The climate-change climate: House

01/18/2007 12:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I discussed the climate-change climate in the Senate -- things are hopping. The House, of course, is a different and less friendly animal, where Dems are stepping more gingerly.

One notable development is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi rather publicly stuck her thumb in the eye of Michigan Rep. John Dingell, announcing today the formation of a select committee on climate change with the power to subpoena and hold hearings. Dingell's House Energy and Commerce Committee is considered, by Dingell, to be the natural home for climate work. He is steamed. Pelosi, to her credit, knows Dingell is an obstruction, so she's doing an end-run.

Unwisely, in my opinion, Pelosi is selling climate legislation as a subset of energy independence:

"Tomorrow, we finish our 100 hours, and I will talk about what comes next, and included in that is energy independence. Climate change is part of energy independence," [Pelosi] said. "We're asking our chairmen to have their hearings and submit their time for us to introduce an energy independence package no later than the Fourth of July."

I'm fine with promising that climate-change legislation will enhance energy independence. But if the primary goal is energy independence, several cheap and decidedly non-climate-friendly options suggest themselves, including "clean coal" and drilling every-damn-where. The WSJ sagely notes:

The increase in domestic oil, gas and coal production likely needed to achieve energy independence would entail heightened output of greenhouse gases.

The way Dems should frame the issue is not around independence -- a chimera -- but around security. To the extent we can free ourselves from carbon-intensive fossil fuels and shift to a distributed energy system powered by renewables (+ efficiency + storage, see here), we:

  1. rely less on hostile foreign suppliers, thereby avoiding resource wars and "energo-fascism,"
  2. become less subject to the ravages of global climate instability,
  3. create domestic industries and jobs,
  4. save on health, regulatory enforcement, and clean-up costs, and
  5. regain some of our moral authority internationally.

Energy independence is but one of these goals. If we focus too heavily on it, we'll end up with an unbalanced strategy.