Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Profound Irresponsibility

If he didn’t know it already, Steve Daines has obviously learned since going to Washington that “all politics are local,” and that he should keep his gaze firmly fixed on what’s happening inside Montana’s borders. But really, just how myopic can the guy get?

Danes recently announced that he has introduced something called the “Coal Jobs and Affordable Energy Protection Act,” which would prohibit the EPA’s newly proposed carbon emission regulations from taking effect unless various Federal agencies could certify that the regulations would not result in any loss of jobs or gross domestic product, would not raise electricity rates and would not affect the reliability of electricity delivery.

Now all that may sound sensible and prudent (certainly the Congressman wants you to think so), but understand what it really means: Daines apparently believes that there is no cost, of any kind and however small, that it is worth incurring to secure the benefits of reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. None. Zip. Zero.

It is hard to imagine how a politician who never tires of telling us about his background as a successful businessman can take such a short sighted position. What halfway competent businessman would pass up the opportunity to make a modest investment today that will protect his company from catastrophic damages in the future? What businessman worth his salt simply assumes that there is no insurance policy worth paying for?

And it is hard to imagine how a man who claims he cares about families is willing to be so utterly cavalier about the state of the world we are going to hand over to our children and grandchildren. How can a politician who agonizes endlessly about the Federal debt we will leave to our kids believe that we should not inconvenience ourselves one iota to protect the environment we will be leaving them at the same time?

The fact is that for Daines, who apparently can’t see beyond the end of his nose, the EPA regulations are there to wage a “war on coal,” not to arrest, in any minimal way they can, the pace of climate change. In a constituent email Daines quotes Michael Grunwald, writing in Time, to the effect that the EPA regulations “take the war on coal to the next level.” But Daines ignores the rest of Grunwald’s piece, which makes it clear that “In the 21st. century, any national leader that takes environmental protection and the fate of the planet seriously will need to launch a war on coal.” Grunwald’s rhetoric is a little over the top, but I take his point, which Daines should have taken as well: arresting climate change will require us to substantially reduce our dependence on coal and we need to be prepared to make the transition to other energy sources. There’s no future in throwing ourselves on the ground kicking and screaming and shouting “never!”

Of course it could be that Daines, with his eyes fixed firmly on the November elections, doesn’t really take his own bill seriously. Maybe it’s just a sop to throw to the folks back home, to try to convince us he cares. Or maybe Daines is just a climate change denier. We know, after all, that his grasp on science is a little tenuous.

Either way, Daines owes us an explanation for his profound irresponsibility and short sightedness in responding to the threat of climate change. And if he can’t do any better than he’s done so far, we’d better remember that in November.