GOP arrogance, hypocrisy on energy policy

Stephen Stromberg
Copyright 2010
Tuesday, July 6, 2010; 2:41 PM

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman previews one of the GOP???s primary lines of attack this midterm election year in a new ad. He blasts the Democrats??? cap-and-trade ???energy tax,??? saying that the scheme will charge Americans for turning on a light bulb or cooking dinner. Scary? Perhaps. Misleading? Yes. Hypocritical? Definitely. At the end of the ad, Portman claims that he has a better way to protect the environment, and he asks the viewer to check it out on his Web site. I obliged. His plan relies on "support" -- read: subsidies and other government interventions -- for things that he likes -- corn ethanol, nuclear power, natural gas, coal. Some of these things might become an essential part of weaning the country off fossil fuels. Or not. We don???t really know, and that???s the point of cap-and-trade and other carbon pricing proposals -- take the decisions regarding which green technologies prosper out of the hands of lawmakers with incentives to spend Americans??? money on parochial interests; instead, send a price signal to consumers and the companies that serve them, spurring private individuals to find and invest in the cheapest routes to a greener economy. Another thing Portman doesn???t tell you is that proceeds from this ???national energy tax??? should be rebated back to consumers, making most of them whole or better. On his Web site, Portman criticizes ???command-and-control??? regulation from Washington. He mentions refraining from choosing winners and losers in the energy debate. He says he doesn???t want Washington ???to stifle the ingenuity of American enterprise and our market system through government interference.??? But inefficient government interference is his plan. Oh, and Portman???s scheme would also no doubt be expensive. Carbon pricing, on the other hand, would more than pay for itself. It???s somewhat ironic that a former head of the Office of Management and Budget would favor increasing spending to enact a policy that is almost certainly less efficient than the one that's paid-for. Okay, so one GOP candidate???s campaign ad is misleading. What's the big deal? This: Portman???s energy plan is fairly representative of where many in the GOP are on energy -- long on government expenditure and near-sighted arrogance about Washington???s ability to decide which energy technologies should succeed; short on the sort of faith in private enterprise that Republicans are supposed to champion. It???s ideologically bizarre that the GOP is taking this policy path. Such positioning is stifling efforts to pass a sensible energy bill this summer. And, by the way, it???s good evidence that the party isn???t actually departing from its spendthrift past.

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