Misplaced Priorities

By Paul Ryan
Representing Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District
December 11, 2009

Despite widespread concerns that the federal government is growing too large, too fast, Washington renewed its push this week to expand its authority to limit economic production in the hope of restricting greenhouse gas emissions. Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow and, more importantly, unemployment in the city of Racine remains over 14%. Lawmakers must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of new environmental regulation and make certain that job creation and sustained economic recovery remain our top priority.

Washington’s aggressive global warming agenda has followed three related tracks: legislative – Congressional action on cap-and-trade; regulatory – the EPA’s declaration that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant; and diplomatic – U.S. participation in the U.N. Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

Within the legislative branch, vocal concerns from the American people have slowed recent Congressional zeal on a job-killing cap-and-trade scheme. The complicated legislation, H.R. 2454, requires Americans to purchase government permits for the right to produce energy from a range of domestic natural resources and the right to produce goods like steel, aluminum, and cement. Cap-and-trade is explicitly designed to increase energy costs and shrink our economy, in an effort to reduce global temperature by a fraction of one degree by the end of the century.

Amid warnings about the harmful effects of this approach, the U.S. House of Representatives muscled through the 1,200-page cap-and-trade bill – by seven votes – mere hours after the final version was released. This vote has caused tremendous backlash against not only the Majority’s strong-arm tactics, but more importantly the disastrous consequences of the underlying bill. The message seems to have resonated with the Senate, where cap-and-trade has all but collapsed under its own weight.

The lost momentum on cap-and-trade has pushed the Obama Administration to take matters into its own hands. This past Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that carbon dioxide “threatens the health and welfare of the American people,” paving the way for additional regulatory restrictions on American manufacturers. In addition to the economic consequences of this unprecedented decision, the Administration’s thwarting of the legislative process raises serious concerns. Congress’ decision not to impose this restraint on our economy does not justify the executive branch to take charge.

Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, argued that this decision will “cement 2009’s place in history.” Jackson is right. Washington’s recent power grabs into our economy and into our lives are indeed historic. Unfortunately, this is not the type of history that future generations will appreciate.

Despite rhetoric aimed at posterity, the Obama Administration was more likely sending a message to the Senate to revive cap-and-trade, as well as impatient European leaders. The Administration feared meeting with European leaders empty-handed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark. When President Obama heads to Copenhagen next week, he’d be well served to keep in mind the American people’s strong opposition to job killing economic constraints.

To the detriment of the American people, environmental issues have fallen victim to the hyper-politicization of science. The Journal Times editorial board sensibly cautioned both sides of the political divide against this unfortunate trend (“Science must trump spin,” The Journal Times, 12/3/09). At issue in the Journal Times’ recent editorial and on the minds of many Copenhagen observers are published e-mail exchanges from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU). These e-mails from leading climatologists make clear efforts to use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.

The CRU e-mail scandal reveals a perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion. The e-mail scandal has not only forced the resignation of a number of discredited scientists, but it also marks a major step back on the need to preserve the integrity of the scientific community. While interests on both sides of the issue will debate the relevance of the manipulated or otherwise omitted data, these revelations undermine confidence in the scientific data driving the climate change debates.

Beyond the need for a more respectful scientific debate, leaders in Washington have failed to provide the American people a serious policy debate. Unilateral restrictions on domestic energy production are not only harmful to our economy, but would actually hinder the environmental goals these actions promise to achieve. Making manufacturing more expensive here in America would drive manufacturing jobs overseas to our competitors, like India and China. For every ton of emissions we reduce, India and China will produce several tons more.

The American people deserve a respectful and open dialogue on these important issues. Environmental stewardship and economic growth are not mutually exclusive goals, and I will continue to fight for both of behalf of those I serve in Southern Wisconsin.

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