Home Energy and Environment So, Sen. Warner (and Pres. Obama), Where’s Our “Grand Bargain”?!?

So, Sen. Warner (and Pres. Obama), Where’s Our “Grand Bargain”?!?


Today’s Washington Post has an article which demonstrates that, despite its many flaws, the paper still has its moments of real, investigative journalism.  In this article, the Post explores the politics and policy roots of the Obama Administration’s decisionmaking process on oil drilling.  This analysis comes in the context of the administration’s announcement, just yesterday, that it is lifting the temporary moratorium on offshore oil drilling it had put in place in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. One of the bottom line conclusions is that “fundamental questions weren’t pursued because top administration officials generally accepted the conventional view of the industry’s safety record.” Another is that, over and over again, “the slow process of scientific study and deliberation sought to catch up with the politics of Obama’s stance.”

Now, to bring it back to Virginia, enter Mark Warner.

…others in Obama’s camp saw political opportunity in his change of position. One was former Virginia governor Mark Warner, in the midst of a successful Senate run. In late August, he joined Obama for a campaign swing through rural Virginia.

The two men had similar approaches to developing their stances on issues, often looking for threads of intellectual consistency that might explain a new position or justify a striking shift from an old one.

Warner was thinking beyond the presidential campaign, to Obama’s White House agenda. As they rode the campaign bus, Warner later told associates, he made the case to Obama that to achieve his goal of passing a climate-change bill, he should approach some key congressional opponents with “a grand bargain” that included expanded drilling.

A limited amount of new exploration, Warner argued, would be intellectually consistent with Obama’s embrace of nuclear power, which also involved safety issues that had once made many Democrats hesitant to support it. Make the point that you can do drilling safely, stressed Warner, who had been struck by the absence of major spills in the gulf during Hurricane Katrina.

The seeds of the bargain had begun to germinate.

I find this interesting on many levels, not the least of which is a window into the mind of Mark Warner. In psychology, we studied something called “cognitive dissonance resolution,” the ability to reduce the uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. In this case, it’s Mark Warner’s strong understanding of clean energy and environmental issues, like global warming and the risks of devastating offshore oil spills, combined with his belief that to make any progress on those issues, compromise – on coal, offshore oil drilling, nuclear power, etc. – will be necessary.  

OK, let’s go with this for a minute. Let’s accept Mark Warner’s premise that we need to seek a “grand bargain” by trading some offshore oil drilling, nuclear power, “clean coal” (whatever that is), and other things environmentalists don’t want for a price on carbon, for (perhaps) a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard, for strong incentives and/or subsidies for clean energy and energy efficiency, etc.  Personally, I’ve had this thought many times over the past few years, that it could be worth it to compromise in some of these areas in order to get the core thing we environmentalists want – strong action, including the price internalization of “externalities” on greenhouse gases, towards protecting the planet.  A “grand bargain,” so to speak. The problem is, every time we seem to be moving towards that “grand bargain,” it appears that the only parts that move ahead are the pro-industry elements, while almost all the parts that environmentalists care about – a cap and/or price on carbon being tops on the agenda – seem to fall by the wayside.

Thus, today, we’ve got offshore oil drilling. We’ve got mountaintop removal coal mining. We’ve got nuclear power. We’ve got the outrageous boondoggle known as corn-based ethanol.  And we continue to have massive subsidies on fossil fuels, in all areas – production, transportation, consumption, you name it. But the “grand bargain,” where’s that you ask?  The last we saw of it, it was in its death throes on the floor of the U.S. Senate, killed by the “Party of No” and a few “Democrats” who are best described as representatives of Exxon Mobil, Massey Coal, and other dirty energy companies.

And that, my friends, is how U.S. energy policy – completely dysfunctional, irrational, counterproductive, wasteful, dangerous, destructive, crazy – is made. And, while politicians like Mark Warner might be highly skilled at resolving their personal cognitive dissonance, many of us see the facts as they are, and they’re very uncomfortable: we’re getting all the “bad” parts in terms of energy policy, everything industry wants, with essentially nothing environmentalists want. Does that sound more like a “grand bargain” to you, or more like a “grand slam” for the fossil fuel companies at the expense of our oceans, our air, our planet?  

Sadly, it looks like the millions of dollars a year the dirty energy companies spend to propagandize the public and purchase access to our politicians is paying off, big time. As for the environment? Unfortunately, the dolphins, pelicans, turtles and other creatures of the sea don’t have access to millions of dollars a year to spend on lobbyists and TV advertising. They just try to live their lives, even as politicians increase the risks of another catastrophe that will devastate their homes – and ours.  And politicians wonder hwy people are cynical and angry?

