As President Obama prepares to commit the US to a reduction in carbon emissions at the Copenhagen conference the prospects of any meaningful legislation to do so appears to be quickly diminishing.
Kimberley Strassel’s opinion column in the WSJ today discusses brilliantly how badly team Obama has played the game in Washington. She dissects the administration’s threat to unleash the EPA on the country if Congress doesn’t directly address the problem and how politically inept it turned out to be.
From the start, the Obama team has wielded the EPA action as a club, warning Congress that if it did not come up with cap-and-trade legislation the EPA would act on its own—and in a far more blunt fashion than Congress preferred. As one anonymous administration official menaced again this week: “If [Congress doesn't] pass this legislation,” the EPA is going to have to “regulate in a command-and-control way, which will probably generate even more uncertainty.”
The thing about threats, though, is that at some point you have to act on them. The EPA has been sitting on its finding for months, much to the agitation of environmental groups that have been upping the pressure for action.
President Obama, having failed to get climate legislation, didn’t want to show up to the Copenhagen climate talks with a big, fat nothing. So the EPA pulled the pin. In doing so, it exploded its own threat.
Far from alarm, the feeling sweeping through many quarters of the Democratic Congress is relief. Voters know cap-and-trade is Washington code for painful new energy taxes. With a recession on, the subject has become poisonous in congressional districts. Blue Dogs and swing-state senators watched in alarm as local Democrats in the recent Virginia and New Jersey elections were pounded on the issue, and lost their seats.
But now? Hurrah! It’s the administration’s problem! No one can say Washington isn’t doing something; the EPA has it under control. The agency’s move gives Congress a further excuse not to act.
“The Obama administration now owns this political hot potato,” says one industry source. “If I’m [Nebraska Senator] Ben Nelson or [North Dakota Senator] Kent Conrad, why would I ever want to take it back?”
Strassel goes on to point out that the EPA threat is easier to make than to in fact enforce. There are likely to be lawsuits from numerous sides that will tie up any meaningful action for years and there is always the chance that adverse judicial decisions could totally derail the entire effort.
Ignore all of the hype you’re likely to see in the next few days regarding Copenhagen. The political reality is that the status quo is going to hold firm for sometime in this country.