Justice is Due to the Accused: If Bush Genuinely is Bad on the Environment, Why Can't the Left Critique Him Fairly?

 


DATE:
March 19, 2004

BACKGROUND: The Democratic Leadership Council released on March 18 a commentary, "Carbon Flip, Mercury Flop,"
1 that may be the best evidence yet that the Bush White House can't get even a speck of fair treatment on environmental issues.

The screed begins: "When it comes to environmental issues, the Bush administration seems determined to destroy its own limited credibility." It then goes on to make the following complaints/charges:

* a number of liberals, including Al Gore ally Carol Browner, who ran Bill Clinton's EPA, have said they disagree with the manner in which Bush has decided to regulate mercury;

* the Los Angeles Times says unnamed EPA staffers were told by someone who isn't named to forgo "routine" mercury studies last year;

* a "pattern of administration malfeasance is clear" because the federal government's first-ever mercury limits don't also cap emissions of carbon dioxide;

* a cap-and trade system is a bad method for regulating mercury;

* "imposing a cap-and-trade system for mercury without a similar system for carbon dioxide and other emissions is a bad idea";

* regulating "by the back door of EPA regulation rather than a full debate in Congress is an even worse idea";

* the Administration is in "close alignment with the Flat Earth wing of conservative activists" and has cozy relationships with "special interests."


TEN SECOND RESPONSE
: The Bush Administration does not "destroy... its credibility" just because the left disagrees with it. Decisions stand on their own merits.


THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE
: The Clinton Administration had eight years to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. It didn't. Some people are all talk, no action. Bush did the job.


DISCUSSION
: The Democratic Leadership Council claims to provide analysis highlighting opportunities for a "third way" -- building a bridge in the divide between the American left and right.

They'd better re-write their credo. They deepen the chasm.

An analysis of the DLC's charges on this issue, with responses:

Charge 1: Liberal Senators and Clinton EPA Administrator Carol Browner disagree with the manner in which Bush has decided to regulate mercury. They want "command and control" regulations; Bush chose "cap and trade."

Response: If Bush were to announce it is a sunny day on the most beautiful day of the year, some leftist inevitably would run to the closest microphone to make a mottled-faced denouncement. Carol Browner had her chance to regulate mercury, and didn't take it. If liberal Senators truly believe Bush's mercury policy is faulty, they can work to have Congress overrule it. Whining isn't work.

Charge 2: The Times says unnamed EPA staffers were told by someone who also isn't named to forgo "routine" studies last year, when the draft mercury regulation was being prepared.2

Response: More leaks from the pre-Bush bureaucracy. The Times doesn't report that the leakers revealed who allegedly ordered them not to complete the studies before the draft regulation was announced in December 2003. Why not? Not scandalous enough?

In any case, Bush's first EPA Administrator, Christie Todd Whitman, left the post in June 2003, and her successor, Mike Leavitt, didn't take over until November. Leavitt would have been on the job earlier, but liberal Senators held up his confirmation. The Times says Whitman didn't block the studies and Leavitt already has ordered them done. So, if the liberal Senators hadn't held up Leavitt's confirmation, maybe the studies would have been done before December.

The entire matter, however, is a tempest in a teapot, since the studies are being done now, and the final rule has yet to be determined.

Charge 3: A "pattern of administration malfeasance is clear" because the federal government's first-ever mercury limits don't also cap emissions of carbon dioxide.

Response: That's like saying cops commit "malfeasance" if they catch a bank robber unless they catch a jaywalker with him. Nonsense. A police officer can catch two criminals together, or catch them separately. They are still caught.

This analogy assumes, of course, that there are two criminals. There actually aren't. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It is necessary to plant growth, and, without it, we all would die.
3

Charge 4: A cap-and trade system is a bad method for regulating mercury.

Response: The White House says a cap and trade system would "cut mercury emissions by 70 percent from power plants."4 The EPA says "a type of cap-and-trade approach will allow us to get greater reductions in mercury emissions at lower cost."5 The DLC commentary does not refute, nor even address, these claims.

