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The Gristle

Cap-and-trade bait-and-switch

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

CAP-AND-TRADE BAIT-AND-SWITCH: With a tagline that would be comical if the consequences of obfuscation and delay weren’t so grave, the northwest Freedom Foundation issued an invitation to a debate later this month on a market-based approach to the reduction of carbon pollution. Titled “Carbon Cap-and-Trade: Solution or Costly Disaster?,” we strongly suspect the tenor of debate will be neither.

Why not title it, “Global Warming: Cruel Hoax or Pernicious Lie?”

The panel will include Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), chair of the Senate’s Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. As chair, Ericksen put the academic dishonesty of disgraced Western Washington University geologist and climate science denier Don Easterbrook on proud display in 2013. Afterward, Ericksen did his mightiest to gum up the governor’s Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (CLEW), eventually melting that effort down into a procedural impasse that drew cries of outrage from fellow panelist, Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas).

An equally exasperated Gov. Jay Inslee shoved all the stalling and bickering and thimble-rigging of CLEW aside last month, bypassing legislative action and issuing his own executive order that outlines a series of next steps to reduce carbon pollution in Washington state and improve energy independence through the use of clean energy.

Thus given no opportunity to further outright deny the existence of global warming, the Freedom Foundation instead turns to deconstructing the centerpiece of the governor’s plan to “establish a cap on carbon pollution emissions, with binding requirements to meet our statutory emission limits” through market mechanisms.

Joining Ericksen is Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs for the Institute for Energy Research (IER), a front for the Heartland Institute, funded by conservative billionaire carbon-polluting Koch Industries. Prior to his assignment at IER, Simmons was a lobbyist for the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that has injected scores of toxic “model bills” into legislatures nationwide.

Ericksen, the darling of the lunchbucket lobbyists who in the opening months of 2014 dined on more than $2,000 in steaks and junkets courtesy of the Koch-fed energy industry, is one of ALEC’s more prominent officials in Washington, serving on one of ALEC’s private task forces.

Providing an opposing view are a goofy young Democrat from the amazingly secure (i.e., debate poor) 34th Legislative District in South Seattle and a comedian posing as a University of Washington environmental economist. Actually, Yoram Bauman is quite a bit of both, a standup economist, and should provide some levity for the debate.

Here’s a point that should be made, however: Cap-and-trade—capping greenhouse gas emissions and trading emission permits—was originally introduced in the 1980s by Republicans as a means to deal with acid rain. Much in the way the current federal health care program was originally a Republican sleight-of-hand (Romneycare) designed to stall off and derail a more progressive national health care response, cap-and-trade is another market-based solution devised by the GOP to stall and short-circuit actions to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And much as health care ended as a sop to the medical insurance industry, so too is voluntary cap-and-trade a business-as-usual sop to the energy industry—solving little and delaying much. So if two liberals find themselves a bit under­whelmed in their glowing support for cap-and-trade, perhaps you might understand why.

“The governor has the power to sidestep the Legislature on this, but not the people,” Freedom Foundation blowhard Tom McCabe fumed. McCabe is the former head of the Building Industry Association of Washington, an organization he eventually drove into disgrace and ruin last decade only to leap through the scoundrels’ revolving door to the Freedom Foundation.

“The truth has nothing to fear from rigorous debate,” McCabe declared. “Our goal is to give both sides an equal opportunity to make their case. No one’s opinion will be squelched here. We think the public deserves that.”

Debates in this country seldom represent “both sides” of an issue, and are generally more of a character of ideas Republicans have expediently advanced versus ideas Republicans have expediently abandoned.

A real carbon tax, which actually holds incentives to reduce GHG emissions, would draw more enthusiasm from a progressive economist like Bauman, who literally wrote the book on Tax Shift, a means to transfer tax burden from income and property (assets) to resource consumption (liability). Alas, a robust discussion of a carbon tax appears to have been given short shrift by the debate format and likewise was unilaterally stricken from the menu of options by the governor’s executive action.

Ericksen was quick to criticize that action, complaining that Inslee had performed an end run around the Legislature, which had planned to impose a new tax on gasoline, a more restrictive form of a carbon tax. When the Ds agree to play by the GOP rules for football, the Rs decide to switch to baseball. The role Ericksen played in gumming up any legislative action through CLEW, the very mechanism that would bring proposals to the floor of those Houses for a vote, cannot be overstated.

Tellingly, Ericksen ridiculed Inslee’s action to the Seattle Times, characterizing the governor as hostile to fossil fuels and ready to “drive jobs out of Washington” and “for no reason.” Ericksen is on record as having profound doubts about global warming, which lends a supercilious insincerity to his interest in finding solutions to a problem he does not believe exists.

The Freedom Foundation will host a public Carbon Tax/Cap-and-Trade Debate from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on May 21 at the Whatcom County Courthouse, 311 Grand Street, in Bellingham.

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