04 October 2010

Inside the Sausage Factory

The New Yorker has a lengthy article on the failure of US climate legislation in the Senate in 2010.  The article has the usual sordid tales of personalities and politics that lie at the heart of any major legislative effort.  The article did have a revealing passage on the connections between the Environmental Defense Fund, big-money interests and powerful politicians:
On October 28, 2009, Graham was eating dinner at the Capital Grille, an expense-account steakhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue, with Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Rick Davis, a Republican consultant who had managed McCain’s two Presidential campaigns. The E.D.F., virtually alone among green groups in trying to form bonds with Republicans, prides itself on being the most politically sophisticated environmental organization in Washington. Krupp, who has short gray hair and a Brooks Brothers look that announces his disdain for hemp-wearing environmental activists, had helped to educate McCain on climate change, and the two men became close. Now he wanted to do the same for Graham. He called Davis, who was an E.D.F. board member, and arranged the dinner.

Graham came to the issue strictly as a dealmaker. He saw the Democrats’ interest in capping carbon emissions as an opportunity to boost the nuclear industry and to expand oil drilling. But now Krupp explained the basics of global-warming science and policy: how carbon trading worked, how farmers could use offsets to earn an income from growing trees, and how different lobbyists would affect the debate. Krupp told Graham that the crucial feature of the policy was the hard cap on emissions. The House bill required American carbon emissions to be seventeen per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. As long as that number held, environmentalists would show flexibility on most other issues.
Here lies the real tragedy of the climate debate: All of the effort and politicking was always for naught, as the concept of a "hard cap on emissions" is a fantasy.  It is the sort of policy that one can implement in a theoretical model of the economy, but not in the real economy, for reasons I explain in The Climate Fix.

That there is politics going on in Washington is not a surprise.  What is a surprise is that so much effort and good will was wasted pursuing a policy that was doomed to failure even if a political victory were to have been achieved.  The story of how that circumstance came to be has yet to be told.