Democrats poised to wimp out on CAFE for now, Dingell pursues ‘poison pill’ strategy on climate

poison-pill.jpgThe Washington Post reports today:

Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), claims to have rounded up about 200 votes for an amendment raising fuel economy standards, while the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, John D. Dingell (Mich.), and 50 other Democrats have signed on to a weaker version…. But yesterday, Pelosi said the bill was not likely to address fuel economy at all, postponing the issue until a conference committee reconciles House and Senate energy bills in September….

Pelosi is eager to avoid a breach with the powerful Dingell, who opposes the Markey amendment and whose committee will handle many important pieces of legislation, including health care. The United Auto Workers union and automakers have also lobbied against the Markey measure.

Unfortunately for the nation and the planet, Dingell is working to make fuel economy standards and serious action on climate as politically unpalatable as possible with a classic poison pill strategy:

Dingell said the best way to change fuel economy is to tax carbon or gasoline so people buy more-efficient cars, and he has vowed to make that part of a climate-change bill in September. He opposes the cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gases that many senators have embraced because, he said, it has not worked well in Europe and is a tax mechanism in disguise.

Uhh, no. Politically, you can’t raise carbon prices high enough to raise gasoline prices since even $1 a gallon — probably the minimum to significantly change fuel economy if Europe is any evidence — would require a carbon charge of $400 per tonne of carbon — which would be very harsh to coal, adding more than 10 cents per kilowatt-hour to coal electricity, and politically impossible (I’ll post more on this later).

Also, the reason cap-and-trade has not worked well in Europe is that the Europeans didn’t have a lot of experience with it and during their trial period they issued too many permits.

The Post article continues:

Some lobbyists have suggested that Dingell was so unlikely to win support for his tax approach that the Democrat, the longest-serving member of the House, was simply maneuvering to make sure no legislation on fuel economy is adopted at all.

But Dingell angrily replied that his climate proposal “is not a straw man.” Noting that he backed President Bill Clinton’s ill-fated energy and gasoline taxes, he said, “I am one who believes that unless and until we have achieved economic incentives for conservation of energy, there will be very little conservation of energy.”

Now that’s funny, since, of course, Clinton’s energy (BTU) tax failed and even his 4.3 cents per kilowatt hour gasoline tax was ultimately repealed.

Historically, the best way to push energy conservation is with improved government standards. Higher carbon prices will promote fuel switching, but only have a secondary effect on efficiency.

3 Responses to Democrats poised to wimp out on CAFE for now, Dingell pursues ‘poison pill’ strategy on climate

  1. Bill Hewitt says:

    These politics are murder. Unfortunately, even though every public poll indicates widespread support for increasing our energy efficiency and our use of renewables, and from across the political spectrum, including, increasingly, even traditional conservative groups like Evangelical Christians, some of the political factions in Congress seem stuck in their old thinking. I’ve been writing about this at my blog on climate change for the Foreign Policy Association ( and I continue to be fascinated by the wheeling and dealing. No matter what happens on Thursday in the Rules Committee and Friday on the floor, the conference is going to be epic.

  2. HyrbidLover says:

    Wait, let’s put the pressure on Congress to take another look. You probably already know about the Center For American Progress’s Clean My Ride, Flex My Fuel campaign. Contact your member of Congress before they head out for recess this week.


  3. Hudson says:

    In the 2006 elections, my fellow Democrats hectored me that I “must” vote for Democratic candidates for Congress — even though the Dems in my area don’t particularly oppose the war, and aren’t really committed to progress on the environment.

    In my own work and life, I’ve done a ton of work (almost all of it pro bono) to win difficult political and land use battles which others felt could not be won. So I get really, really tired of people like Pelosi who claim to be “realists” when they cave to others like Dingell, who is a captive of the car and cement industries.

    They lecture us that we have to be realistic. But in the real world, I know that it is possible to win without compromising your principles or goals, if you just refuse to give upand make an imaginative, compelling case.

    The Dems in Congress have neither the guts nor the vision to save us, I now suspect more than ever.