posted, The Environmental Movement is Dead, about how the traditional environmental movement — centered around the big lobbying groups such as the Sierra Club and their associated policy initiatives — had failed to do anything to apply real brakes to the decline in the global environment or even to significantly improve our national carbon footprint.  Featured in that post were the poster-children of the anti-movement environmental movmeent, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger.  The two are still at it and have an interesting take in The New Republic, on The Green Bubble.

Green anti-modernism brings with it other contradictions. Despite the rhetoric about “one planet,” not all humans have the same interests when it comes to addressing global warming. Greens often note that the changing global climate will have the greatest impact on the world's poor; they neglect to mention that the poor also have the most to gain from development fueled by cheap fossil fuels like coal. For the poor, the climate is already dangerous. They are already subject to the droughts, floods, hurricanes, and diseases that future warming will intensify. It is their poverty, not rising carbon-dioxide levels, that make them more vulnerable than the rest of us. By contrast, it is the richest humans–those of us who have achieved comfort, prosperity, and economic security for ourselves and for our children–who have the most to lose from the kind of apocalyptic global-warming scenarios that have so often been invoked in recent years. The existential threat so many of us fear is that we might all end up in a kind of global Somalia characterized by failed states, resource scarcity, and chaos. It is more than a little ironic that at the heart of the anti-modern green discourse resides the fear of losing our modernity.

Nonetheless, it has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development–never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty. The convenient and ancient view among elites that the poor are actually spiritually rich, and the exaggeration of insignificant gestures like recycling and buying new lightbulbs, are both motivated by the cognitive dissonance created by simultaneously believing that not all seven billion humans on earth can “live like we live” and, consciously or unconsciously, knowing that we are unwilling to give up our high standard of living. This is the split “between what you think and what you do” to which Pollan refers, and it should, perhaps, come as no surprise that so many educated liberals, living at the upper end of a social hierarchy that was becoming ever more stratified, should find the remedies that Pollan and Beavan offer so compelling. But, while planting a backyard garden may help heal the eco-anxieties of affluent greens, it will do little to heal the planet or resolve the larger social contradictions that it purports to address.

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