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?


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