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“The GOP Won’t Be Happy”: Preparing For The Great Republican Freak-Out Over Obama’s Environmental Regulations

On June 2, President Obama is expected to announce his new EPA rules on extant coal-fired power plants. As Jonathan Chait points out in an excellent background piece on the legal issues, this will be the centerpiece of his second-term agenda. How strong these rules are, and whether or not his administration manages to guide them successfully through the bureaucratic gauntlet, may well outstrip ObamaCare in historical importance.

In another good piece, Chait outlines why the political blowback from these rules is likely to be very bad:

Republicans are likely to have the better of the debate politically. Support for regulating carbon emissions may be broad, but it’s tissue-thin — Americans rank climate change near or at the bottom of their priorities. A 2011 survey found the amount an average American would pay in higher electricity costs for the sake of clean energy to be a pitiably low $162 a year. The absence of an extended, ObamaCare-style legislative slog will help Obama’s case, but years of lengthy court battles won’t. Opponents may manage to sustain state-level challenges and overwhelming red-state resistance. [New York]

It’s an all too convincing argument. However, I think the political forecast is not quite so dire as he makes out, for two reasons: El Niño, and the fact that the weakened coal industry is already teetering. Knowing Republicans, there is probably nothing that will forestall an enraged GOP backlash, but these two facts might take some of the wind out of their turbines.

First: El Niño. It’s a deeply complex and still not fully understood phenomenon (Brad Plumer has a nice explanation here), but the bumper sticker idea is that the surface of the tropical Pacific gets much warmer than usual. Scientists are now giving it about a 75 percent chance that El Niño will develop over the next few months. This matters for the politics, because it means it will get hot.

El Niño is strongly correlated with high surface temperatures — both 2010 and 1998, the first- and second-hottest years ever measured, respectively, were El Niño years. Last month tied for the hottest April of all time, and this summer could be even hotter. (And down the road, 2015 will almost certainly break the record for hottest year ever recorded, possibly by a lot.)

As Nate Cohn explains, extreme heat tends to shift belief in climate change, especially when combined with El Niño’s typical bouts of extreme weather. This is a bit silly, scientifically speaking (a cold winter doesn’t disprove global warming), but it does seem to have a robust political effect.

Second is the weak position of the coal industry. Though it has made a small comeback in the last year or so, its long-term decline is almost certainly unstoppable. For most of the Obama era, it has been hammered by cheap natural gas and regulations on heavy metals, resulting in dozens of plant closures.

Solar is now so cheap that it is becoming a legitimate threat. Almost one-third of all new electricity generation was solar last year. The carbon barons are fighting a desperate rearguard action to legislate solar out of the market, but if prices continue to fall (as they are predicted to do) these kinds of actions will be ever more unjustifiable. Increasingly, coal is simply an antiquated and crummy way to generate electricity.

Of course, these trends don’t guarantee that the EPA regulations will come out unscathed. But they will shift the political terrain. Just like it’s hard to argue in favor of deregulation during a financial crisis, it will be harder to argue against climate regulations during record-smashing heat waves. And while Republicans would dearly love to burn every single gram of coal on the planet, they’ll have a harder time time doing it if Big Coal is simply losing in the market.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Boosting Their Bottom Line”: The Koch Brothers Revel In The Sequester

Although everyone from President Barack Obama to House Speaker John Boehner has lamented the negative impact of the $85 billion budget sequestration, at least two major Washington figures are thrilled about the severe cuts. For Charles and David Koch, the sequester accomplishes the goal that motivated the billionaire brothers to help launch the Tea Party movement in 2010: weakening the federal government. And now that the cuts have begun to take effect, the Koch brothers are reveling in their success.

Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing dark money group founded by the Koch brothers in 2004, sent out an email to supporters over the weekend claiming credit for sequestration. The email, from AFP President Tim Phillips, claims, “While Speaker Boehner and the GOP deserve credit and thanks for taking a gutsy stand, it’s important to realize what an incredible impact AFP activists like you” have had in convincing Congress to slash the federal budget across the board.

“These combined efforts helped spread a message across the country that enabled House Republicans to take heart and do the right thing knowing that conservatives had their back,” Phillips continues. His full letter, which also brags that USA Today “recognized the effectiveness of AFP activists and gave us the opportunity to articulate the importance of sequester cuts,” can be read here.

The Koch brothers are also taking to the airwaves to keep up the pressure for even more cuts. Public Notice, to which Charles and David Koch donated $8 million between 2009 and 2011, released a new ad Tuesday minimizing the impact of the sequester — and encouraging the government to make even deeper cuts.

“President Obama calls sequestration a ‘meat cleaver’ that will ‘eviscerate’ government services,” the ad’s narrator ominously charges. “What is sequestration? A three-percent cut in government spending. Three cents out of every dollar the government spends. We’re more than $16 trillion in debt, and the government wastes billions each year on duplicate programs.”

“Americans have made tough choices and cut back. Washington refuses,” the ad concludes. “Call Washington and ask them why it’s so hard to cut spending.”

