July 21, 2008
Will Greens Keep Their Seat at the Table in the Energy Debate?
By Adam Solomon Zemel
The plan for House Democrats to introduce a catch-all energy package that calls for renewable energy mandates, efficiency standards and new oil industry tax provisions in addition to expanding offshore drilling has become a highly anticipated Democratic victory. The strategy is to force Republicans to vote "nay" to offshore drilling because they cannot agree to aggressive renewable mandates and increased taxes on oil companies. Many moderate leftists would call this plan "savvy," and the big greens, sensing an opportunity to reach regular voters, have come out in support of drilling as part of a larger energy plan that will reduce energy prices in the near and long term.
It's good to see enviros meeting citizens where they're at, not to mention showing the good sense to react when they see that voters are naming energy as one of the top three issues of the campaign and facing the country. As (bipartisan) consensus around the need to frame a new energy policy builds, it is becoming clear that great strides forward in forming an energy plan for our era could be taken in the next few months, possibly even in the first 100 days of the next presidency. The greens, by signing on to this new "all of the above" plan, are insuring their seat at the table for the discussion.
Or so they think.
If there is one thing I have learned from watching the unfolding energy battle this summer, it is that citizens care about energy now more than ever, that their primary concern is that energy prices stay low, and that they expect these concerns to be addressed by elected officials. And that is why the minute that new climate legislation is introduced to congress, the greens will lose their seat at the energy policy table. In my conversations with workers in green groups and in their own writings since the death of Liberman-Warner, there has been no discussion over the need to seriously rethink their climate legislation strategy, just of the need to retool the usual methods. "We'll leave the transportation sector out next time," the greens say, "or we'll incorporate some sort of cap-and-dividend system. Or we'll do both."
But in the end, the plan is still to propose a system for pricing carbon, which means making dirty energy more expensive, which means additional costs for utilities and energy providers, which means passing those costs on to consumers (i.e. me, you, your next door neighbor, Stan from down the street, Chuck at the office, and every bill paying citizen in America). And as soon as the enviros advance this new legislation--legislation that will raise consumers' energy prices at a time when that is the biggest political non-starter in the American political landscape, they will lose their seat in the pivotal political discussion that could determine the direction of America's energy policy for decades to come.
There will be a new president and a new congress in four short months. Environmental groups and climate change activists should see this transitional period as a time to rethink the entire character of their solutions, their politics, their policies and their ideology, instead of planning to dress up the same solution in new clothes for the umpteenth time in the hopes of squeezing a bill through a somewhat-more-left-leaning 111th Congress. It ain't gonna happen.