Charge 5: "Imposing a cap-and-trade system for mercury without a similar system for carbon dioxide and other emissions is a bad idea."

Response: Which is it? If a cap and trade system for mercury is a bad idea, it still will be even if carbon dioxide emissions are regulated the same way. The only way this formulation makes any sense from even an environmentalist point of view is if the carbon dioxide cap and trade regulations are so onerous, the plants can't function enough to emit much mercury. This could work as a mercury-reduction scheme (as could outlawing electricity generation, for that matter), as long as the American people don't mind energy shortages and drastic energy price increases.

Charge 6: Regulating "by the back door of EPA regulation rather than a full debate in Congress is an even worse idea."

Response: This is a howler. Bush doesn't control Congress. Under the Constitution, he can't. If Congress wants to approve legislation curbing mercury emissions, what's stopping it? Certainly not Bush. But this charge is even more ludicrous than it first seems, because Bush was under a court deadline to announce a draft mercury regulation plan by December 2003. He would have been in contempt of court if he hadn't acted, and the environmental left would have gone nuts.

So Bush couldn't have gone to Congress, even with draft legislation and a plea that Congress pass it, because he could never have guaranteed that Congress would act, and do so by the December 2003 deadline.

Just why was Bush under a court deadline to announce a mercury proposal by December 2003? Because environmental organizations sued the Clinton Administration when the Clinton EPA would not regulate mercury. So Bush's hands were tied by environmental groups and the Clinton Administration -- back when Bush was still governor of Texas.

But Bush can't win, in the eyes of the environmentalist left. They won't permit it. Even when he acts in a manner they've forced upon him, they condemn him.

Charge 7: The Administration is in "close alignment with the Flat Earth wing of conservative activists" and has cozy relationships with "special interests."

Response: As we "Flat Earthers" know, every interest is a "special interest" to someone. It just depends on which side of a debate one is on.


FOR MORE INFORMATION
:

"Carbon Flip, Mercury Flop," Democratic Leadership Council, March 18, 2004, at http://www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?kaid=131&subid=192&contentid=252464 as of March 19, 2004

For a description of what "cap and trade" is, see "Allowance Trading" on the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/trading/index.html and/or "Allowance Trading Basics" on the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/trading/basics/

Tom Hamburger and Alan C. Miller, "Mercury Emissions Rule Geared to Benefit Industry, Staffers Say," Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2004, available online as of March 19, 2004 at http://www.latimes.com/la-na-mercury16mar16,1,697620.story

Amy Ridenour, "Mercury Madness: First-Ever Mercury Limits Called 'Gift to Polluters' by President Bush's Political Opposition," National Center for Public Policy Research Ten Second Response #120903, December 2003 at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR120903.html

Gerald Marsh, "Nonsense By Any Other Name: Calling Carbon Dioxide A Pollutant Doesn't Make It A Pollutant," National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #458, March 2003, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA458.html

by Amy Ridenour

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110 or [email protected]

The National Center for Public Policy Research
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002


Footnotes:

(1) "Carbon Flip, Mercury Flop," Democratic Leadership Council, March 18, 2004, at http://www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?kaid=131&subid=192&contentid=252464 as of March 19, 2004

(2) Through a link on its website, the DLC makes clear that the Los Angeles Times story being referenced by them is "Mercury Emissions Rule Geared to Benefit Industry, Staffers Say," by Tom Hamburger and Alan C. Miller, March 16, 2004, available online as of March 19, 2004 at http://www.latimes.com/la-na-mercury16mar16,1,697620.story

(3) Gerald Marsh, "Nonsense By Any Other Name: Calling Carbon Dioxide A Pollutant Doesn't Make It A Pollutant," National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #458, March 2003, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA458.html

(4) Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, The White House, December 3, 2003, available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/12/20031203-6.html as of March 19, 2004

(5) Darren Samuelsohn, "EPA, OMB Eye Mercury Trading for Upcoming Rule Proposal," Greenwire, December 2, 2003


 

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