Cap & Muzzle

And you thought the the whole cap-and-trade debate surrounding the U.S. climate bill was already hopelessly politicized. What’s that, you’ve become a bit numbed to it all? How about we throw in a juicy free speech angle to spice things up a bit.

Remember those two EPA lawyers that wrote a critical op-ed of cap-and-trade last weekend in the Washington Post?  They also made the same case in a video posted on YouTube (entitled, “The Huge Mistake”), which EPA is now demanding be removed, according David Roberts at Grist. Wrong move, Roberts points out, for one obvious reason:

When Bush administration NASA officials attempted to monitor and control what scientist James Hansen said to the press, they were rightly criticized. By the same token, even though I think many of Williams & Zabel’s policy arguments are deeply flawed, I can’t see any justification for refusing them the right to communicate honestly about their backgrounds to the public. EPA should back off.

The irony of the EPA’s attempted muzzling doesn’t stop there. In May of 2008, the same two lawyers wrote a similarly critical missive against cap-and-trade in an open letter to Congress.  Guess what, the Bush Administration had no problems with this demonstration of free speech. As Keith Johnson at the WSJ’s Environment Capitol noted at the time, if the muzzle was strapped on for the likes of Hansen,

it apparently can also be removed”“like when a chance arises to criticize the climate-change bills in Congress that the administration dislikes.

Never mind the charges of hypocrisy that are sure to be leveled at the Obama Administration if its EPA insists on that video being pulled down. As one commenter at Grist observes

No, the real stupidity by the EPA is that by reacting so, they propel this into greater controversy and publicity.

Too late for that, unless Morano sleeps in on Sundays.

Lost in all this is a larger, perhaps even uglier debate that might soon rear its head, if anyone picks up on the argument Michael Tobis is making, in light of recent events:

Now that Copenhagen is not a big deal anymore, there’s no real rush to produce a bill in the US. Let’s drop Waxman-Markey and its variants, and take our time to try to come up with something that works.

Michael, what are you, a “delayer”?

5 Responses to “Cap & Muzzle”

  1. […] Cruel Mistress Being Human on a Harsh Planet « Eye on the Earth Gag Me With a Spoon November 8, 2009 When we last left Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, our caped legal crusaders had promulgated a video critical of the cap-and-trade legislation currently moving through Senate. David Roberts at Grist has unearthed a story suggesting that the EPA has requested (demanded?) that Williams and Zabel remove their video from YouTube by the close of business Friday. Evidently, that did not happen. Keith Kloor has some interesting commentary. […]

  2. Hank Roberts says:

    > Michael, what are you, a “delayer”?

    Poor quality snark. Tobis is serious; I think he’s right. I’m sure he’s honest.  And this kind of snarkiness is just offensive and pointless.  It’s the people who don’t go along with business as usual and politics as usual who point out the failings of this kind of ‘compromise’ — Tobis asks the question, is this the best we can do?  I’d word it differently — is “good enough” good enough here, or is it actively subverting what’s needed?

    I think the thing to watch for is longterm contracts based on Waxman-Markey, which is how business  uses this kind of hurried rush to ‘compromise’ on anything.

    Business’s first response to incipient regulation is to rush to support the least restrictive form they can come up with, and then tie up by contract the rights to go on doing business as close to usual as possible for the longest period of time they can arrange.

    Look at the acid rain regs, which did more or less work for cap’n’trade for sulfur, but failed to deal with mercury pollution and other problems.  Utilities are _still_ “maintaining” old cheap dirty plants, sneaking around the edges of the old acid rain regulations, avoiding upgrading the cheap and dirty plants as they should be doing. 

    One example:  http://www.enn.com/energy/article/23720
    You know how to find more.

    Those are the “delayers” — and this is the big problem.
    Watch for the _real_ delayers here.  Don’t misuse the word.

    I can say a bit from personal experience here — supporting the attorneys’ point in the video. 

    I’ve been doing woodland preservation and restoration for more than 30 years, the old fashioned way — by buying a few tiny bits. 

    Everybody needs a hobby, that’s been one of mine.

    Not much saved.  Mostly trying to be a good example and do work visibly enough others see how it goes, which has gone well enough.  In that time I’ve bought a piddling little total of about 50 acres over that time, and worked on restoring the tree cover and the biological diversity — basically wildlife habitat.  Hunters regularly use some of that property; an elk herd uses another parcel.  Neither group pays me; I work with the hunters to make sure they learn a little bit about restoration and understand why the spot is a bit more attractive than the surrounding, less well managed woodland, for the deer, and for hunting.  The elk, I learn from by watching what they browse. 

    The measure of my riches — taking my guide from Thoreau — is what I own that I can leave alone (or, these days, protect).

    Kids need little spots of wild land — within walking or bicycling distance.  Any overgrown “empty lot” becomes a kid magnet.  But many of us old codgers have owned little parcels scattered around the country that are fantastically good producers of wildlife — birds and insects and small animals, and plants. 

    I have never planned to log the bits I’ve tried to protect; I’ll hand them off to someone who can continue to leave them alone and invest a bit in them, I hope.

    So already I”ve been offered $30,000 to put a “carbon offset” contract on just one parcel of trees —  it’s been left alone long enough to count as timber.  

    Look at that video again — please — and realize this is exactly the kind of fake “Offset” these two attorneys are warning against.  It’s a nasty form of temptation — “oh, take the money, we’re rewarding you for doing good” — and it’s utterly bogus, because the buyer gets a contractual “right” to burn an equivalent amount of fossil fuel — a contract for a century or in perpetuity.  A contract that could eventually, if the laws get tweaked as they usually are, later be resold, probably reinterpreted to let someone keep burning fossil fuel by arguing the offset was greater than estimated. 

    And there would be no _new_ savings of carbon in reality balanced against that excess burning, just a bogus piece of paper based on finding me with my little bit of restoration work and claiming it’s the same thing as new growth on land that would not have been planted otherwise.

    My hunch is that these “carbon offsets” will, sometime during their “hundred year” or “perpetual” timespan,  get re-interpreted by one court or another and the owners, whoever they are, will show up at the timberland and claim they have the right to cut trees off the property, and replant them, for more money.

    I’m not cynical enough yet.  I’m working on it.  Although I suspect Krugman is right that you can’t ever be cynical enough: 
    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=636

    Help me out here.  Show up the real delayers, don’t stick that label on the scientists questioning the political compromises or pointing out the maneuvering.

  3. Keith Kloor says:

    Hank,

    You obviously miss the humor. Perhaps I should have included a link to the “delayer” term to indicate the context of my “snarkiness.”

    I believe that Michael will not take offense and “get” my gentle barb, which is directed at someone else, not him.

    For the record, I’m a big fan of Michael’s blog, precisely because he is so thoughtfully serious. 

    Now, in your comment you point to the “real” delayers, and advise me: “Don’t misuse the word.”

    You do realize you’re talking to the wrong climate blogger, right?

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    So, Keith, you utterly missed the more likely explanation for what’s going on?  Think about what EPA employees consider most important for the near future.

    If you expect the EPA to do more than just talk about gagging my neighbors, you’re in for a long wait.  If you were Lisa Jackson, how would you proceed to maximize the viewership of that video?

  5. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli is not much of a fan of “good enough”  The bunny prefers “useful”

    Oh yeah, Steve is right, you gotta be thinking three moves ahead in this game.  These two EPA types are scaring the you know what out of industry.  As Eli put it about 9 months ago the hammer is that the EPA will regulate CO2 emissions if Congress does not.  They just took the hammer out of the holster and placed it on the table.

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