Monday, June 14, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Stone Age politicians

In the midst of the worst man-made ecological disaster in history and murderous fuel explosions in Texas, you would think that every political leader would have absorbed the earth’s urgent message that they do something now to curb the country’s appetite for fossil fuels.

But a sizable bloc of the U.S. Senate, which sadly includes our own two senators, cling to the idea of the 1970s that the government’s primary task is to satisfy the cravings for fossil-based energy and protect the profits of the energy companies. But they are, thankfully, a minority. The Senate on Thursday defeated a resolution pushed by the petroleum industry and electric utilities to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, the principal cause of the earth’s warming.

The Clean Air Act, that great monument to President Richard M. Nixon, requires the EPA to regulate emissions that are harmful to public health and welfare. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled three years ago that the EPA could not duck its responsibility under the law to do that in the case of carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions.

So Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, aided by the Republican roll call in the Senate and our own Sen. Blanche Lincoln, set out to stop the regulation anyway. Murkowski and Lincoln, by the way, lead the U. S. Senate in election cash gleaned from the oil industry — $286,000 in this election cycle for Lincoln, who this week narrowly survived her primary challenge in Arkansas.

Lincoln has said she knew that the country needed to brake its petroleum consumption and convert to clean and renewable energy, both to curb global warming and to reduce the nation’s dependence on energy from the world’s most dangerous regions. But she thinks Congress should do all that by law rather than let the unelected EPA scientists and administrators do it, although there did not seem to be a problem with EPA setting pollution standards the past 35 years until it got to carbon dioxide. Sen. Mark Pryor said he supported the Murkowski-Lincoln resolution for the same reason: It is Congress’ duty to address these matters, and Congress is where the country will get its most dependable regulation.

We suspect that most people will not agree that Congress will do it just right. In fact, polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.

But here is the more compelling argument. It is disingenuous for Lincoln and the Republicans to say that the country should let Congress do it. The Senate is not going to act seriously on greenhouse gases and a new energy policy because the Republicans and a tiny band of Democrats, including Lincoln, will not permit it. She joined Republicans last year in opposing even a weak climate bill that created incentives to convert to clean, renewable energy.

She is not going to support an energy bill that the oil and gas industry, the big coal-burning electric companies like SWEPCO and the chamber of commerce do not support, and given the current composition of the Senate and the likely one after the elections, an effective energy law cannot be enacted without both Lincoln and Pryor. We hope we underestimate her.

Perhaps still another environmental cataclysm or scorching evidence of climate change would do the trick, but probably not. The Stone Age did not end when the earth ran out of stones but when man found better tools. Stone Age politicians did not have to deal with campaign and lobbying cash from the stone crushers. We may have to wait until we exhaust hydrocarbons to adapt. It would be nice to have the time.