Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 7, 2010

THE PROBLEM WITH THE ENERGY DEBATE, IN A NUTSHELL.... Ohio's Rob Portman (R) is one of the year's more confounding Senate candidates. In addition to having served as a congressman, Portman is perhaps best known for having served as the Bush/Cheney budget director (at a time when the budget became an embarrassing mess) and the Bush/Cheney trade representative (at a time when the government's trade policies were not exactly popular in Ohio).

To overcome baggage like this, Portman is hoping voters ignore his background and focus more on hot-button issues. In a new ad, the Republican attacks cap-and-trade as "a job killer for Ohio," which he says will tax Americans for turning on a light bulb. As campaign nonsense goes, it's pretty boilerplate.

But there are a couple of relevant angles to consider. The first is that Portman, like many Republicans, used to support cap-and-trade, writing in 1996: "Private sector incentives, such as permitting companies to trade discharge outputs, can both reduce pollution and costs. If we can harness the power of market incentives, we'll do more with less." As his party moved to the right, his priorities apparently shifted.

What's more, Stephen Stromberg notes that Portman's alternative approach to energy policy, instead of regulating carbon emissions, relies on government subsidies for corn ethanol, nuclear power, natural gas, and coal.

On his Web site, Portman criticizes "command-and-control" regulation from Washington. He mentions refraining from choosing winners and losers in the energy debate. He says he doesn't want Washington "to stifle the ingenuity of American enterprise and our market system through government interference." But inefficient government interference is his plan.

Oh, and Portman's scheme would also no doubt be expensive to the federal government. Carbon pricing, on the other hand, would more than pay for itself. It's somewhat ironic that a former head of the Office of Management and Budget would favor increasing spending to enact a policy that is almost certainly less efficient than the one that's paid-for.

If Portman's misleading ad was some random, isolated campaign attack, it'd be easier to overlook. But the Ohioan's spot is effectively the Republican approach to energy in a nutshell.

There's room for a serious debate on one of the most serious of issues. One side of the aisle simply isn't ready for it.

Steve Benen 10:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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Comments

There's no such thing as a free lunch. Carbon reduction and development of alternative energy sources have to be paid for, whether it is through taxes or increased energy prices. It beats me why "liberals" are so fond of cap-and-trade, which is based on the assumption that free markets always know best and will automatically (or with a slight nudge from the rules) find the optimal solution for humanity as it moves into the 21st and 22nd centuries. Maybe as the likes of Portman move rightward into wing-nut territory, liberals are moving into their place on the "center-right".

Posted by: skeptonomist on July 7, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Obamarahma’s neocon masters that have decided they can generate surplus value for the corpate state utilizing the military industrial/media complex as a human resource that exchanges blood for oil.

For others, healthcare is a waste - the next great “breakthrough” will be a growing appreciation of the efficiencies that result from the burning of humans as fuel. This process allows the body's organic matter to directly contribute to the economic growth of society without the thousands of years that are needed to convert organic matter into oil reserves.

The repugs/blue dogs are looking out for our well-being. To economically prosper, America needs to burn the bodies of "undesirables" to fuel our economy. Not only will there be benefits from harvesting the poor, infirmed, or elderly that result from the laws of thermo-science, the economic benefits and economies of scale that will result from consumption of humans for fuel makes providing universal healthcare economically inefficient.

Until people become useless to the ruling class, they participate in our economic system adding to the creation of wealth through the surplus value of their wages (if employed) or to their contributions to either the military-industrial or the medical/health/insurance complex.

When their economic usefulness no longer serves the needs of the ruling elite, we convert the surplus value of their being into an energy commodity. The powerful interests that will benefit from this economically efficient production cannot be stopped - just consider it another example of "the-invisible hand" that guides our economy slapping you in the face.

Posted by: jenny on July 7, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

So, another bought-and-paid-for corporate stooge, masquerading as an "ideologue", spouting Madison Avenue-scripted, focus-group-tested, corporate-sponsored pseudo-ideological drivel to impress the gullible Ditto-Heads.

How surprising.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 7, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

skeptonomist wrote: "It beats me why 'liberals' are so fond of cap-and-trade ..."

For the most part, it's because "liberals" thought that "conservatives" would support cap-and-trade as an alternative to a carbon tax, precisely because of rhetoric like Portman, the subject of Steve's article, used in 1996. And of course, many other "conservatives" have gone on record over the years supporting cap-and-trade for carbon emissions.

What changed?

Simple.

The USA elected a Democratic president and a Democratic-majority Congress, who wanted to actually do something about GHG emissions, and began moving towards actually enacting a cap-and-trade system.

At which point, cap-and-trade was no longer merely a talking point to use against carbon taxes -- it was a real possibility, with real costs to the fossil fuel corporations.

So of course, cap-and-trade immediately lost all of its "conservative" supporters, who have now retrenched to oppose any system for putting a cost on carbon pollution.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 7, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

@SecularAnimist

It's more complicated than that - but only just. What happened was that cap-and-trade became the Democratic position. And so the Republicans had to find something to the right of it because that's what they do - they can't allow consensus to be built. It isn't in their nature anymore.

The Democrats biggest mistakes all involve not understanding that Republicans cannot allow consensus to be built. So you propose something much further to the left than you're willing to settle for and force the Republicans to negotiate with you for what you're willing to settle for (i.e. cap and trade). Democrats since Clinton (at least) have taken a strategy of taking Republicans at their word and giving them the compromise position up front - which Republicans have every single time thrown back in their faces and then moved the goal posts further to the right. I would have thought that the Dems would have learned their lesson after welfare "reform" happened but apparently not.

Posted by: NonyNony on July 7, 2010 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

It beats me why "liberals" are so fond of cap-and-trade

In addition to what Secular Animist said, I doubt you will find many "liberals" who are actually fond of C&T. I think most would consider it an awful but necessary compromise that would at least enshrine the notion of putting a price on carbon.

Posted by: PeakVT on July 7, 2010 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

"It beats me why "liberals" are so fond of cap-and-trade"

Because today's "liberals" are the real free-marketeers (while factoring in societal costs)and today's "conservatives" are really corporate cronies and plutocrats.

Still have doubts? Read Paul Krugman's 19-page article "Building a Green Economy"

Posted by: Ohioan on July 7, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

What's more, Stephen Stromberg notes that Portman's alternative approach to energy policy, instead of regulating carbon emissions, relies on government subsidies for corn ethanol, nuclear power, natural gas, and coal.

And once again tax dollar corporate welfare subsidies are the way to go since they keep prices lower in the alleged "free market". Through accounting, these subsidies will be tax free and pocketed as profits to enhance share value, thus creating larger bonuses for CEO's, and nothing will change.

Posted by: flyonthewall on July 7, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Command-and-control and choosing winners and losers is just fine with conservatives as long as our money is flowing from Washington to large corporations. It's only when winners and losers are chosen by taxing and regulating corporations that "command and control" becomes "bad."

Posted by: Redshift on July 7, 2010 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

"...is perhaps best known for having served as the Bush/Cheyney budget director..." Steve Benen.

They actually had a PERSON doing that? I'd always thought they just tossed darts at a board that held nothing but "cut taxes", "deficit spending", "no-bid contracts" and "cut taxes" on it...

Posted by: Doug on July 7, 2010 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK
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