Home Energy and Environment Sorry, Sen. Webb, But You’re Dead Wrong on This One

Sorry, Sen. Webb, But You’re Dead Wrong on This One

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In the Roanoke Times this morning, Sen. Jim Webb is quoted on the issue of EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. As the article points out, Webb is “among a half-dozen U.S. senators headed by Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who have introduced a bill that would delay EPA regulation of greenhouse gases from fixed sources — such as coal-fired power plants — for two years.” That’s bad enough – although, sadly at this point, not surprising – but it actually gets worse. Check this out (bolding added by me for emphasis), followed by my comments on why Sen. Webb is dead wrong on all counts.

Webb, who ran for the Senate in 2006 on a platform that included a better balance between executive branch powers and legislative oversight, said the new legislation is an extension of that.

“When Bush was president, I was very strong on this as far as a lot of the foreign policy initiatives he was taking on,” Webb said. “I had the same set of concerns with this present administration, particularly as it goes to their climate area and environmental policies. … Unfortunately there are people who simply want to do away with coal. Most of them don’t live down here.”

Webb said the Rockefeller legislation would buy time for Congress to consider the proper way to regulate greenhouse gases, while also helping force the issue to the floor for a real discussion.

As to what a solution might entail, Webb said he’s looking for a balance.

“In terms of the country writ large, we on one hand have a lot of different approaches we can take toward cleaner emissions,” he said. “On the other hand we also have to protect our strengths in terms of energy emissions and our economy. This is not the time to be taxing our businesses out of the country.

This isn’t just wrong, it’s wildly, willfully, crazy wrong. If you’re interested in why I believe this is the case, follow me over the “flip.”

Let me start by stipulating that Jim Webb remains far, far superior to George Allen in almost every way. I mean, would there have been any chance that George Allen would have voted for health care reform legislation? Obviously not. Would George Allen have voted 80% of the time with the Democratic Party? Obviously not. Would George Allen have been supportive on a wide range of other issues, let alone taken the lead to get a modern-day GI Bill passed (or to attempt a reform of our dysfunctional criminal justice system, or to be an expert on defense and foreign policy matters)? No, no, no.

Also, one more point before I explain why Jim Webb is dead wrong in his Roanoke Times comments. The point is simply this: George Allen is utterly horrendous when it comes to energy and environmental issues. I mean, this guy has worked the past few years as a total shill for the worst of the worst, the dirtiest of the dirty, etc. In short, when it comes to energy and the environment, George Allen is heinously bad.

Now, having said all that, let’s get back to the main point of this article: Jim Webb is absolutely, 100%, dead wrong on what he said to the Roanoke Times. A few points.

1. The Bush Administration needed to be reined in, for good reason, because it was completely out of control and off the right-wing deep end. The Obama Administration? I strongly disagree that they need to be “reined in.” To the contrary, I’d argue that the Obama Administration needs to be pressed to be more progressive, less corporate, less of a continuation of Bush Administration policies, and more about changing things than they’ve been.

2. As for the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches, that’s a perfectly legitimate issue in our country and in our democracy. However, when it comes to clean energy and climate, it’s utterly ridiculous. The fact is, the U.S. Congress for many years (decades, actually) has abdicated its responsibility in setting a serious, national energy policy. Even in 2009, with a “Democratic Congress” (supposedly) and a Democrat in the White House, Congress couldn’t manage to pass serious, comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. Let me amend that; the House of Representatives did manage to pass the Waxman/Markey bill, even if it had been watered down and larded up (with fossil fuel industry favors) by Rick Boucher and Company. What followed was Total Senate FAIL. No action. Nada. Not on Waxman-Markey. Not on a mandatory, national, renewable portfolio standard. Not on a power-sector-only carbon cap. Not on “cap and dividend” or other alternatives to the market-based “cap and trade” concept (originally a Republican idea, now bizarrely demonized by the Republicans). The bottom line is simple — if the Senate was so concerned about its power vis-a-vis the Executive Branch, it should have stepped up to the plate and passed legislation. I know, “what a concept,” huh?  Since the Senate utterly failed, once again, in doing so, to hear them whine now about their prerogatives and such is completely insufferable. Give. Me. A. @#@$#$@. Break.

3. Specifically with regard to the EPA, the reason that agency is dealing with greenhouse gas emissions is simple – they’re pollution that harms the environment. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the EPA not only has authority to regulate these emissions, but that it basically has to (“Under the [Clean Air] Act’s clear terms, EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do”). Bottom line: Congress has failed to act, the Supreme Court has all but ordered the EPA to do its job (which was, by the way, established by Congress in the first place), and now it’s long past time for that to happen.