  • The Donkey

    Warner may be right — compromise may be necessary for progress in some areas.

    The question is, why are democrats letting all the bad parts of energy policy through without all the good parts?

    Do you really think it is because these politicians are “bought?” Would you, for example, describe Senator Webb as one of those “few “Democrats” who are best described as representatives of Exxon Mobil, Massey Coal, and other dirty energy companies.”

    I think differently: it reflects that most voters perceive that the costs of dirty air, foul water, and absent mountaintops are difuse and small: at least until a disaster happens. On the other hand, the costs of government regulation are focused on a few who will fight like the dickens to protect their interests.

    This sort of “public goods” problem can be overcome by events like the BP spill, good PR, good leadership, and  yes, even compromise.

    It is not overcome by pretending that those who must bear the costs of regulation don’t exist, or that their concerns are not legitimate.    

  • Paris

    Well, the environment we know is a total loss if the principal member of Congress in Northern Virginia is married to a rich widow of a real estate developer.  However, Mark Warner concerns me. I recall his being interviewed by the Post a long time ago, saying he wanted to get rich quick so that he could use the money for his liberal causes. He kind of said the same thing to friends while an undergrad at GWU here in Washington.  Now I want to ask, “What liberal causes?”  

    The first act he seemed to commit toward toward this end of fulfilling his dream of supporting liberal causes after being elected a U.S. Senator was to float a bill about setting up IT for the government to enable everyone’s sensitive healthcare information to be put online.  That would be a great benefit to IT companies, I figured, but of marginal benefit in the great debate on healthcare reform.

    What we needed was transparency in government, not an intrusive nanny state that did nothing but put private information online without improving online security.

    Some of us didn’t understand that healthcare reform meant that certain key Democrats who had been receiving millions in campaign funding from healthcare companies for 30 or 40 years were not going to take this opportunity to serve their corporate masters lying down. One of them was Max Baucus. Baucus, according to various websites,  takes about $4 million a year from various healthcare corporations, including health insurance companies. While Obama had made public statements back in 2004 that he favored a Medicare type health program extended to all Americans, a sort of “Medicare for All,” so that Democrats thought he was going to do what he had been talking about, Obama did a sudden about face in April 2009, disclosing to Democrats who were stupid enough to actually want to get involved in finding out more about his various plans, that he was actually not going to follow through on this rather wishy washy and vague promise, although it had been captured on tape at least by one videographer.

    No, the DNC proclaimed that Obama no longer favored Medicare for All but something that sounded like the Massachusetts plan put into place the past year by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney.

    Everyone knew that Mitt Romney’s plan was flawed, principally because it required everyone to buy insurance or pay a penalty, without driving out all the fraudulent health insurance companies that operated in the state.

    No matter that a year later, Martha Coakley, who deserved to lose any election, had driven several fraudulent health insurance companies from the state. Too little. Too late.

    These fraudulent health insurance companies are still operating in Virginia and I saw a sign in Northern Virginia for one of their sales personnel as I read a story on how Martha had driven them out of Massachusetts that very day.

    Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

    What was hard to grasp was that we had been conditioned to think that Democrats were not like this. They were going to be different. They were going to offer a choice and they were not going to be captive to big corporations.  But they were. They absolutely had no sense of public service and of a feeling of giving back once they had reached the highest position they were ever going to reach.

    A presidency is not something a man uses to enhance his resume.  Becoming a U.S. Senator is not a means to an end, the end being to get even richer than one is.  That was the old thinking. “Generation Obama” was supposed to be different.  Yes, “Generation Obama,” the college kids who supported Obama during the election or Mark Warner, for that matter, are different from former ward healers in previous Democratic elections. They are  still unemployed.

    Case closed.  This piece of IT legislation of which he was so proud was all Mark Warner seemed to be able to contribute to the healthcare reform debate. It means government contracts to IT companies. It means government contractors who do IT will not lose a penny because instead of Defense contracts, they can now get contracts to devise information systems to put medical records online.

    This pimple on the derriere of progress known as Mark Warner had only this to contribute.

    I hate to harp on Lyndon Baines Johnson because everybody thinks he was such a big politico but he did fulfill that promise of giving back in a big way.  He did pass the Civil Rights Bill.  The old guys are gone and the new ones are all Me generation hacks.  Too bad.  

  • blue bronc

    Interesting how fast the Obama administration backed off the offshore drilling moratorium even though the risks are still extremely high for failure and environmental disaster.

    Yet, he cannot allow DADT to be killed in anyway. NOr can he allow equality for LGBT people with marriage. Any decisions, whether from the 3rd branch of government or the elected representatives do not have his support. Rather he sends in his DOJ to use the most scurrilous and factless attacks to keep inequality in place.