Home / General / For the Republican Policy on Climate Change, See the Republican Policy on Health Care

For the Republican Policy on Climate Change, See the Republican Policy on Health Care


As part of a post arguing (correctly) that Obama’s environmental record has, on balance, been excellent, Jon Chait has some links to people assuming that the regulations issued today would never come:

The lingering conclusion that Obama simply did not care about the environment made many of my fellow liberals doubt that Obama would ever take such a risky step. “I think this has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of actually happening, but don’t let anyone tell you Obama has no options,” wrote Matthew Yglesias. The failure of the EPA to immediately produce regulations prompted Joe Romm to conclude Obama was “delaying action.” When Obama’s budget did not include power plant regulations — which are not a budgetary item — Ryan Lizza wrote, “Nothing in his new budget follows through on that promise. And if that doesn’t, what will?” in a column headlined, “Has Obama Already Given Up on Climate Change.”

As Chait implies earlier, I assume this ultimately baseless pessimism has essentially Green Laternist roots. To some people, the fact that climate change legislation didn’t pass can be taken as ipso facto evidence that Obama didn’t really want it to pass. At any rate, we can now presumably proceed to an argument that the standards are inadequate, which you can bet will mostly ignore the Anthony Kennedy’s veto power over them.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein, while (again, correctly) noting that the regulations are “probably at the outer limit of what can be done,” argues that there’s some basis for optimism in that they’re less ambitious than what Republicans nominally favored a few years ago:

The power plant regulations the Obama administration will announce today are far less ambitious than the proposal McCain offered in Oregon in 2008. They’re less ambitious than the proposals Newt Gingrich championed through the Aughts. They’re far less than what’s required to keep the rise in temperatures to two degrees Celsius.

But they’re probably at the outer limit of what can be done so long as the Republican Party refuses to even believe in climate change, much less work with the Obama administration on a bill. The good news, if there is any, is that the Republican Party hasn’t always refused to believe in climate change. There was even a time when its key national leaders were committed to doing something about it. Those leaders are still around today. They could still do something about it today.

I think the problem here is the word “committed.” Given Republican control of the government from 2001-06, plus (on this issue) a Congress that would have worked with Republicans on climate change in 2007-8, we can have a very good idea of what Republican elites actually favored on climate change. Their actually policy preference on climate change, like their policy preference for health care reform, is “worse than nothing.” The record of the Republican Congress on climate change under George W. Bush was terrible, as was the record of George W. Bush’s EPA. There is less than no chance that a McCain or Romney administration would have issued anything like these regulations. The fact that the McCain campaign pretended to favor some good climate change action and the fact that a notably uninfluential Republican buffoon favored some decent policy proposals while the Republicans who actually governed the country were making things worse is really neither here nor there, and it’s hard to imagine this changing anytime soon.

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  • Ronald Wilson Reagan

    Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.

    • James Watt

      I know how we can fix that particular problem.

      • Sev

        ‘Cording to the Bible trees have been the source of most of our trouble.

  • No Republican takes GOP policy “ideas” as seriously as Ezra Klein does.

    • Reasonable 4ce

      I’d say Bobo and Douche-hat take GOP policy “ideas” as seriously as Ezra Klein does. Those two never got the memo that the Republicans stopped doing policy at least a decade ago.

  • Davis X. Machina

    I will withhold judgement until we know for sure whether Obama really means it or not.

    (Hey, it’s the same criterion I use on every other action by this administration…)

    • low-tech cyclist

      My question is, why did he wait this long? The Supreme Court gave the President this power while Bush was still President, so Obama’s been free to act since 2009. Did it take the EPA five years to draft the regs? It’s been clear since the summer of 2010 that climate change was dead in Congress. And with anything having to do with climate change, the later the start, the harder the lift.

      It was the same way when Obama reversed Bush’s executive order that exempted low-level ‘supervisors’ in fast-food restaurants and the like from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Why in 2014 instead of on January 21, 2009? Did it take him five years to think that one through? I just don’t get it.

      So yeah, I’ve had reason to scratch my head and wonder about Obama’s commitment to various things that IMHO should be important to any reasonable human being.

      • njorl

        600,000 jobs were lost in January 2009. It was the single worst month for employment since 1974. I can understand hesitation to do anything which might have even a small negative impact on the economy for a little while. Five years does seem a bit long to wait though.