4. With regard to Webb’s straw man that “there are people who simply want to do away with coal,” and of course they’re all from outside Coal Country, that’s simply false. Personally, I’m as strong an environmentalist as you get, but if someone could demonstrate to me how coal could truly be made “clean” – not just in burning it, but also in mining it – I’d actually be quite favorable towards it. Why? Because it’s a fuel that we don’t have to import and that we have huge quantities of. To date, unfortunately, nobody has made coal “clean,” nor does that seem to be happening anytime soon (probably decades away, at best), and that’s just reality. Given that situation, and given the reality of what greenhouse gas emissions are doing to our planet’s environment – and no, you can’t wave a magic wand or your hands in the air and wish that away – we’ve got to deal with that. Pointing at bogeyman who our “out to get coal” or whatever is not serious, substantive, or frankly constructive in any way. Instead, what we need is honest, courageous leadership that’s not afraid to lay out the challenges, the goals, and to come up with an achievable path to solving the former and achieving the latter. In the Roanoke Times comments, I’m not seeing that at all from Jim Webb.

5. As for the comment that, somehow, regulating greenhouse gas emissions and setting a strong policy in this country in favor of a transition to clean energy will drive business away from America, that’s also completely wrong. In fact, as we speak, America is losing out – big time – to countries like China, India, and Germany in the race for the booming, multi-trillion-dollar industry of the 21st century, ENERGY. Hiding our heads in the sand for a few more years won’t just accomplish nothing, it will actively harm our country’s businesses as they attempt to compete in this enormous economic sphere of activity. Hanging on to the industries of the 19th and early 20th century is certainly not the way for America to win the economic race of the 21st century, but that’s exactly what Jim Webb is advocating here.

6. Finally, with regard to Webb’s belief that delaying EPA action for 2 years (or however many) “would buy time for Congress to consider the proper way to regulate greenhouse gases,” that’s simply laughable. Again, Congress has failed on energy policy, let alone on climate policy, for decades now (e.g., the Kyoto Treaty wasn’t even sent to the Senate for a ratification vote). Why on earth would we believe that in 2 years, anything would change in that regard, except for the worse? Let’s be blunt: this is not an effort to “buy time,” this is an effort to kill any meaningful regulation on greenhouse gas emissions. And that, in turn, is completely unacceptable, based on everything we know about what those gases are doing to our atmosphere. At this point, if you argue the contrary, you are being willfully ignorant, obstinate, and non-productive. That’s what the wildly irresponsible Rockefeller legislation is all about:

It is not constructive to block the only working law on the books to curb global warming pollution and replace it with nothing. Blocking the Clean Air Act will do nothing to bring Congress closer to passing comprehensive climate and energy legislation. Rather than fighting global warming solutions, we need to focus on cutting carbon pollution in a way that will spur clean energy investment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

This lunacy needs to stop, immediately. And Jim Webb needs to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem, starting immediately. If not, I for one – and, from my conversations with fellow environmentalists, I think I speak for them as well – am going to have an awfully hard time generating any enthusiasm whatsoever for his candidacy in 2012. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  • somethingblue

    how much of this is calculation (like Delaware Senators carrying water for the credit card companies) and how much of it is a kind of emotional identification with the “Born Fighting” people–hardscrabble white folks of Scotch-Irish descent who load sixteen tons, etc.

    Webb is a thoughtful guy in many areas (prison reform, notably), but he also has these ‘blind spot’ issues where logic just isn’t on the menu. In a way that makes me like him better than Warner, who would clearly harvest his grandmother for organs if David Broder said it was the bipartisan thing to do. But it also makes me doubt that your very reasonable arguments above would have much impact on him.

    BTW, I notice you’re not describing yourself as a “Jim Webb Democrat” much these days. 🙂

  • who wrote this to the Jim Webb we see today when it comes to coal?

    The ever hungry industrialists had discovered that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia sat atop one huge vein of coal. And so the rape began. The people from the outside showed up with complicated contracts that the small-scale cattle raisers and tobacco farmers could not fully understand, asking for “rights” to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land.

  • Jim B

    Whether we delay EPA or not there is not going to be any clean coal within 2 years or maybe 10 years. Alternate energy sources will be required, but who is going to pay?

  • leedynamo

    & for the nation’s children, for those in areas where incidence of asthma is RISING.  He has to stay firm on this, make clear he will veto it.  This essentially represents backwards steps from where we were.  Kyoto was drafted in the 90’s.

    SInce Va is part of Obama’s re-election strategy, I hope he gets in here and explains to people what is at stake.

    Again, next year we will be three election cycles on from Al Gore losing West Virginia because he was some kind of ‘Enviro Nerd.’. Virginia is a populous state.  It will probably have 14 electoral votes next year.  Our interests as a populous COASTAL state are served by strong environmental regulation.  

  • kindler

    Regardless of what folks on either side may say, the truth is that coal isn’t going away anytime soon.  Webb’s line about some people who want to do away with coal is simply shameless hyperbole. There is still a lot of ramp up time needed — particularly at Washington’s anemic policymaking rate — to get all the other (basically all domestic) power resources going — natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar, biomass, etc.

    So the coal giants may lose some market share and some jobs may move. But it’ll be a long transition, leaving enough time for politicians who care to set up programs to help the residents of coal country move on to 21st century options and lifestyles.  The politicians — like Webb — just need to get around to that business rather than demagoguing to please Big Coal in the meantime.