Perfect Storm Forming for Congressional Global-Warming Fight

Weather used to be the ultimate safe topic for conversation. That was before climate change came along.

Indeed, we’ve witnessed a sudden shift in Washington’s conventional wisdom on this topic. Virtually every major player on and off Capitol Hill has concluded that the global-warming train is leaving the station, and no one dares to be left behind.

Comprehensive legislation to mandate reductions in CO2 emissions from power plants, autos, factories, farms and office buildings has line-jumped the congressional agenda.

The perfect storm started last November when Democrats regained control of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly created the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and named as chairman her close ally and rabid environmentalist, Rep. Ed Markey (D.-Mass.). Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), another ardent environmentalist, assumed chairmanship of the Senate Environment Committee.

The storm gathered strength in January when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed to a mandatory 25% reduction in statewide CO2 emissions from by 2020 and an even more ambitious goal — reducing emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Category Five status arrived in early February with the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report. Media outlets labeled it "dire" and speculated openly about a "a 21-foot increase in sea level, forcing the relocation of more than 300 million people living in low-lying areas worldwide."

Actually, as my Heritage colleague Ben Lieberman points out, the study "retreated on a number of important assertions," including a downward revision in future sea-level estimates and hedges considerably on whether global warming contributes to powerful hurricanes like Katrina.

Nonetheless, industry groups sought shelter — and purchased tickets on the global-warming train:

  • On the day the UN report emerged, Exxon Mobil conceded "it is prudent to develop and implement strategies that address the risks [of global warming]," including “putting policies in place that start us on a path to reduce emissions."
  • The utility industry quickly followed. The Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Supply Association braced "for expected federal mandates" and announced support for federal caps on CO2 emissions.
  • The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of CEOs from 10 blue-chip companies and four environmental organizations, called for a 10% to 30% reduction in worldwide atmospheric concentrations of CO2 within 15 years, and up to 80% by 2050.
  • Meanwhile, other global-warming skeptics, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, find themselves sidelined by splits among their members.

Conspiracy theorists believe those splits aren’t accidental and point to efforts by left-leaning foundations such as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which has convinced 42 large corporations — including Intel, Alcoa, Georgia-Pacific, Sunoco, Lockheed Martin, Weyerhaeuser and Toyota — to embrace ambitious global-warming legislation. Pew’s president, Eileen Claussen, has even boasted about this divide-and-conquer strategy: "The whole objective was to split the industry so you could get people who were progressive to begin to do something" to advance global-warming legislation.

But the companies climbing aboard are hardly motivated by altruism. "We also believe," Pew’s website states, "that companies taking early action on climate strategies and policy will gain sustained competitive advantage over their peers."

Indeed, some of these companies want to force their competitors to shoulder costs they have already borne. "Since 1991," a DuPont executive recently told Congress, "we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 72% globally and avoided $3 billion of energy costs." Having incurred these costs, DuPont now wants its competitors "across the entire U.S. economy" to do likewise. But, it adds, any global-warming legislation must recognize "voluntary actions taken to reduce emissions," thereby exempting DuPont from its economic consequences. Similarly, a BP executive told Congress that "from a business point of view, [this] is the right direction to take."

Sen. Kit Bond (R.-Mo.) has offered us a much-needed historical lesson — namely, that Enron once trolled these waters. "An internal Enron memo," The Washington Post reported in 2002, "said the Kyoto agreement, if implemented, would do more to promote Enron’s business than almost any other regulatory initiative" and would be "good for Enron stock."
To Bond, Enron’s self-interested advocacy of a global-warming agreement "shows how companies of all stripes sometimes are willing to work for environmental goals because it fits their business model, pads their bottom line" and "maybe or maybe not" furthers noble environmental ends. "That’s why," he concluded, "I’m not worried … about what certain companies think about carbon caps," but rather how these companies "would profit off of the pain of other industries and consumers … who are captive to … other sources of energy."