The GOP’s sorry slide on the environment

The La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant
Smoke rises from the stacks of the La Cygne Generating Station coal-fired power plant in La Cygne, Kan. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

In Friday’s New York Times, four former chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency, each of whom served Republican presidents, pointed out that taxing carbon dioxide emissions is the best way to respond to global warming on a national level. The GOP House of Representatives didn’t take much time to reject their advice.

“There is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts,” the former EPA heads wrote.

Our world continues to warm, with the last decade the hottest in modern records, and the deep ocean warming faster than the earth’s atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic Sea ice is melting years faster than projected.

The costs of inaction are undeniable. The lines of scientific evidence grow only stronger and more numerous. And the window of time remaining to act is growing smaller: delay could mean that warming becomes “locked in.”

Instead of responding with command-and-control rulemaking in which government reorders the economy by regulatory fiat, they point out, Congress should marshal the power of the market in the battle against climate change.

Make people pay something for the emissions for which they are responsible, and you will get fewer emissions when and where consumers and businesses decide they are worth cutting. No command; no control. And the government could limit the effects on individual consumers and the general economy by rebating the revenues back to them.

There’s just one problem: “That is unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington.”

As if to drive that point home, the House on Friday morning passed a measure that would require Congress’s approval for any carbon-taxing scheme that President Obama might try to impose by regulation, even though the White House has said it has no plans to propose one. More than anything, the symbolic vote seemed to be about trying to associate Democrats with a policy that has been a big target of GOP demagoguery, no matter how many outside experts say it’s a good idea.

As Friday’s Times op-ed reminds us, there used to be a strong element in the Republican Party that was able to advocate for economically literate environmental policy. George H.W. Bush, after all, was the president who introduced market-based environmentalism into federal law, enacting a very-successful cap-and-trade program to combat acid rain. Now, the GOP’s approach to the environment is dominated by those who go out of their way to repudiate good policy, use it as a political weapon, or both at the same time.

Stephen Stromberg is a Post editorial writer. He specializes in domestic policy, including energy, the environment, legal affairs and public health.
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Ed Rogers | August 2, 2013