The ad — which ignores the fact that government spending under President Barack Obama has grown at a slower rate than it did under any president since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s — will reportedly run until March 15.

Charles and David Koch’s enthusiasm for the sequester isn’t hard to understand. Although the cuts will have a devastating effect on society’s most vulnerable, they will likely boost Koch Industries’ bottom line. The budget sequester is expected to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts, and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has warned that “under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the nation’s transition into a clean energy economy.” Both outcomes would seem to be very good news for the oil billionaires.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 5, 2013

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Enough Already”: Big Oil Lobbyist Lies About Industry Not Getting Subsidies

Just when you think you’ve heard it all from the fossil fuel industry, along comes American Petroleum Institute (API) chief executive Jack Gerard actually claiming on Tuesday that “the oil and gas industry gets no subsidies, zero, nothing.”

Gerard went on to argue that “we get cost-recovery benefits, much like other industries. You can go down the road of allowing economic activity, generating hundreds of billions to the government, or you can take the alternative route by trying to extract new revenue from industry by increasing their cost to do business. We not only pay our fair share, we pay more than our fair share.”

President Obama has proposed eliminating the $4 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks to an industry that exceeded $100 billion in profits last year. These tax breaks for the oil and gas industry go all the way back to the 1920s and many argue should not be given to such a mature industry, and instead should be redirected to clean energy technologies of the future.

In addition to the $4 billion annual tax breaks, ThinkProgress reports that ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips pay well below the corporate tax rate of 35 percent, with ExxonMobil paying only a 13 percent tax rate in 2011.

Washington, D.C.-based API is the the largest U.S. trade association for the oil and gas industry and claims to represent 400 companies. API spent $8.6 million on lobbying in 2011 and in last year’s election cycle spent heavily on funding groups running political ads against Democrats and in support of Republicans.

Gerard, who is close to fellow Mormon Mitt Romney and would have wielded enormous influence in a Romney administration, epitomizes the Republican “drill, baby, drill” attitude that ignores the environmental, public health and climate consequences of pumping all that carbon into the atmosphere. With his latest comments, he is ignoring America’s long history of subsidizing Big Oil.

While Gerard, whose salary was $6.4 million in 2010, disengenously states that Big Oil doesn’t receive subsidies, API actually ran ads two years ago against the Obama administration’s proposal to end tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

 

By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, January 10, 2013

January 12, 2013 Posted by | Big Oil, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not So Hidden”: As If Republicans Didn’t Know, President Obama’s Second-Term Agenda Is Pretty Clear

Everywhere you turn, President Obama is accused of not offering a clear second-term agenda. It’s not surprising that Republicans say it, but you also hear it from quarters sympathetic to the president.

But how true is the charge?

The president does lack a crisp, here’s-my-plan set of sound bites. What’s less obvious is whether this should matter to anyone. Mitt Romney’s five-point plan sounds good but is quite vague and, upon inspection, looks rather like five-point plans issued by earlier Republican presidential candidates. Moreover, Romney has been resolutely unspecific about his tax plans, leading to the understandable suspicion that he’s hiding something politically unsavory, either in the popular deductions he’d have to slash or in the programs he’d have to get rid of.

Obama, by contrast, has been far more straightforward about what he would do about the deficit: He wants a budget deal that includes both spending cuts and tax increases. He has put forward rather detailed deficit-reduction proposals. The centerpiece is a plan that, when combined with cuts made in 2011, would reduce the deficit by $3.8 trillion over a decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Obama keeps insisting (rightly) that no deal can work without new revenue, and he is upfront that he’d begin by raising taxes on Americans earning over $250,000 a year.

Some deficit hawks argue that Obama’s tax increases are not broad enough. Others are looking for steeper Medicare and Social Security cuts than Obama is willing to endorse. Many progressives, in turn, want fewer cuts and favor additional tax increases on the very wealthy. Before signing off on deeper program reductions, progressives should consider the efforts of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to counter all the proposals to cut tax rates. She has suggested five new, higher rates on incomes ranging from $1 million to $1 billion or more a year. The capital gains tax also needs to rise. Low levies on capital gains, the reason Romney paid so little tax on his $20.9 million income, raise problems for both fiscal balance and equity.

But these are responses to what Obama has proposed. To disagree with some of Obama’s specifics is to acknowledge that the specifics exist.

Some dismiss what an Obama second term might achieve by claiming that it will be mainly concerned with consolidating his first-term accomplishments. If these had been trivial, that might be a legitimate criticism. But does anyone seriously believe that implementing a massive new health insurance program that will cover an additional 30 million Americans is unimportant? Can anyone argue that translating the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms into workable regulations is a minor undertaking?

The president has also been clear that he wants to take on immigration reform. The question always asked is: Why should we think he’ll do it in a second term when he didn’t do it in the first? The answer is that if Obama is reelected, it will be in no small part because he overwhelms Romney among Latino voters who have stoutly rejected the Republican’s “self-deportation” ideas. It’s possible that Republicans will cooperate on immigration reform simply because they don’t want to keep losing elections by getting clobbered in Latino precincts. And Obama will know that he has an electoral debt to pay.

