Washington, DC -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expects to bring her energy independence bill to the House floor next week. But it is still far from certain that a majority of the House will commit themselves to any meaningful action on global warming or a new energy future. The two biggest steps the House could make -- improving vehicle efficiency (CAFE) standards, and establishing a national market in every state for renewable electricity (RPS, or Renewable Portfolio Standards) are still being fiercely resisted by a reactionary coalition of American auto manufacturers, southeastern public utilities, and the coal industry.
It's going to come down to whether the American people -- who overwhelmingly support these two steps -- speak out loudly enough to drown out K street in the next week.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the folly of continuing our present energy course just gets plainer and plainer. A new report, prepared for the Administration by a team headed by former Exxon-Mobil President Lee Raymond, says it will be very difficult to meet projected growth in energy demand, that we face "accumulating risks" if we don't act, and that there "is no quick fix." The report's FIRST recommendation: Improve fuel efficiency standards, and make our homes and buildings more energy efficient. The report also endorses an increasing emphasis on renewable energy -- exactly the steps that Pelosi is struggling to find enough votes to pass through the House. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, accepting the report, said simply, "These are hard facts and hard facts require us to plan for hard choices, now and in the future." But Clay Sells, Bodman's Undersecretary, refused to commit the Administration to take any of the suggested measures.
Kansas City Power and Light, the heartland utility that broke ranks to enter into a pioneering legal settlement with the Sierra Club to shift its future load growth exclusively to efficiency and renewables, is getting rave reviews from stock analysts for "its openness to green technology."
Meanwhile, the American auto industry continues to head for the bankruptcy cliff, threatening to take the health care of retired auto workers with it. Faced with this reality, what does the Wall Street Journal say? It urges on the ostriches in Washington: "Detroit has made its share of mistakes, but refusing to compete with smaller, more fuel-efficient cars isn't one of them. GM tried and failed with its Saturn project. And one reason for that failure is that the main competitive reality facing Detroit for a generation has been the burden of its worker pension and health care costs."
The Journal has a point, but the solution to this problem would be for the US to join every other industrial nation and take health care and pension costs off the backs of employers. That way all workers enjoy the same basic benefits, regardless of whether their company is in a growing or shrinking sector of the economy. And those who earned a pension couldn't lose it -- workers in no other industrial nation face that risk. But where was the Journal when proposals to provide single-payer national health care were being debated? I doubt I need to remind folks that the Journal led the charge to sink these proposals.
The hypocrisy is also stunning. Eighteen months ago, on the Journal's own editorial pages, John Schnapp, citing what he called GM's "technological followership", pointed out that, "The internal culture at GM has reached a dead end. This vast company, once cited by Peter Drucker as the best-managed entity on the planet after the Roman Catholic Church, will not reverse course." Schnapp was right, then and now. But the Journal ran his piece at a time when Congress was in no danger of acting on his insight. Now that there is serious debate about stopping Detroit's murder-suicide pact with American vehicle manufacturing, the Journal conveniently forgets, finding instead that Detroit's past failures are proof of its sound strategy and the need for it to stay the course.
Would a Rupert Murdoch take-over here really be so bad -- maybe the News Corporation could just buy the editorial page?