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Dingell's Dimwitted Detractors

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET

grist.org

OK, I'm back to defending Dingell (sorry Brian!), mainly because the activists attacking him are acting like idiots.

At a town hall in Ann Arbor, Mich., Dingell unveiled the various climate-change proposals he's going to introduce to Congress on Sep. 1. Press coverage of the event is fairly sketchy, and I can't find a transcript anywhere, so there not a lot of detail, but the measures include:

  • A carbon tax of up to $100 per ton.
  • A gas tax of $0.50 a gallon.
  • A cap-and-trade system.
  • Ending the mortgage tax deduction for "McMansions" over 3,000 sq. feet.
  • All with the goal of reducing GHG emissions 60-80% by 2050.

As for previous accusations that Dingell is setting this stuff up to fail, he talked with the Ann Arbor News:

He adamantly denied assertions from environmentalists who have recently targeted his record on auto emissions standards that he's considering a tax merely as a way to ensure the legislation will fail.

Although he has previously said he doubts American consumers would be willing to pay the price for efficiency, he insists a tax has to be part of any serious discussions on slowing climate change.

As for hurting lower-income citizens with a consumer tax, Dingell said he intends to balance any such proposal with provisions to increase the Social Security trust fund, bolster funding of a federal program that helps low-income residents pay utility bills and adjusting tax rates for low-income workers.

Obviously the devil is in the details with all these measures, but they certainly amount to an ambitious program -- "the most difficult undertaking in my career," says Dingell.

Meanwhile:

Outside the town hall meeting, about 30 environmental activists, many from Greenpeace, wore red T-shirts and held placards criticizing Dingell for his stand on Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which mirrors what auto companies are willing to support rather than the tougher standards environmental groups are demanding.

Argh. Silly, gimmicky, irrational crap. If this is what Dingell runs into, it's no wonder he holds green activists in such contempt.

Compared to what Dingell's proposing, the difference between a 35mpg CAFE (which he supports) and a 45mpg or 50mpg CAFE (which greens support) is meaningless. Utterly and completely trivial. A distraction.

If we could get in place a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system, the effects will dwarf minor changes in CAFE. Instead of hectoring Dingell about CAFE, activists should be using their energy to push other legislators to support these bills.

This is not to say Dingell's strategy is optimal. He's focusing almost entirely -- and I suspect/fear, sincerely -- on punitive measures, things that will cost Americans money in the short term. But as I and others keep saying, there are plenty of measures to address climate change that would benefit middle-class and low-income Americans, and prove an economic boon in the long-term. We should be starting with them, or at least giving them equal emphasis.

Whatever you think about that angle, though, it's certainly clear that Dingell is approaching the problem more seriously than the costumed twits who follow him around with placards.

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