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November 17, 2008
No Need to Sacrifice
John Dingell to Make Progress on Global Warming
Word came last week that Barack Obama’s transition team
was combing through the executive orders of the current administration,
looking for politically driven executive orders to overturn. It’s
expected that these will constitute early efforts by the Obama
Administration to move on important issues that might otherwise get the
short shrift with economic problems looming so severely.
One of those is global
warming, which probably would be on the front burner if millions didn’t
still fear losing their jobs.
If it holds true, the
Obama Administration is likely to overturn rewrites of how to enforce
the Endangered Species Act. When the changes were originally announced,
an Obama spokesman said the then-candidate opposed them.
Those changes were
originally fueled by objections to using the act to regulate greenhouse
gases. The future plight of the polar bear – ordered protected as a
threatened species suffering habitat loss – twanged the heartstrings of
the American people. Its defenders sued to protect it, arguably as an
end-around to force the federal government to regulate greenhouse gases.
It wasn’t the Bush
Administration’s first defeat in the court system on greenhouse gases.
Its Environmental Protection Agency also lost and was ordered by the
U.S. Supreme Court to regulate carbon dioxide emissions as pollutants.
The EPA has since continued to drag its feet, following signals by
President Bush that he intended to do nothing about global warming for
the rest of his presidency.
If Obama directs his new
EPA administrator to craft a scheme to regulate carbon dioxide
emissions, and overturns the Bush rule on the Endangered Species Act,
what would emerge as the new U.S. policy on global warming would have
one primary father – Congressman John Dingell of Michigan.
Dingell, a Detroit-area
Democrat, today is better known as the Dean of the House of
Representatives, and next year will become the longest serving member in
its history. He’s known as a cunning legislator, and chairman of the
powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.
You’d think that someone
who’s authored two of the nation’s most important and far-reaching
pieces of environmental legislation would have green street cred. Not
so. Dingell is being challenged for his chairmanship by California
Democrat Henry Waxman because his challenger says he is stifling climate
Waxman is said to have
the soft support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who could tie support
for the auto industry bailout to Dingell’s release of the committee.
One of their chief
complaints is that Dingell has represented the auto industry too well,
and has held up increased fuel economy standards through the federal
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) scheme.
There are lots of things
you could say about CAFE, but one of the things you can’t say about it
is that it has fulfilled its original intention. CAFE was originally
conceived in the wake of the oil embargo of the early 1970s. Since then,
the United States has become progressively more dependent on foreign
This failure became more
acute in the 1990s, when the American consumer rewarded Detroit’s auto
makers for dodging CAFE standards in offering horribly inefficient,
Earlier this decade, when
Ford tried to build a line of highly efficient SUVs, the efforts tanked
for lack of interest from consumers.
Like all long-term policy
failures, CAFE has its own attendant set of devotees who believe that
the solution to policy failure is to simply shout louder. Rather than
proposing a scheme that attacks the problem by encouraging sustainable
demand for more efficient cars, its supporters today want higher
standards and someone in the Energy and Commerce Committee chair who
will punish Detroit for dragging its feet.
Whether this will prove a
successful route to addressing global warming is anyone’s guess. But it
would be mightily ironic if Dingell was pushed aside for stifling action
on global warming just as laws the Michigan Democrat authored became the
nation’s biggest steps to date on climate policy.
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