- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

This week’s global-warming hearings in the Senate are not intended to produce legislation. They are not meant to put the candidates on the spot — conducted, as they are, in the shadow of a dramatic Democratic presidential primary finale. Nor would it be much use at this point to hold hearings in an attempt to embarrass President Bush, who threatens a veto of any overreaching climate legislation. These Senate hearings should be understood as the latest manifestation of the great carbon sweepstakes of 2008-09.

If things were otherwise, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could not have shut down the Senate yesterday without more than a few C-SPAN viewers noticing and a reporter here and there bothering to write it up. Precisely such a shutdown happened amid the presidential excitement — and hardly anyone noticed. Mr. McConnell required the Senate clerk to read the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 aloud - all 491 pages of it. Few cared. Few even noticed.

With the legislative possibilities nil, this week’s hearings are best viewed as a kind of preview for 2009. Regulating carbon is rapidly becoming Washington’s greatest lobbying prize. There is the near-certainty of an amenable president and Congress next January. Therefore, Warner-Lieberman represents a smorgasborg of opportunities to appear to be “green,” while also sticking it to the competition. As in any Capitol-centric struggle for economic advantage, there will be winners and there will be losers - not by the economic merits but by the best lobbying and the strongest coalitions. Indeed, “global warming” is rapidly becoming the new “homeland security”: a catch-all rationale for cities, states, corporations, banks, nonprofits and others to grab wanted government funds or government-mandated market positions.

As the jockeying intensifies, let us first dispense with the fiction that “cap-and-trade,” Warner-Lieberman or the Boxer amendment are “market solutions” for mandated carbon limits. The “market solution” to distributing the burden of carbon reductions, if one supports such a goal (we do not), would become a tax. Instead, Warner-Lieberman creates an artificial carbon scarcity with pollution rights that vary by producer. This means there are winners and losers: the latter includes constituents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Air Transport Association, to name three. The winners include proprietors of environmentally friendly technology and “green” investors.

In the coming year, “global warming agnostics” and skeptics will find themselves in common company. Be on the lookout for those who aim to appear as “green” as possible, while shifting costs onto others: This is the very heart of the great carbon sweepstakes.

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