Two days after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record, word got out, via Politico, that Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) plans to introduce legislation that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
And under the Clean Water Act.
And under the Endangered Species Act.
And under the National Environmental Policy Act.
There's more. According to Politico, Barrasso's bill would order the federal courts not to hear any cases alleging that greenhouse gas emissions are a public nuisance.
And still more. The bill would prohibit states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
This despite earnest talk from conservatives that the federal government should leave more decision-making to the states. Woe to the states, however, if they do things that upset the boys on K Street or contradict the prevailing dogma dictated by talk radio foghorns. Then, watch some of those small government champions in Dee Cee drop their teacups and turn, chameleon-like, into zealous centralizers demanding obedience from those yokels outside the Beltway.
Might as well change the national motto to "In Coal We Trust" if Barrasso's mess of carbonaceous pottage gets passed.
His proposal is the most extreme of the throttle-EPA bills that have been dropped into the hopper since Congress returned to the Capitol. It's possible that he is pushing a book-end bill that would make less extreme legislation, such as West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller's bill to call a two-year timeout on EPA greenhouse gas regs, seem reasonable in comparison and increase odds of it passing.
Regardless, as long as it's fashionable in Congress to treat EPA as the pinata of the month, then the federal government will be further away than ever from passing a sensible bill to begin diversifying our energy economy away from overdependence on carbon-heavy fossil fuels.
This past week has offered plenty of helpful hints that having too many eggs in the oil and coal baskets is a dangerous risk.
Oil prices are edging back towards $100 a barrel as demand rises overseas. The cartel bosses at OPEC seem to be comfortable with prices nudging up against the century mark. More dollars for them, fewer for us.
Those floods that have turned Brisbane, Queensland, into a real-life disaster movie can't be definitively linked to climate change, but scientists have noted that waters off Australia are the warmest ever recorded, providing extra-potent fuel for the seasonal monsoon.
Grain prices are up. That's a reminder of the risks of letting global temperatures continue to rise. Beyond a certain point, heat stress would more than offset any fertilizing effect that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would have, leading to reduced grain growing seasons in heavily populated areas - India's northern plain, for example - that could least afford thinner food security margins.
So far, those and many other risks haven't penetrated enough minds on Capitol Hill at a rate sufficient to break through the political and psychological traps blocking legislation to diversify our energy menu and stoke the fires of energy technology innovation.
Plenty of innovation could happen if Congress would encourage it rather than peer into the rear-view mirror and get all misty about the days when coal smoke was the price of progress and America's oil moved the world.
The sooner that lawmakers get a grip and stop trying to turn the clock back to a vanished era, the sooner the rest of us can come to grips with today's energy realities.
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