- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Out of the smoke of November 2002, one issue conspicuous by its absence in the recent campaign is about to emerge. That issue is the global environment. And it may make Al Gore, who is scheduled to announce his presidential plans soon, the surprise rising star for 2004.

For what it is worth, he has already been booked for Barbara Walters, "Hardball," and "Saturday Night Live" in the last few weeks.

Sure, other issues are more compelling: Social Security, Iraq and taxes, for example. But anyone who tried to beat the administration with those issues wound up beating himself. It's hard to get passionate about committing political suicide. In every race where Social Security was an issue, candidates who favored private accounts won. Almost everyone win or lose was with the president (at least publicly) on Iraq, and raising taxes just isn't vote-productive.

What's left? The Washington political process, in its irrepressible attempt to produce productive controversy (i.e., votes), is behaving like Tom Wolfe's doomed test pilots in "The Right Stuff." "I've tried A. I've tried B," and the darned thing won't stop rolling.

Well, try "E." About the only fights that may produce political gain are going to be over energy and environment, which means fights over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, fat subsidies tilting at windmills and solar energy, and "directions" to industry to produce tons of power from the same subsidized sources. If you're wondering who pays for this, look in the mirror.

All the above are in the current energy bill, a bipartisan compromise between the House and the then-Democratic Senate. Along with most of the other unfinished business from the last Congress, there's no way it's going to remain intact.

How much it will be changed is a matter of conjecture. But one provision, ultimately requiring just about every business in the country to report its annual emissions of carbon dioxide (read: fuel consumption), is surely outta there. Everyone, on both sides of the aisle, knows this is the first step toward a cap on energy use, which must be defined before it can be cut any specific amount.

Carbon dioxide, of course, is the principal cause of dreaded global warming, so any attempt to dilute current legislation will raise the bloody green shirt. And where global warming goes, Mr. Gore is soon to follow.

For nearly a year, Dick Morris has been pleading with the Democrats to pick up this issue. In fact, in his recent book, "Power Plays," he argues that Mr. Gore would have won in 2000 if he had followed his own instincts on fighting climate change, which is the real reason why he wanted to be president. Democrats see this coming, too. Last month, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) issued a broadside titled "Turn Up the Heat on Climate Change," spoiling for a fight on global warming.

Don't expect a clear, reflexive Republican voting pattern. The DLC is touting draft legislation written in part by Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, who is at odds with the White House on global warming. Expect him to forge an alliance with other Republicans, like Maine's Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, another global warming hawk, who hasn't yet tired in his campaign for more, more, and more face-time against the president.

It's not that Mr. Gore is a proven winner. But on the environment, he is the proven champion. And if, maybe, he gains traction by railing against the administration along with Mr. McCain, et. al., he becomes a serious contender for the nomination.

On the other hand, Mr. Gore may simply be too radioactive, still burning from the loss in 2000 and having actively campaigned in many of the debacles of 2002. In that case, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is sure to emerge as the global-warming maven. He's actually more radical (if less versed) on the issue than Mr. Gore, and there's a school of thought in Democratic circles these days that says they lost the Senate because they were too much like Republicans. Mr. Kerry is no Republican.

All that makes climate change look like a big issue in the next election cycle, with the flashpoint being current energy legislation. Will it be big enough to determine who runs against George Bush, and will that person stand much chance of success? Right now it doesn't look good, but "A" and "B" have been tried, and maybe it's time for "E."


Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and co-author of "The Satanic Gases."


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