For anyone interested in the state of the Washington debate over responding to global warming, Peter Baker's front-page story in today's Washington Post is a must-read. The article chronicles the evolution in President Bush's thinking (if not his policy positions) on global warming as Bush starts considering his Administration's legacy. Here's the nutgraph:
The coming year offers a final test of whether Bush is willing to move beyond the policies of the past seven years and embrace more aggressive measures, including a mandatory limit on carbon emissions with pollution credits that can be bought and sold -- a system known as cap-and-trade. If presented such legislation by Sens. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Warner (R-Va.), supporters hope, Bush might sign it.
We here at Warming Law would be delighted, of course, if President Bush wants to make leadership on global warming the hallmark achievement of his final year in office. But last week's waiver decision makes us deeply skeptical that this is what's likely to happen. Indeed, Baker notes (without fully developing) the less altruistic motivation behind Bush's "leadership" in 2007:
By 2006, though, something had begun to change. A host of governors, including Republicans such as California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, moved to impose their own plans to curb greenhouse gases. Major corporations, nervous about a patchwork-quilt approach, started agitating for a single national policy.
In other words, as we explained here, the state leadership on global warming has brought polluting industries (Bush's most loyal base) to the federal regulation table, seeking federal action that displaces state experimentation. More from Baker's story:
Business figures, led by former Exxon Mobil executive Arthur G. "Randy" Randol III, launched what lobbyist Michael McKenna called a "soft lobbying campaign" to prod the White House to address climate change, if for no other reason than a plan from Bush would be less onerous on industry than one written by the Europeans or by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We couldn't fight something with nothing," said the former Bush adviser. "We had to have something."
We're happy to have industry at the table advocating for something to be done on global warming (it's better than the alternative). The problem with the resolution of the energy bill/waiver decision last week is that industry and the Bush administration tried to get language preempting states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles in the Energy Bill and failed. The Bush Administration then gave preemption back to industry the same day it signed the Energy Bill by denying California's waiver request. The problem with this roundabout gift to industry is that the Administration's own legal and policy experts (along with us here at Warming Law) believe it lacked the legal authority under the Clean Air Act to deny the waiver.
It's a bad sign for administration leadership in 2008 that the administration was willing last week to ignore the law and it's own lawyers' advice in order to make industry happy.