I’ve just returned from a lovely and isolated vacation in the Canadian Rockies and, lo and behold, as soon a I got back to Missouri I think that I may have seen one of those proverbial winged piggies flying just over the spot where Hell froze over. What I’m talking about is the response to President Obama’s proposed new carbon emission standards. Of course that flying piggy isn’t from Missouri’s Senate contingent, all of whom seem to be oinking along the same old muddy road.
Start with Republican Senator Roy Blunt who couldn’t wait to go to bat for the energy industry sugar daddies who love him so generously. Blunt has promised a heroic battle against these standards. He says they will – what else – “kill jobs and raise electric rates.” This, of course, is what Blunt says about anything that emanates from the Democratic administration that saved us from the GOP engendered financial crisis of 2008. The only thing different is that this time he tried to put some numbers to his claims of economic hardship to come, numbers that could be double-checked, and lots of very public merriment – at poor Blunt’s expense – ensued when a journalist at Roll Call did just that. Of course, I noticed some yahoo quoting those same figures in a recent letter the editor published in a little local newspaper so I guess Blunt knows how to please his main audience.
Democratic Senator Claire Mcaskill, on the other hand, is trudging along in her same old rut as well – the one that runs down the middle of any controversial road and avoids veering in any meaningful direction. She’s “withholding judgement while she studies the proposal and gathers public input.” Even before the standards were made public, she’s was a busy little equivocator:
I believe that climate change is real, I believe that it is dangerous, I believe that it is the result of man-made activity, and I trust science.
“I’m not happy about this,” she added, “but Missouri is incredibly coal-dependent for its energy needs. Which means that any aggressive changes in the availability of coal-fired electricity will have a direct impact on whether or not people with fixed incomes and small businesses can afford their energy bills.”
Gee, what does the destruction of the Missouri agricultural ecosystem, not to mention the planet itself, matter if it adds a few dollars to the old utility bill. Since our Missouri politicians are more than willing to subsidize farmers right now, perhaps they could extend some energy subsidies to those who really need them – if I remember correctly, the cap-and-trade bill McCaskill voted against a few years ago proposed to do just that. (McCaskill shares her reluctance to deal with the true costs of coal-generated electricity with Rep. Billy Long (R-7) who also wails about the potential higher utility bills. That alone ought to persuade her to rethink her rhetoric.)
But apart from the question of subsidies, don’t you think that a politician as savvy as McCaskill might figure out that it’s not an all or nothing proposition, that there are ways to mitigate the difficulties inherent in reducing the indirect subsidies that prop up coal use – maybe it’s time for the McCaskills in our Congress, those nefarious Red State Democrats, to take a chance, take a real stand, do the right thing and get real abut renewables instead of hemming, hawing and, in the end, pandering to a destructive status quo. The European Union is now producing so much energy from renewables that it has to figure out how to deal with structural problems caused by oversupply. Why can’t that be Missouri’s problem?
No, the piggy that seems to be sprouting a tiny, feathery winglet or two is Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-7). Usually Vicky is a good little soldier who marches in lock-step with the radical right wing, anti-science base. However, she’s on the record saying that the proposed rules “aren’t as bad as once feared,” and, unlike Senator Blunt’s rhetorical overreach, actually seems to be willing to point out that the rules permit the states some flexibility that can be used to mitigate their impact.
Of course, those may not be incipient wings on that pig, but just lipstick smears. Hartzler did make these statements at a panel discussion dominated by speakers from Missouri’s coal-dependent utilities who tried to sound reasonable and scientifically literate while doing their utmost to keep the renewable energy genie tightly under control lest it upend their their very profitable business models. As research into mechanisms that will store energy generated by renewable sources begins to show serious results, these folks don’t want to be left holding an empty bag. Among them are the same Ameren types who a few years ago proposed a surcharge for consumers who cut their energy use.
But still, it is something when righteous rightwing Vicky Hartzler, of all the politicians in the state, actually acts like she is aware of what the new regulations really propose to do – no matter whose bottom line she wants to protect. And unlike our Democratic Senator McCaskill, who seems to understand the issues even more fully, but who willfully ignores the call to action, Hartzler has struggled to give a coherent response, albeit one that befits an honest conservative. As Paul Krugman observes apropos the Republican reaction to the proposed regulations:
Claims that the effects will be devastating are, however, not just wrong but inconsistent with what conservatives claim to believe. Ask right-wingers how the U.S. economy will cope with limited supplies of raw materials, land, and other resources, and they respond with great optimism: the magic of the marketplace will lead us to solutions. But they abruptly lose their faith in market magic when someone proposes limits on pollution – limits that would largely be imposed in market-friendly ways like cap-and-trade systems. Suddenly, they insist that businesses will be unable to adjust, that there are no alternatives to doing everything energy-related exactly the way we do it now.
So maybe I was right. Maybe I did see a pig lift off, just a little bit. Perhaps Vicky Hartzler is more honest than I had thought. Given the clouds of lies and distortions consistently rolling in from the rightward direction, that’s at least refreshing.