President Obama's opponents have been vocal in their opposition to cap-and-trade, but they don't have much to offer when pressed for energy policy alternatives.
This morning, Rep. John Boehner, the GOP's chief arm-twister in the House, suggested only one possibility when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel raised the question on ABC's "This Week." That alternative: Do nothing and continuing polluting as usual.
Boehner inexplicably referred to carbon dioxide as a carcinogen and called the idea that CO2 emissions were endangering the environment "almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, when they do what they do, you have more carbon dioxide," he said.
When he was asked point-blank – repeatedly – what the GOP's alternative plan was for addressing climate change, the House minority leader avoided the question with canned talking points about the same energy policies that for the past eight years have supported the fossil fuel industries.
"We believe that our 'all of the above' energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach," Boehner said.
(Exxon Mobil today took over the top spot on the Fortune 500 list of richest companies. Numbers 3 and 4 are Chevron and ConocoPhillips.)
Boehner talked about the importance of "acting responsibility," by doing nothing: Developing countries like India and China aren't taking big steps to mitigate climate change, so the United States shouldn't either, he said.
"We don't want to raise taxes ... and we don't want to ship millions of American jobs overseas."
So that's what Congress is in for as the House returns this week and begins hearings on the Waxman-Markey climate change proposal. More of what Emanuel describes as the party of "no" and "never".
The Waxman-Markey bill is far from perfect when it comes to meeting the recommendations of science. The bill already offers opponents overly generous trade-offs to encourage the support of coal- and industrial-state lawmakers, from its almost limitless offsets that would let companies buy their way out ending their polluting ways to stripping the EPA of its newly declared responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases.
Despite concerns from the representatives of states where coal and heavy industry are king, Emanuel expects energy legislation to pass in some form this year. When that will include cap-and-trade, which the president has called for, isn't clear.
"What I think is going to happen is that Congress will deal with this part of the energy policy," Emanuel said. "They'll deal with the resource investments into alternative energy. They'll also deal with the way we bring more efficiency into the system. I do know this. At the end of this first year of Congress, there will be an energy bill on the president's desk."
Boehner, who has kept most of his party members toeing his line this year, seems determined that Congress will do nothing about climate change.
A favorite rallying cry of Boehner's and other opponents of cap-and-trade is the national debt, which the Bush administration pushed to more than $10 trillion, and its impact on future generations. They argue that taking action on climate change now will hurt their children's and grandchildren's ability to live the "American dream."
What they fail to acknowledge is the significantly higher costs that they are sentencing future generations to pay by their continued inaction now.
British economist Nicholas Stern calculated in 2006 that addressing climate change immediately would cost about 1% of global GDP per year. Doing nothing, on the other hand, would lead to losses of at least 5% of GDP per year and as much as 20%. Last month, Stern said the cost of continued inaction on climate change would be much higher and could end up sapping a third of the world's wealth if nations don't begin reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Consider just the cost of humanitarian aid – assuming, of course, that the United States will continue to uphold that traditional American value of helping the less fortunate.
Tufts University's Feinstein International Center, which focuses on humanitarian work, calculated the humanitarian cost of climate change under business as usual. Taking into account only the increasing frequency of disasters such as flooding, the report's findings indicate humanitarian costs would increase at least 32%. It could increase by more than 1600% once increasing intensity and other criteria are taken into account, the report said. And that's just the monetary cost, not the cost of lives lost and livihoods destroyed.
So whose lifestyle is Boehner really looking out for? It isn't our children's and grandchildren's.
President Obama could rely on incremental action from the EPA for necessary action on climate change, but the process would be slow, likely dragged down by litigation, and subject to future regulatory changes. Instead, Obama wants Congress to pass comprehensive climate legislation that sets the mechanism in law to begin reducing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
"Even those who object to the particulars know that we have to deal with this part of our energy policy," Emanuel said. "Rather than criticize, rather than say no, rather than say never, provide ideas. That has yet to happen from the other side."
Following is the transcript of this morning's exchange between Boehner and ABC's George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you then about energy. We showed your statement on the president's decision through the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Also, you've come out against the president's proposal to cap-and-trade carbon emissions.
So what is the Republican answer to climate change? Is it a problem? Do you have a plan to address it?
BOEHNER: George, we believe that our -- all of the above energy strategy from last year continues to be the right approach on energy. That we ought to make sure that we have new sources of energy, green energy, but we need nuclear energy, we need other types of alternatives, and, yes, we need American-made oil and gas.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that doesn't do anything when it comes to emissions, sir.
BOEHNER: When it comes to the issue of climate change, George, it's pretty clear that if we don't work with other industrialized nations around the world, what's going to happen is that we're going to ship millions of American jobs overseas. We have to deal with this in a responsible way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the responsible way? That's my question. What is the Republican plan to deal with carbon emissions, which every major scientific organization has said is contributing to climate change?
BOEHNER: George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide. And so I think it's clear...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't believe that greenhouse gases are a problem in creating climate change?
BOEHNER: ... we've had climate change over the last 100 years -- listen, it's clear we've had change in our climate. The question is how much does man have to do with it, and what is the proper way to deal with this? We can't do it alone as one nation. If we got India, China and other industrialized countries not working with us, all we're going to do is ship millions of American jobs overseas.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like from what you're saying that you don't believe that Republicans need to come up with a plan to control carbon emissions? You're suggesting it's not that big of a problem, even though the scientific consensus is that it has contributed to the climate change.
BOEHNER: I think it is -- I think it is an issue. The question is, what is the proper answer and the responsible answer?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And what is the answer? That's what I'm trying to get at.
BOEHNER: George, I think everyone in America is looking for the proper answer. We don't want to raise taxes, $1.5 to $2 trillion like the administration is proposing, and we don't want to ship millions of American jobs overseas. And so we've got to find ways to work toward this solution to this problem without risking the future for our kids and grandkids.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you are committed to coming up with a plan?
BOEHNER: I think you'll see a plan from us. Just like you've seen a plan from us on the stimulus bill and a better plan on the budget.