Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.
An ingenious Democratic political strategist might have concocted the following scenario:
Recent polls show not only heightened public concern over global warming, but much more confidence that congressional Democrats would do a better job on this than President Bush.
So global warming could be used as a wedge issue going into the next elections. Democrats should take action that would capture the moral high ground and accentuate the differences. Try to pass something tough, and force the President to threaten a veto or get polluter-friendly Republicans such as Jim Inhofe to filibuster.
But key House Democrats have exploded that fantasy amid a festival of special-interest pandering. Indeed, they seem to be trying to shoot themselves in the proverbial foot by promoting parochial concerns over those of country and party. Meanwhile Republican leaders are laughing their heads off at internecine Democrat warfare. (Clean Air Watch, for the record, is nonpartisan.)
Consider, for example, legislation drafted by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.Buried within the fine print of the draft are nefarious provisions that not only would overturn the recent Supreme Court decision, which verified that the U.S. EPA does indeed have authority to limit global warming emissions from motor vehicles, but would take away the right of states like California to limit them as well.
Boucher is a genial and usually thoughtful lawmaker who has represented a generally conservative southwestern Virginia district for a quarter-century. He is perhaps best known for his leadership on Internet-related legislation (he originated the House Internet Caucus) and for being a stalwart pro-choice advocate.
But it came as a shock that Boucher would promoting a policy that could have been written in the boardroom of General Motors. Boucher has argued that his plan is needed to straighten out “confusion” prompted by the Supreme Court decision.
But in a scathing editorial, the Roanoke Times pointed out that Boucher’s argument is “nonsense.”
“California has long had stricter standards for different emissions than the federal government. The auto industry has not seemed confused by that,” the paper noted.
Boucher’s plan not only drew the ire of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—imagine her embarrassment if this blatant attack on California succeeded!—but of numerous state attorneys general, state environmental officials and at least a dozen Democrats on his committee.
Though he hasn’t said so publicly, Boucher appears to be taking the heat for the real author of this shameless, special-interest deal, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee and a longtime car company advocate. Dingell, though a terrific force for environmental progress on many fronts through his dogged oversight, was nicknamed “Tailpipe Johnny” in the early 1980s by former Rep. Ed Madigan of Illinois because of his slavish devotion to alleged car-company interests.
Dingell tangled with Pelosi earlier this year when she first raised the idea of creating a special committee to deal with global warming. Eventually they compromised with a plan that did set up a select committee, chaired by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., but vested it principally with hortatory powers.
Dingell’s response then was understandable, since it involved defense of all-important congressional turf. But it’s harder to defend siding with the car companies against his House leader.
Dingell has defended his stance by asserting to public radio’s “Living on Earth” program that “I wrote the clean air law,” and thus was justified in trying to change it. Note to chairman Dingell: if former Senator Ed Muskie, the genuine author of the law, were still alive, he’d take you to the woodshed for that resume enhancement.
Promoting the interests of car and coal companies is sometimes described as appealing to “blue-collar” constituencies. But the antics of Dingell and friends conjures up the adage by brilliant blue-collar comic Ron White : “You can’t fix stupid.”