Is Palin Using Cheney’s Climate Change Playbook?

Our guest blogger is Jason Burnett. Burnett was most recently the Associate Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where he coordinated energy and climate change policy across the EPA and led the development of greenhouse gases regulations.

Cheney-PalinAs head of climate and energy policy for the Environmental Protection Agency, I witnessed first-hand the dangers of a Vice President who has a disregard for the balance of powers in our Constitution and a disdain for inconvenient facts.

Vice President Cheney has worked hard to cast doubt on the science of climate change. The Vice President’s office wanted my help censoring the Congressional testimony from the Centers for Disease Control to eliminate any references to how climate change endangers human health. I refused. The Vice President’s office later wanted me to water down congressional testimony on the strength of the science by not acknowledging that greenhouse gases “harm” the environment by causing climate change. Again I refused.

Having heard the words “the Vice President’s office is on the phone” many times over the past few years I could not agree more when Senator Joe Biden called them “the eight most dreaded words in the English language” for those trying to uphold our nation’s laws and respect our Constitution.

Given my experience with the dangers of an unaccountable Vice President, it sent shivers down my spine during the Vice Presidential debate when I heard Governor Palin say she’s “thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the Vice President also, if that Vice President so chose to exert it, in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president’s policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are.” A bit more authority than our current Vice President has wrestled away from the President and Congress?

A strong Vice President is a great thing, but that strength should primarily come from being a trusted advisor to the President, not a separate power center somewhere between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. Governor Palin is fortunate her smile and wink won’t remind voters of Vice President Cheney’s smirk and grimace; maybe people won’t notice that her dismissal of science and views on the power of the office are quite similar to Vice President Cheney’s?

But similar they are. With Governor Palin we would have a Vice President who wants to be vague about the connection between man’s activities and climate, shifting focus to “cyclical temperature changes on our planet.” While most everyone has accepted man-made climate change, Governor Palin’s is still waging the war against climate science as if she simply took a page out of Vice President Cheney’s playbook.

In a recent interview, Governor Palin tried to manufacture uncertainty about the causes of climate change and about the human role by stating there are legitimate “different sides of the argument as to who is to blame” and suggesting it could be just nature to blame. No, it is not just nature and there is no real remaining uncertainty about the causes of climate change despite the efforts of Vice President Cheney and Governor Palin to fabricate uncertainty. Although the Office of the Vice President pleaded with us at the Environmental Protection Agency to avoid referencing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the end the Environmental Protection Agency and the IPCC both have concluded that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and most of the warming is “very likely” due to humans.

This is why both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have previously supported a mandatory cap on greenhouse gases. Candidate Obama still does. Candidate McCain isn’t so sure about the wisdom of Senator McCain’s policy.

The clear harm caused by greenhouse gases is why eight years ago then- Governor Bush also promised a cap these gases. But after the elections this campaign promise unraveled. President Bush put Vice President Cheney in charge of the secret energy task force. Since climate and energy are two sides of the same coin, this put Vice President Cheney in charge of climate policy. Over time this helped President Bush to flip his stance to opposing meaningful action on greenhouse gases. Is Governor Palin preparing to play a similar role with Senator McCain?

She, like Vice President Cheney, would be in charge of energy policy.

She, like Vice President Cheney, supports an expanded view of the powers of the Office of the Vice President. She, like Vice President Cheney, is already distorting climate science to support her preconceived policy positions. Do we really want another four years of dreading the words “the Vice President’s office is on the phone?” I don’t.

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