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May. 6 2009 - 7:27 pm | 86 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Republicans spill their talking points for climate and carbon debate

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The Waxman-Markey climate bill is teetering in committee and far from its final form, but we already know what Republicans will say about its carbon-cap proposal, and not just because politicians are predictable. We know because last week the House Republican Conference distributed official talking points for its members. There is, getting back to predictable, a lot of talk of taxes:

  • The Democrat’s cap and tax plan is nothing more than a national energy tax.
  • The truth behind the Democrat’s cap and tax plan is that it will lead to more taxes, fewer jobs, and more government intrusion. This is an irresponsible proposal that will do more harm than good.
  • The President’s energy plan is a $646 billion tax that will hit almost every American family, small business and family farm. Family energy costs will rise on average by more than $3,100 a year.

Et cetera. The talking points redub the carbon cap a “national energy tax.” And the points are debatable, to say the least. The idea behind the carbon cap is that people already pay for pollution. A recent study at the University of Minnesota estimates that for each gallon of gasoline we burn, we pay whatever we pay at the pump—about $2.50 in my neighborhood—and then we pay 76 cents per gallon in eventual health and environmental costs (including medical care, insurance, storm damage, land loss).

Seventy-six cents per gallon. That exceeds the gas taxes in any state, and everyone pays. A carbon cap shifts the burden of those costs to the polluter—say, a coal-burning power plant, which has to buy, at auction, a permit to pollute above the cap. The auction reimburses Americans for any cost passed along to them—in, say, higher energy bills. It creates market pressure that discourages pollution and favors clean industry.

The House Republican Conference released talking points for its members on carbon-cap legislation.

The costs are debatable, too—and debated. The Republican talking points insist the American family’s energy costs will rise $3,100 a year (no mention of the reimbursement). More strident conservatives have put the cost over $10,000. The Union of Concerned Scientists contends it will save consumers $900 a year by promoting efficient industry. But those guys have the word “union” in their name.

The talking points don’t strive for accuracy but do strive to keep Republicans on message. Here are some highlights from recent debates in which they’ve wandered off (most or all of these quotes were originally documented by Kate Sheppard, covering Congress for Grist.org). First, from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R—Minnesota):

Carbon dioxide is natural. It occurs in Earth. It is a part of the regular lifecycle of Earth. In fact, life on planet Earth can’t even exist without carbon dioxide. So necessary is it to human life, to animal life, to plant life, to the oceans, to the vegetation that’s on the Earth, to the, to the fowl that — that flies in the air, we need to have carbon dioxide as part of the fundamental lifecycle of Earth. (video at Grist.org)

Rep. Joe Barton (R—Texas):

Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.

Rep. John Shimkus (R—Illinois):

The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood…. There is a theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet, not too much carbon…. It’s plant food … So if we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? (video at ProgressIllinois)

The Republican Party wants to discourage its members’ dabblings in science and theology. Think taxes, folks. Taxes, taxes, taxes.


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    About Me

    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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