Since the Journal editorial page has never seemed to think that carbon emissions are harmful, I figured the second sentence in the editorial -- which says, "The 1,200-page wonder manages the supreme feat of being both hugely expensive while doing almost nothing to reduce carbon emissions" -- indicated that they were not entirely opposed to the measure, but a further read confirms that is not the case.
The Journal editorial page, which is as predictable as the sun coming up in the east, holds forth as follows:
President Obama is calling the climate bill that the House passed last week an "extraordinary" achievement, and so it is. The 1,200-page wonder manages the supreme feat of being both hugely expensive while doing almost nothing to reduce carbon emissions.A footnote to this blog: it is probably not wise to reprint an editorial in full, but in this case it was hard to know what to delete. The Journal's editorial board labored many hours over this piece, and it seemed rather a shame to leave anything out.
The Washington press corps is playing the bill's 219-212 passage as a political triumph, even though one of five Democrats voted against it. The real story is what Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House baron Henry Waxman and the President himself had to concede to secure even that eyelash margin among the House's liberal majority. Not even Tom DeLay would have imagined the extravaganza of log-rolling, vote-buying, outright corporate bribes, side deals, subsidies and policy loopholes. Every green goal, even taken on its own terms, was watered down or given up for the sake of political rents.
Begin with the supposed point of the exercise -- i.e., creating an artificial scarcity of carbon in the name of climate change. The House trimmed Mr. Obama's favored 25% reduction by 2020 to 17% in order to win over Democrats leery of imposing a huge upfront tax on their constituents; then they raised the reduction to 83% in the out-years to placate the greens. Even that 17% is not binding, since it would be largely reached with so-called offsets, through which some businesses subsidize others to make emissions reductions that probably would have happened anyway.
Even if the law works as intended, over the next decade or two real U.S. greenhouse emissions might be reduced by 2% compared to business as usual. However, consumers would still face higher prices for electric power, transportation and most goods and services as this inefficient and indirect tax flowed down the energy chain.
The sound bite is that this policy would only cost households "a postage stamp a day." But that's true only as long as the program doesn't really cut emissions. The goal here is to tell voters they'll pay nothing in order to get the cap-and-tax bureaucracy in place -- even though the whole idea is to raise prices to change American behavior. At the same time -- wink, wink -- Democrats tell the greens they can tighten the emissions vise gradually over time.
Meanwhile, Congress had to bribe every business or interest that could afford a competent lobbyist. Carbon permits are valuable, yet the House says only 28% of the allowances would be auctioned off; the rest would be given away. In March, White House budget director Peter Orszag told Congress that "If you didn't auction the permit, it would represent the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States."
Naturally, Democrats did exactly that. To avoid windfall profits, they then chose to control prices, asking state regulators to require utilities to use the free permits to insulate ratepayers from price increases. (This also obviates the anticarbon incentives, but never mind.) Auctions would reduce political favoritism and interference, as well as provide revenue to cut taxes to offset higher energy costs. But auctions don't buy votes.
Then there was the peace treaty signed with Agriculture Chairman Colin Peterson, which banned the EPA from studying the carbon produced by corn ethanol and transferred farm emissions to the Ag Department, which mainly exists to defend farm subsidies. Not to mention the 310-page trade amendment that was introduced at 3:09 a.m. When Congress voted on the bill later that day, the House clerk didn't even have an official copy.
The revisions were demanded by coal-dependent Rust Belt Democrats to require tariffs on goods from countries that don't also reduce their emissions. Democrats were thus admitting that the critics are right that this new energy tax would send U.S. jobs overseas. But instead of voting no, their price for voting yes is to impose another tax on imports from China and India, among others. So a Smoot-Hawley green tariff is now official Democratic policy.
Mr. Obama's lobbyists first acquiesced to this tariff change to get the bill passed. Afterwards the President said he disliked "sending any protectionist signals" amid a world recession, but he refused to say whether this protectionism was enough to veto the bill. Then in a Saturday victory lap, he talked about green jobs and a new clean energy economy, but he made no reference to cap and trade -- no doubt because he knows that energy taxes are unpopular and that the bill faces an even tougher slog in the Senate.
Mr. Obama wants something tangible to take to the U.N. climate confab in Denmark in December, but the more important issue is what this exercise says about his approach to governance. The President seems to believe that the Carter and Clinton Presidencies failed by fighting too much with Democrats in Congress. So his solution is to abdicate his agenda to Congress -- first the stimulus, now cap and trade, and soon health care. We wish he had told us he was running to be Prime Minister.
And one more thing: the "Washington press corps" that the editorial refers to in rather disparaging fashion -- isn't the Journal part of that press corps? Last time I check, the Journal had a very good set of reporters in Washington, led by the extremely able Gerald Seib. Does this mean that the Journal's Washington staff is also a mere cypher for the carbon-gone-wild Democrats?