Extreme green team

Environment | President Obama's picks on energy and environment betray disregard for the hard lessons of green policy failure in Europe
by Mark Bergin
Posted 1/23/09, 12:00 am

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom have begun circulating a memo aimed at undercutting a proposal to institute tough new emissions caps on power plants. Many in Parliament fear that the anti-pollution directive would halt construction of the country's first new coal plant in three decades, threatening the security of national electricity supplies and spiking prices by 20 percent.

Like other politicians throughout Europe who bought into the green rhetoric that aggressive policies to cut CO2 emissions could help spur the economy, they are scrambling to reverse course.

In Germany, Economy Minister Michael Glos is raising objections to the EU plans for emissions trading: "The current scheme would cost us valuable jobs if they move abroad as a result."

What's more, the existing EU trading scheme is crashing under the weight of economic realities. The price of carbon credits has fallen by over half in the last six months as companies look to unload their credits to help subsidize revenues during the economic downturn. Heavy CO2 emitters can now purchase permits on the cheap to release greenhouse gases-a problem that is likewise undermining Australia's carbon-trading market.

But such failure of cap-and-trade initiatives has done little to deter President Barack Obama from moving forward with a green agenda. His selections of Ken Salazar as secretary of the Interior, Steven Chu as secretary of Energy, and Lisa Jackson as director of the Environmental Protection Agency signal a plan to mirror European-like climate policies.

"Everything that you hear about the moderate picks on things like economy and national security, the opposite is the case when it comes to the energy and environment team," said conservative analyst Ben Lieberman of The Heritage Foundation. "Nobody on the team seems to place much emphasis on affordable energy. In almost every case, it's environmental concerns that trump economic concerns. . . . This is the one part of the Obama team that I think can be fairly called extreme."

Indeed, Salazar, Chu, and Jackson all have track records of supporting environmental policies rife with economic problems. Salazar has opposed offshore drilling and oil shale development. Chu continues to insist that the United States must adopt a cap-and-trade program. And Jackson is wont to revisit an EPA decision that prevented California from imposing CO2 emission standards on new vehicles.

Such positions are increasingly out of step with national public opinion. In a recent Pew survey of the 20 top priorities newly elected officials should tackle, respondents ranked global warming last. According to Rasmussen Reports, 44 percent of U.S. voters now believe climate change is due to normal planetary trends rather than human activity. Just 41 percent say it is manmade. Those numbers have flipped considerably since July 2006 when 44 percent of voters blamed global warming on human activity and just 35 percent considered it part of the earth's natural climate cycle.