Guest Post by James Handley
I’m a bit surprised that Republicans fell into Boxer’s trap so predictably. With a slim Democratic majority in the Senate and a promised presidential veto, the Lieberman-Warner (“Climate Security”) bill never had a chance. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer forced a vote so the environmental score-keepers could notch one up for the Ds and one down for the Rs.
The bill was deeply flawed — Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and a coalition of other progressive environmental groups point out that it would GIVE AWAY most of the carbon emission permits to polluters. Instead, these groups advocate auctioning ALL permits. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama also support 100% auction. So Lieberman-Warner was already way behind the political curve.
The bill would have auctioned a minority of permits. Who would the lucky revenue winners have been? Mostly big (polluting) energy corporations.
Rep. Markey (D-Mass) introduced a House bill to auction 97% of permits and distribute revenue to individuals, while Sen. Corker (R-Tenn) offered similar amendments in the Senate: worthy improvements that didn’t get serious consideration (yet).
Lieberman-Warner was a trial balloon, but more than that, it was a trap to entice the howling dogs who deny the climate problem out into the open so Democrats and environmental groups can campaign against them. As legislation, it’s a failure. As political strategy, it lured them out and slapped shut with the alacrity of a mouse trap. I can’t help wondering why the Republican leadership didn’t try to improve the bill (or at least fake doing so) instead of obstructing it. There’s plenty to improve on (like moving from cap-and-trade to a carbon tax and requiring revenue-neutrality) and they could have avoided being tarred as Neanderthal global warming deniers.
Boxer’s political trick worked and may provide the Democratic Party with real political benefits as voters register their impatience in November. Unfortunately, the focus on a poorly-designed bill and the failure to consider constructive changes resulted in a wasted opportunity.
Economists from left to right agree that the gold standard for effective climate policy is a revenue-neutral carbon tax with dividend. Maybe the spectacular crash of Lieberman-Warner will help us start that much-needed discussion after the election.