Republicans have been relentless in attacking the clean-energy projects Obama has financed. If Obama wins, the president will have reason to say that clean energy won, too, and push ahead. And in one of the best articles on what Obama might do in a second term, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza observed in June that Obama’s campaign statements — to that point, at least — suggested he would like to take another shot at legislation to address climate change.

Obama speaks incessantly about upgrading the country’s infrastructure. He also stresses the urgency of retooling both our education system and the way we train people for well-paying jobs. One can imagine a comprehensive education, jobs and investment program being a high priority in a second Obama term. And you can bet he will join efforts to create a new campaign financing system to check the power billionaires and corporations exercise in the world after Citizens United.

There is every reason to wish that Obama would pull all this together in a more inspiring way. Some of us would like him to be much bolder in addressing income inequality, the huge roadblocks to upward mobility, and the persistence of poverty. But is there is an Obama second-term agenda? Yes, there is.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 21, 2012

October 22, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt Romney Passes Wind”: He’s Perfectly Happy To Maintain Subsidies For The Oil Industry

What happens when the preferences of the economic base meet the preferences of the ideological base?

Mitt Romney was in Colorado yesterday, where some people aren’t too pleased with him. This week he came out in opposition to an extension of the wind-power production tax credit (PTC), which is set to expire at the end of the year. The tax credit helps make wind power competitive and is credited with enabling the creation of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and construction. This is almost certainly not going to be a huge issue in the campaign, but it does reveal some interesting things about where Romney is vis-a-vis the Republican Party. On one side, you have the parochial economic interests of many Republican members of Congress and some very well-heeled Republican economic constituency. On the other, you have the purely knee-jerk reaction of Tea Party types to anything hippies might like. Guess where Mitt comes down?

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee passed an extension of the credit with bipartisan support. The PTC has support from members of Congress from both parties who have wind projects in their states, and a number of prominent Republicans like Chuck Grassley have urged Romney to change his position. There are thousands of jobs at stake; as Phyllis Cuttino of the Pew Clean Energey Program writes, “This uncertainty has put off investors and led to boom-and-bust cycles in the industry: Wind installations have declined by 73 to 93 percent in years without a PTC. Because of the long timelines (wind projects can take nine to 16 months from groundbreaking to power generation), investors seeking new wind projects must look two to three years into the future to decide whether the costs and benefits warrant investment. As we’ve seen in the past, investors are wary of supporting new projects if the availability of the tax credit is uncertain.” That brings up a peculiar footnote to this issue: Some of the biggest beneficiaries of this tax break are banks like Goldman Sachs, which is investing heavily in clean energy and so has a substantial stake in the PTC being renewed.

But when the issue came up, Mitt Romney’s spidey-sense, with which he tunes into every whim and grunt from Republican-base voters, began to tingle. Let’s dispense with the idea that anyone on either side has a principled position on these kind of tax credits that they hold to irrespective of the activity that the tax credit supports. In the case of liberals, there’s no hypocrisy involved: We’ll freely admit that there are some things government should support, and in a case like renewable energy, some of these industries need a boost in their early stages in order to become competitive. Part of government’s job is to create the conditions where the market can operate freely, efficiently, and justly. All of us (well, most of us) would agree that if we got all our energy from renewables and that energy was affordable, that would be better than our current situation, in which most of our energy comes from sources that have substantial environmental costs in both their extraction and their use. The question is what we’re willing to do in order to approach that better world, and liberals believe that some tax credits for renewables are a perfectly reasonable part of the price. We also assume that these tax credits are finite and that as the industry matures they can be phased out.

Conservatives, on the other hand, claim that they believe in the free market and that industries should rise or fall on their own merits without any help from government. But in practice, their opinions on particular cases show no adherence to this principle they allegedly hold. Instead, they favor tax credits for industries they like for one reason or another and oppose them for industries they don’t like. In the past few years, opinions on energy have become one more culture-war marker for conservatives, with people gleefully chanting “Drill baby drill!” at Republican rallies and leaders like Rush Limbaugh waging holy war against electric cars, for no particular reason other than liberals like renewable energy, and they hate liberals. So Mitt Romney is perfectly happy to maintain subsidies for the oil industry but opposes subsidies for the wind-power industry. There isn’t some fundamental principle about the relationship of industry and government at work here. He’s just channeling the opinions of his party, as always.

For a long time, it seemed that whenever there was a direct conflict between the preferences of the GOP’s economic base and its grassroots ideological base, preference went to the economic base. Those conflicts were rare—part of the great trick the economic base pulled was convincing the grassroots base that if Jesus returned tomorrow, he’d favor cutting the capital gains tax. I doubt Romney feels particularly strongly about this. But his default impulse, at least for the moment, is to do whatever he thinks the most extreme Tea Partier would prefer. As I said yesterday, it’s almost as though he doesn’t realize the primaries are over.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 3, 2012

August 4, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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