      • Bufflars

        I think most people don’t realize how incredibly long it takes for the EPA (and I’m assuming most other federal agencies) to write regulations. The EPA endangerment finding for GHGs occured in Decmeber 2009, about 4.5 years ago. I’d say that getting a lengthy, contentious, detailed regulation out in that time is actually about par for the course. (For example, the air toxics amendment to the Clean Air Act was passed in 1990 and updated in 2000, but some regs required by that law were still being issued in 2012 and beyond).

        Also keep in mind that for this GHG rule, there will be a lengthy public comment period, which will garner tens of thousands of legit comments that EPA will need to consider. Then, once the final rule is eventually promulgated, the EPA will be sued immediately, and the rule will be stayed until the legal battles are fought, probably for years (decades?) more.

        So yeah, for better or worse, this shit takes a really long time.

  • rea

    Navigating through the APA to successful rulemaking takes time . .

  • I will say that I think at the root of this problem in part is that Obama is not interested in what has defined environmental interest for presidents in recent decades–public lands. Now, he is coming around on this as presidents tend to do near the end of their terms when they want to craft a legacy in fairly easy ways. So in the end, he might not be seen this way. But the Salazar DOI was not good.

    Obviously climate change is more important than public lands issues but just getting at why this opinion may be out there.

    • Scott Lemieux

      And Keystone too, of course.

      • Jonathan

        And fracking, and general “Drill! Baby, Drill!” attitude towards fossil fuel production on public lands.

  • Hogan

    The power plant regulations the Obama administration will announce today are far less ambitious than the proposal McCain offered in Oregon in 2008. They’re less ambitious than the proposals Newt Gingrich championed through the Aughts.

    So it’s a Heritage Foundation proposal, is what you’re saying.

    • Scott Lemieux

      And John Chafee, the most influential Republican of the last half-century, surely would have supported it.

      • wjts

        That’s President-for-Life-and-Beyond John Chafee to you, bub.

    • Jordan

      If you read the NYTimes articles on this linked in Eric’s post, you’ll see a weird, repeated linking of the proposal to Mitt Romney (because of the NE cap-and-trade thing).

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    I think one needs to distinguish between the criticism that Obama could have done much more, but didn’t (which is where Green Lanternism comes in) and the criticism that what Obama has done (and what it was politically possible for him to do) is woefully inadequate to the problem of climate change. Though I understand that measuring Obama’s record against the politically possible is the right metric when handing out political grades, ultimately what matters is the fate of the planet. And given that metric, the last six years haven’t been very good at all.

    • njorl

      Sadly, “the politically possible” spans the range from “woefully inadequate” to “actively harmful”.

      • joe from Lowell

        Nothing expands the realm of the possible like winning.

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  • joe from Lowell

    I don’t think the pessimism is defensible in light of Obama’s record to date. This regulation is completely in line with the EPA’s Clean Air Act rules under Lisa Jackson, and then under her Clean Air Section chief, to impose regulations on fossil fuels that change the equation for investment. To wage a war on coal, as it were.

    This regulation has been coming for a long time. We were all talking about this back in 2009, when the Cap and Trade bill failed. Remember?

    “OK, then the EPA writes the rule. I hope it sends the energy industry running back to Congress for a bill.”

    The pessimism has never made sense.

  • It was absolutely clear in 2009 that Obama was going to do health care by legislation and climate change by regulation (and executive order).

    • Aaron Morrow

      On the other hand, I certainly deluded myself into thinking that Waxman-Markey could pass the Senate, and I didn’t give up hope until 2010.

  • Seriously

    A roundup:

    January 2009, January 2010, January 2011, January 2012, January 2013, January 2014: Nothing serious.

    First term, nothing serious.

    ~5 1/2 years into the 8 total years, something serious … for the future outside of his control as President (2020? 2030? Seriously?).

    Had he been serious in January 2009 he could have said he was taking the McCain-Gingrich plan to attack the climate threat, but, hey, what’s the opposite of the Green Lantern insult? “Closet Republican”? “Corporate lackey”? “Propagandistic hack”?


    * Sure, you can say Republicans wouldn’t have done what they claimed, so what? They made bolder claims than what Obama took ~5.5 years to propose … to do in the future … after he’s out of office … while the planet burns….

    • joe from Lowell

      First term, nothing serious

      Sorry, when you forget that the Recovery Act included the largest investment in alternative energy in world history, nobody is going to read all the way to the end.

    • joe from Lowell

      Or the CAFE rules.

      Or the rest of the rules that have come out of the Air Section of the EPA.

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