Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I'm always sort of amused by US Rep. Tim Murphy. On the one hand, his Congressional bio brags on his academic accomplishments -- he's a child psychologist with a Ph.D. Reading over his CV, you might think he had some respect for the scientific process ... until you get the part about his friendly ties to the natural-gas industry. No doubt that helps explain why we find this learned official standing beside some of the biggest know-nothings in Congress.
Murphy is among 95 cosponsors of House Resolution 910, the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011" being discussed in the House today. As such, he joins such devotees of reason as Michele Bachmann and Joe Barton, the guy who apologized to BP after the gulf oil spill. This is not great company to be in, especially on matters of energy policy and science.
The upshot of the bill, in fact, is to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from acting on the science of climate change. Specificially, the bill bars the agency from issuing "any regulation concerning, tak[ing] action relating to, or tak[ing] into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change."
Got that, EPA? Republicans don't even want you thinking about carbon dioxide, or the potential impact of increased CO2 levels -- which are caused by burning fossil fuels, among other things.
HR 910 is, in fact, all about the power of positive thinking. It seeks to void a series of previous EPA actions, including a 2009 finding that "greenhouses gasses ... endanger both the public health and the public welfare of current and future generations." HR 910 formally deems that this finding is "repealed and shall have no legal effect."
Poof! Problem solved! In the unlikely event this bill became law, the EPA couldn't regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, because the scientific basis for doing so would have been repealed.
Really, it's too bad Murphy didn't hit on this solution during his medical practice. He could have solved all his patients' maladies, just by tearing up the diagnosis. Would have gotten him on the golf course hours earlier.
OK, I'm being a bit unfair here. HR 910 does kinda, sorta recognize that scientists are worried about climate change. It just adds that we shouldn't really do anything about it.
After eviscerating the EPA's ability to address the problem, the bill's sponsors try to convince you that they actually do give a shit.
In a "sense of the Congress" provision tucked in at the end, the bill asserts that in fact, "There is established scientific concern over warming of the climate system." That concern, it admits, is based on documented trends that include increasing average temperatures. (Apparently, the Republicans haven't quite gotten around to repealing thermometers yet. Give them time.)
What's more, the bill graciously concedes, "[T]he United States has a role to play in resolving global climate change matters" -- provided the resolution is handled through international diplomacy. Which suddenly Republicans are for, I guess. (Presumably, they'd favor a go-it-alone approach if we could solve climate change by bombing the ice caps into submission)
But the bill has a key caveat. Congress should only address climate change, the bill continues, by proposing "policies that do not adversely affect the American economy, energy supplies, and employment."
Right: We're going to solve a massive, global problem a century-plus in the making -- without losing a single job anywhere along the way.
Clearly none of this can be taken at face value. Even the title of the bill -- "The Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011" -- is absurd. The EPA doesn't have the power to tax in the first place. The argument, I guess, is that regulations may increase costs to producers of greenhouse gases. So regulations are just taxes, for talking purposes.
You can see where such evasions are useful to Republicans: Any initiative they don't like can be considered a tax. And taxes are, obviously, very bad things indeed. (Note to Congressional liberals: Want to withdraw from Afghanistan now? Just draft a resolution with a title like "The Reduce Taxpayer Dollars Spent Overseas Act.")
Such doubletalk is, of course, doubly useful to someone like Murphy.
For a rep Bachmann, actual facts are beside the point. (This is the same woman who lauded the founding fathers for ending slavery, after all.) But Murphy's a Pitt alum -- he's got a reputation to uphold. So rather than come right out and deny climate change, he shrugs his shoulders about the exact nature of the threat, while vaguely asserting that, well, something should be done about it:
Now I am not a climatologist or a physicist and I am not here to argue about any of the things people do discuss with regard to climate change and its causes and what that might come to be. But, I have a background in health and ... we do want a clean planet with clean air, and clean water, and clean soil.
By acknowledging there's a kinda sorta problem here, Murphy defends himself against the charge of being a science denier. What's more, kinda sorta problems only require kinda sorta solutions. Which is what Murphy gives us. He's for more conservation! And ... uh ... innovation! And did I mention natural gas?
I'm for conservation and innovation too, of course. But even if you assume they're enough to reverse the disastrous environmental changes taking place -- a dangerous assumption -- Republicans clearly aren't very serious about fostering them.
Back in 2009, when Murphy was opposing "cap and trade" legislation to solve the problem, he proposed an alternative: an "Apollo project" to spawn new technologies. In 2011, though, it's impossible to imagine Republicans supporting the kind of government initiative that JFK inspired. Some more tax cuts for BP are the best you can hope for. A phrase like "Apollo project," then, merely invokes the government activism of the past ... to justify government inaction today.
HR 910 is the same kind of thing. And it proves you don't have to deny the problem to oppose a solution. Just acknowledge there might be an issue here ... but it's not serious enough to warrant hurting the energy industry's bottom line.
No wonder Republicans want to hamstring the EPA: Everything they're doing is a smokescreen.
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