Obama turns climate change into corporate bonanza


Article Highlights

  • "Science" is a favorite mantra of the Democrats and the Left today.

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  • Obama on Tuesday even pegged the opponents of his policies as the "flat-Earth society."

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  • With corporate millions at stake, do you think policy will be crafted by science or by lobbying?

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President Obama, speaking on climate-change at Georgetown University on Tuesday, invoked science again and again. But the policies he pushed had less to do with the findings of physics than the wishlists of corporate lobbyists. Still, Obama had the audacity to throw barbs at the "special interests."

"Science" is a favorite mantra of the Democrats and the Left today. It justifies both executive power grabs and a smug sense of superiority. Those barbaric Republicans oppose our policies only because they're anti-science, the argument goes. Obama on Tuesday even pegged the opponents of his policies as the "flat-Earth society." Accusing opponents of denying science is a focus-group-tested, party-approved message of the Democrats these days. It's the charge they throw at anyone who opposes their regulations and subsidies.

There is, of course, a decent amount of scientific consensus on climate change. We know that methane and carbon dioxide act as greenhouse gasses, applying upward pressure on temperatures. We know that industrial activity adds to greenhouse-gas concentrations. And we know that rapid changes in temperature can disrupt climate and have harmful effects.
But Obama and his allies pretend science tells us much more. They talk as if we can precisely know what amount of emissions will cause how much temperatures will change, and thus how much the seas will rise or storms will hit. Most importantly - and most falsely - they pretend that we can count on Democrats' policies to meaningfully mitigate these effects.

In Washington, though, this sort of technocratic talk always gives way to corporatist policymaking. And Obama's energy plan bubbles over with corporate-government collusion.

His climate plan rests primarily on a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gasses are "pollutants," which the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate. Obama even called CO2 (the stuff you breathe out and plants breathe in) a "toxin," in the energy plan he released Tuesday.

During the arguments in that 2007 case, energy giants Entergy and Calpine both filed amicus curiae briefs asking the court to force the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. Calpine lobbyist Michael Brady was a special guest of Obama on Tuesday, according to National Journal, Obama's constant anti-lobbyist rhetoric notwithstanding.

Back in 2007, Calpine's brief rattled off a murderers row of special interests that sided with them in favor of regulation: General Electric, which spends more on lobbying than any other corporation; Exelon, so cozy with Obama that a company lobbyist once called it "The President's utility;" Duke Energy, which underwrote Obama's 2012 convention with $10 million in financing; and others.

Why would all these companies want EPA to regulate their emissions? Maybe they're worried about melting polar ice caps. Or maybe they see profit in these policies. This latter possibility - which seems more likely - ought to raise doubts about how much policy will follow science, as opposed to lobbying.

For instance, a month after the Obama administration placed greenhouse-gas caps on all new power plants in 2011, the EPA's Gina McCarthy (now in line to run the agency) announced the first plant to win an exemption - and that plant happened to be installing GE turbines. GE is not only the lobbying king, the company's CEO is Obama's jobs czar.

Obama's energy plan also calls for more loan-guarantees for renewable energy. This was the Solyndra program. It involves trusting bureaucrats to pick winning projects to back with taxpayer money, subsidizing banks and solar-panel makers in the process.

Obama even gave a nod to ethanol, saying we need "farmers to grow new fuels." Ethanol subsidies are widely derided as a wasteful corporate welfare boondoggle. Now Obama wants more.

Despite the glaring clashes with his rhetoric on "special interests," Obama considers it a virtue to have corporations at the center of his climate plan. At Georgetown, he touted Wal-Mart and General Motors - and the fact that they see profits in pursuing green energy and supporting green policy - as signs that his grand plans wouldn't hurt the economy. (In the process, he seems to have given a 5.5 percent boost to the stock of Solar City, the solar company installing Wal-Mart's solar panels, and founded by $100,000 Obama donor Elon Musk.)

This is the conflation at the heart of Obamanomics: Obama points out that a few politically connected very large corporations would profit from his policies, as if that's evidence the economy will benefit.

But GE's windmill profits come at the expense of Americans who pay more for electricity when utilities have to buy wind power. And regulations or mandates that roll off Wal-Mart's back can crush smaller competitors.

Obama even named Nike as one of his allies on U.S. climate policy. Does Obama realize that Nike's manufacturing is almost all done in the Third World? Tax energy in the U.S. and you hurt Nike's U.S.-based competitors like New Balance, while Nike hardly feels a pinprick.

With all this profit from politically connected companies on the line, do you think policy will be crafted by science -- or by lobbying?

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About the Author


Timothy P.
  • Timothy P. Carney helps direct AEI’s Culture of Competition Project, which examines barriers to competition in all areas of American life, from the economy to the world of ideas. Carney has over a decade of experience as a journalist covering the intersection of politics and economics. His work at AEI focuses on how to reinvigorate a competitive culture in America in which all can reap the benefits of a fair economy.


    Follow Timothy Carney on Twitter.

  • Email: timothy.carney@aei.org

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